Theories

Kelly developed not merely a theory of psychology. He developed an entire psychology based on 20 years of practical clinical experience and the theories he derived from that experience. As he offered in his preface for the book, the structure by which it was organized was essentially the manifestation of the psychology itself. Kelly knew that he not only wanted to let the reader or student know the how of the procedures handling a clinician's client base. He would have to present the why behind the procedures and techniques. That motivation was the beginning of his written works. Explaining the process through which the book was produced, Kelly also noted what others would quickly see upon reading his work that, "In the years of relatively isolated clinical practice we had wandered far off the beaten paths of psychology, much farther than we had ever suspected." Over the period of the three years that it took him to write the book, Kelly presented first drafts of the manuscript— from one page to as many as 30 pages at a time, as they were completed—in a weekly Thursday night seminar and lecture open to all interested. "That either the writer or the manuscript survived at all is entirely due to the psychological perceptiveness of colleagues who, somehow, always found a way to strike a gentle balance between pity and realism," Kelly recalled.

The theory of constructive alternativism provided Kelly with a solid base for his new psychology, as well as an important point of reference in his discussion of psychotherapeutic techniques. This personality theory began with two basic premises: 1) that an understanding of individual humans is better when derived from a "perspective of the centuries," as Kelly wrote, than "in the flicker of passing moments"; and, 2) that individuals see the context of life in a very personal manner, by the way events and the role in which they find themselves are played out. In other words, the theory involves individuals examining the way in which they interpret and react to their environment.

Kelly wrote that people view their worlds "through transparent patterns or templets," which they themselves create, and utilize them in order to "fit over the realities of which the world is composed." According to him, these patterns were not always a perfect fit, but still helpful. He submitted the term constructs to be used for such patterns. These patterns are enlarged or improved as a person matures. They become pieces of a larger construction system through which people live, communicate, and interpret the world around them. These constructs might be explained in more detail by the manner in which an individual uses them. Kelly emphasized that the one crucial assumption for testing or using these systems is that people must assume that all of the present interpretations of the universe were subject to revision or replacement. As he pointed out, "No one needs to paint [himself] into a corner; no one needs to be completely hemmed in by circumstances; no one needs to be the victim of [his] biography." Basically, this philosophy is what has been defined as constructive alternativism.

Kelly authored a 1966 essay that was to be an introduction to a book in personal construct theory. The piece was not completed due to his death, but was published by a student and colleague, Don Bannister, in 1970 as "Perspectives in Personal Construct Theory." Kelly began with a philosophical inquiry, writing,

Who can say what nature is? Is it what now exits about us, including all the tiny hidden things that wait so patiently to be discovered? Or is it the vista of all that is destined to occur, whether tomorrow or in some distant eon of time? Or is nature infinitely more varied than this, the myriad trains of events that might ensue if we were to be so bold, ingenious, and irreverent as to take a hand in its management? . . . Personal construct theory is a notion about how [man] may launch out from a position of admitted ignorance, and how he may aspire from one day to the next to transcend his own dogmatisms. It is then, a theory of man's personal inquiry—a psychology of human quest. It does not say what has been or will be found, but proposes rather how we might go about looking for it.

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