Psychotherapy and Counselling

Psychotherapy and counselling are no more and no less than putting Kelly’s theory to work in helping others deal with their psychological problems. Kelly simply decided to use the practice of psychotherapy as an example of how his theory could be applied and as being one context in which his theory might be found useful. Otherwise he offered his theory as a total psychology of how each one of us makes sense of our worlds and why we behave as we do in our day-to-day lives.

His view of psychological problems is just that. We may have a problem that we need help to solve – but we do not have a medical problem. He felt that the so-called ‘medical model’ does a disservice to the person with the problem. If a person has a problem we need to look at how that person is seeing their world that leads to their being unable to ‘move on’. The person has got ‘stuck’

From a PCP perspective, the difference between psychotherapy and counselling is that the former may involve the client in changing how they view themselves, or their core values. Counselling is unlikely to involve that.

There are certain skills that people need to acquire if they want to inquire professionally into how someone with problems sees (construes), their world. Among these are the ability to subsume another’s construing system and the ability to suspend their own construing system. The latter is not always so easy to acquire.


This is being able to put oneself into the shoes of another person and look at the world through that person’s eyes. When working professionally with personal construct psychology, sharing how a person is experiencing their world, is more than empathy. It means you look at that person’s world through what Kelly described as professional constructs. These help you see what may be causing the person to be psychologically ‘stuck’. They help you to understand what is preventing the person from getting on with their life. Through the use of these constructs the personal construct facilitator decides how to proceed – she or he makes an interim ‘diagnosis’. It is a plan of action not an end result. To be able to carry out this subsuming you have to be able to suspend your own personal values.


Being able to suspend one’s own values so as to truly listen to what another is saying is probably the most difficult skill a personal construct facilitator needs to acquire.
One cannot look at how another person looks at their world if you interpret what you see and hear using your own personal values. It is therefore necessary to develop the skill of putting your own values to one side, for a time at least.



"From our present vantage point in the course of human thinking it now seems to be a historical misfortune that psychological problems were ever placed in the medical context of illness."

(Kelly “Is treatment a good idea?” Unpublished manuscript in the Fransella PCP Collection)

“Man lives best when he commits himself to getting on with life…… and so too with the objectives of therapy, for therapy is a way of helping man get on with it, to live whole-heartedly.”

(Kelly 1969 , “The autobiography of a theory”
In B. Maher (ed), Clinical Psychology and Personality: the Selected Papers of George Kelly. Wiley p.64)

“I am not a realist….and I do not believe either the client or the therapist has to lie down and let facts crawl over him. Right here is where the theoretical viewpoint I call the psychology of personal constructs stakes out its basic philosophical claim.”

 (Kelly, 1969 “Theory and the psychotherapeutic interview” p. 227 as above)

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