Constructivism: where do we go from here?
Recently, one of the authors (Jack) was implored by a friend to watch a YouTube video about video gaming (Cosmo Speedrun, 2013). As someone who has played video games much of his life, Jack usually appreciates such videos. Jack's friend thought this particular video would be interesting because it focused on some young people who learned how to beat "The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (OoT)" on the Nintendo 64 (a mid-1990s gaming system) in under 25 minutes, even though the task should take a minimum of 5-6 hours. The video nicely illustrates emergent gameplay, or how gamers find creative and alternative ways to approach presumably deterministic systems of gameplay so as to thwart predefined ground rules in ways that either were not intended to work in that manner or should not be possible in the first place (Kleinrock, n.d).
The video takes place at a charity event hosted by Speed Demos Archive (SDA), a group that conducts video game events called "speedruns," in which participants, under an agreed upon time constraint (which may include attempting to beat an established record), try to complete specific requirements of a video game (Speed Demos Archive, n.d.). There are different versions of these speedruns, with various rules about permissible player behavior and what constitutes success. In the video, a young man in his early twenties plays OoT from start to finish while describing to a group of (mostly) young men how he is doing what he is doing. While Jack admits to having some "street cred" in video gaming, he has never played the Zelda series and is unfamiliar with the specific challenges it poses. However, he has a general appreciation for the task, which involves identifying aspects of a video game that its developers did not realize could be exploited in order to defeat the game much more quickly. This video is interesting because it shows a player doing things in the game that its designers never intended (for example, running backwards instead of forward because it is actually faster) and creatively finding ways to do things that are supposedly impossible--in this case defeating OoT more quickly than ever imagined.
What Jack found most notable was the specialized language and communication patterns of the gamers' social group. Given that Jack is a person who plays video games and knows some of the basics involved in them, he expected to be able to follow the conversation. Yet he was unable to keep up with much of what was being said. A great deal of his confusion was due to the jargon and culture-specific language used by the gamers. At times the only reason why Jack was able to get the general gist was because the whole group laughed, applauded, and cheered at various points as the protagonist progressed toward his goal of defeating the game. The conversation itself was sometimes nearly unintelligible to him; much of the exchange became almost like listening to another language.
The issue of impenetrable jargon is not unique to video gamers. A challenge faced by contributors to this volume is that constructivists often have difficulty communicating their ideas in ways that those outside their immediate community can comprehend (Efran & Clarfield, 1992; Neimeyer, 1997). Neimeyer (1997) pointed out that psychotherapy practitioners are often bewildered by constructivism's intimidating and super-specialized language--its tendency toward what Coyne (as cited in Neimeyer, 1997) referred to as "epistobabble." Said Neimeyer (1997):
The encounter with a lexicon of terms such as constructive alternativism, second order cybernetics, autopoietic entities, narrative deconstruction, subjugated knowledges, and morphogenic nuclear structure can prove daunting to the psychotherapy practitioner, not to mention the beleaguered graduate student who trudges through courses in history and systems of psychology only to wade into still murkier waters upon embarking on coursework in the applied area of psychotherapy! (p. 53)
"Epistobabble" entails using terms, phrases and culture-specific references to describe and create meaning within a social group with little attention to how others who may not have the requisite knowledge or background are affected. Constructivist epistobabble is often steeped in philosophy, presuming extensive knowledge in areas such as epistemology, phenomenology, existentialism, and linguistics (among others). Mastery of these areas then becomes a prerequisite for entree into the constructivist arena--even as it pertains to applied practices such as diagnosis, assessment, treatment planning, and psychotherapy. Much like those gamers conquering OoT, we constructivists seem to have created ways of communicating that, if observed by others outside our group, might have the same impact on them that watching the conquering of the Ocarina had on Jack.
Not only is constructivism too-often steeped in epistobabble, it also has a tendency toward proliferating an ever-increasing number of theoretical variations, each with its own often overwhelming array of concepts. Efran and Cohen (2015, this volume) use George Kelly's work as one example of this tendency:
In addition to those who considered Kelly's approach overly intellective, some complained about what might be called an embarrassment of riches. They were put off by the prospect of studying Kelly's "ten types of weeping," "nine techniques for reducing anxiety," "twelve techniques" for prompting movement, and "fifteen criteria" for establishing client readiness.... By the same token, they had difficulty figuring out how to integrate his eclectic list of techniques. (pp. 158-159)
So not only is there a lot of epistobabble, but it rapidly multiplies--often leading to greater confusion about constructivism among "non-club members." The unfortunate result may be that fewer people wind up paying attention because doing so becomes increasingly daunting. The amount of material to learn is vast and often impenetrable, thus it seems irrelevant to their everyday concerns.
In fairness, some of the language and detail is necessary. After all, if Jack spoke with the young man conquering the OoT game, the man might say that many of the terms used within the gaming community are essential to conveying certain ideas. If one wants to be a part of this community, one must learn the broader cultural language necessary for engaging. One must know what is meant by a speed run, trial skip, boss, Navi-Dive, glitch, bombchu, warp, exploit, or hack if one wants to "get it." A shared discourse is a necessary part of every community. Besides, beating a video game in record time involves a highly detailed and idiosyncratic set of processes and procedures. It isn't gamers' fault that the nature of the process is so complicated. Likewise, why should we blame constructivists if human psychology is so complex? Much like gamers who cannot decide on what constitutes a win, Winter (2015, this volume), Strong (2015, this volume), and Pavlovic (2015, this volume) all independently point out that constructivists often cannot agree on what constructivism is. All communities have their own unique conundrums, which spring from their shared relational practices. As one of us (Jon) vividly recalls, a prominent member of the constructivist community once responded to complaints that his presentations were laced with technical jargon by combatively asserting, "It took me many years to become well-versed in constructivist ideas, which I did so I could partake in the conversation. If you want to talk to me, learn my language!"
Therefore, "babbling" (whether epistobabble or Nintendobabble) seems to serve an important function. It clearly helps to support a within-group identity. Having a specialized lexicon gives a group a way of identifying itself as distinct and separate from other groups. When the OoT gamers laugh knowingly on the video at a comment made by the person playing the game, we see how excited and engaged members are as they participate in this gaming community event--even though without context it isn't clear to us why what was said is funny. We have experienced something quite similar at constructivist psychology conferences. There is this wonderful feeling we get when attending these conferences. We are able to relate to colleagues in a way that we do not with others. We talk to them about Kelly's corollaries, rep grid analyses, structure determinism, social discourses, and other constructivist notions and they understand and are interested in these ideas! It's empowering, exciting, and leads to a sense of belongingness--which can feel pretty amazing.
The downside to this bonding, of course, is that it can be alienating to outsiders. It can be very hard to understand what it is we are trying to convey. We surmise that even some of the wonderful contributions to this volume will prove bewildering to many readers. The technical jargon that feels so clear and precise to us often poses a barrier to those beyond our theory group. Consequently, they fail to see the exciting and creative ideas that constructivism has to offer.
Now some may suggest that the "epistobabble" complaint is applicable to all areas of academia, not just constructivism. Telling academics that they are obtuse and difficult to understand is certainly not new. A recurring stereotype of academics is that we sit in our ivory towers, communicating in ways that most cannot (or do not care to) understand. Why should constructivism be held to a higher standard?
We agree that sometimes epistobabble is an issue in academia in general and this should be addressed. So why not commit ourselves to a higher standard? After all, we are not only theoreticians; we believe constructivism has many practical applications and therefore we want to see constructivist ideas utilized in everyday life. However, while the Zelda gaming community enjoys a degree of popularity and general interest, it does not always appear that people are clamoring to climb onto the constructivist bandwagon. The gaming video we referred to had been viewed 928,771 times as of December 29, 2013; the most popular video on the Constructivist Psychology Network's YouTube channel had a little more than 800 views. Clearly, we are no Zelda. Perhaps our epistobabble helps us to cope with feelings of marginalization. After all, having expert knowledge of a specialized professional discourse that few grasp may make us feel important. This may perpetuate feelings of connection to fellow theoretical travelers, but may not always help us to grow beyond our constructed borders. It is to those borders and how clearly demarcated they should or shouldn't be that we turn next.
HERDING THE GROUCHO MARX BRIGADE
"I don't want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member," Groucho Marx famously quipped (Quote Investigator, 2011). This remark has previously been applied to the personal construct community (Fisher, 2003) and nicely captures a longstanding attitude within it, namely that formal organization is anathema to many adherents of the theory. Neimeyer (1985) vividly captured this sentiment back in the 1980s when he interviewed prominent personal construct psychologists about whether it was time for the theory group to establish a formal organization. Jack Adams-Webber was among those who did not wish to see a formal organization, contending that "organizations may promote the status of a theory's adherents, but they do not foster the intellectual integrity of the people involved" (Neimeyer, 1985, p. 131). Steve Duck added to this, noting that formal organizations can prove isolating:
As soon as you set up a separate organization, you're asserting a separate identity ... and not being incorporated in things that people are doing. And it seems to me that one of the main problems with being a PCP person at this moment is that outsiders regard us as a separate group who are not to be dealt with necessarily. (Neimeyer, 1985, p. 131)
James Mancuso expressed the anti-organization stance most fervently, stating bluntly: "Institutions kill, and if they don't kill, they change the emphasis to the preservation of the institution rather than the development of that for which the institution was formed" (Neimeyer, 1985, p. 131). Sounding remarkably Groucho-esque, he declared that "the minute this organization will become formal, the minute they talk about electing a president, that's when I quit" (p. 131). How's that for not wanting to be part of any club that would have you as a member?
Despite being rather vocal, those espousing an anti-organization perspective have nevertheless seen the PCP community become increasingly organized over the past three decades--not surprising, since those supportive of organization tend to proceed with organizing while those against it tend to step aside or reluctantly come along for the ride. The argument for organization was expressed nicely by Franz Epting, who explained that an effective institution "could promote the elaboration of construct theory, and I really think we can't avoid formalizing it" (Neimeyer, 1985, p. 132). Ray Holland expanded on this, observing that
it is a common problem for networks and social movements, that they reach a point where they are so big that it is difficult to go on in an informal, haphazard, fashion. So I think that [PCP] is now beginning to organize. (Neimeyer, 1985, p. 132)
There is ample evidence of increasing organization and institutionalization in the PCP community. In the United Kingdom, The Centre for Personal Construct Psychology (part of the School of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire) has approved and validated formal training in PCP, although implementation of this training was on hold at the time of this volume's publication. This allows newcomers to learn PCP methods and applications, thus propagating the theory. In North America, the informal North American Personal Construct Network--despite some resistance--changed its name to the more inclusive Constructivist Psychology Network, devised bylaws, established itself as a non-profit organization, and began regularly electing officers.
We generally favor organization, though we are sympathetic to many of the arguments made by what we affectionately call PCP's "Groucho Marx Brigade." Our main counterarguments to their concerns are that (a) identity preceded organization, (b) democratic and transparent organization is more, not less, inclusive, and (c) organization is not at odds with theoretical integrity. Let us examine these one at a time.
Identity Preceded Organization
Duck stated that "As soon as you set up a separate organization, you're asserting a separate identity." We contend that the PCP community had a "separate identity" long before it formally started organizing itself. We have overheard many conversations at PCP conferences where attendees, even those opposed to organizing, seem to divide the world into "us" and "them." We realize that framing things in terms of "us" and "them" grows from a need for solidarity and connection with like-minded people rather than a desire to demonize others. Coming from work settings where constructivists are usually in the minority, finding sympathetic colleagues creates an artificial focus on "us vs. them" that is simply a passing manifestation blossoming out of relief rather than a focus on difference. Yet accompanying this connection with likeminded colleagues there is sometimes a sense of intellectual superiority--with the "them" in "us vs. them" being those in the wider world of professional psychology who have yet to recognize the brilliant, ahead-of-his-time insights of George Kelly (1955/1991a, 1955/1991b). In our view, it is this implicit sense of superiority that often keeps us separate--not having officers, bylaws, and an organizational website. We find it noteworthy that other specialized subgroups within psychology have organized themselves while simultaneously engaging with the wider world more than PCP'ers often have. We do not believe organization is central to why PCP has often remained aloof from the rest of professional psychology. Organization does not breed a separate identity, although it may at times reflect such an identity. The challenge for constructivists is to foster an identity that encourages engagement rather than demonization of those from alternative (and often more dominant, or "mainstream") perspectives.
Democratic and Transparent Organization Is More Inclusive, Not Less Inclusive
One of the strongest reasons for organizing is that it formalizes what is already occurring informally. Greg Neimeyer expressed this idea three decades ago in explaining his support for formal organization in the PCP community:
The reason I would stand behind, or back, formalizing an ... organization is that ... I would see that as doing little more than making explicit what's already happening on an implicit level. There's a natural course of formalization going on, and I think that turning our attention to it and making that explicit may enable us to make some decisions consciously that otherwise we might just take for granted or make unconsciously. (Neimeyer, 1985, p. 132)
Expanding on these sentiments, we respectfully point out that remaining informally organized is not the same as lacking organization. All systems have organization. However, when a system fails to make its organization explicit, it risks its leadership consciously or unconsciously becoming an exclusive "clique." That is, the same small group of "insiders" informally runs the group, without democratic input. Those outside the leadership ring lack say in the group's direction, often feeling excluded. This is the old "Kelly cult" criticism (H. Desai, 1995)--namely, the argument that PCP is a closed club. In principle (if not always in practice), a clear organizational structure and bylaws allow anyone to become involved in a group without having to discern Byzantine and often unarticulated rules of participation. Thus, in our view, organization does not keep us separate; it actually invites others in by modeling transparency and making the rules explicit so that the grounds for participation are clear to all. This, of course, does not address whether the group's focus of study is of sufficient interest that outsiders wish entree into the organization, but that question is tackled in the other sections of this paper.
Organization Is Not at Odds with Intellectual Integrity
Adams-Webber expressed a viewpoint we have heard often from the Groucho Marx Brigade: that organization is inherently corrupting because sustaining the group takes precedence over intellectual integrity. We imagine that those opposed to turning the North American Personal Construct Network (NAPCN) into the Constructivist Psychology Network (CPN) may have seen the name change as a desperate move to sustain the organization at the expense of its members' intellectual integrity--exemplified by failing to keep the group's focus exclusively on Kelly's theory. We understand this sentiment, although we do not see a group's degree of institutional organization as necessarily indicative of its members' intellectual integrity because group membership need not reflect intellectual agreement. Rather, it merely implies a broad shared intellectual interest, in this case interest in (rather than agreement about issues pertaining to) personal construct psychology and/or constructivism. Ideally, all people interested in PCP and constructivism are welcomed into CPN--regardless of their particular perspectives on and uses of these theories. There is no intellectual litmus test for membership. Though we understand that any kind of group--formally organized or not--can easily morph into a mutual admiration society in which each member successively preaches to the choir, we question whether having a formal organization is what produces this. Concern that formal organization compromises intellectual integrity seems equally as misguided as concern that formal organization fosters a separate identity; how people formally organize usually reflects preexisting community views on such issues. This is why some organizations welcome diverse viewpoints and others do not. If the constructivist community has failed to effectively include others or insisted that its members share similar views (criticisms we are open to considering, however painful doing so may be), then this is a problem--but a problem that predated establishing a formal organization. Maintaining intellectual integrity is a wonderful thing, but only when combined with a tolerance for intellectual diversity. Otherwise, an organization plants the seeds of its own extinction-- a question we turn to next in thinking about why CPN has so few members and how this perhaps can be remedied by sharing the practical uses of constructivism with the wider psychology and counseling communities.
HARNESSING OUR "MOJO"
So if we use language that is more accessible and create an organization that supports a constructivist identity while also being invitational and inclusive of people from more divergent perspectives, we should be inundated with people clamoring to join up, right? Not exactly. Apparently "If you build it they will come" works in movies, but not so much in organizations. Yet there are organizations built on specific theories and practices of psychology and psychotherapy that are flourishing. We would be hard pressed to say that constructivism is flourishing, but it is not quite floundering either. What makes constructivism different? What has happened and what, if anything, do we need to be doing differently? What do other organizations and theories have that we don't? We contend that it is often difficult for constructivists to feel confident in what they have to offer and to share it aggressively with others. Stated colloquially, constructivists often struggle to harness their own "mojo." There are a variety of reasons for this, but two that come to mind are that constructivists often have an aversion to proselytizing and, even if they didn't, what they are offering is often a tough sell.
Constructivists Don't Like to Proselytize
Other successful theorists and practitioners of psychotherapy don't seem reluctant to advertise or publicize their approaches. Marketing and the confidence that comes from believing that their way is the one right and true way can accomplish a great deal. If a group of people truly believes that they are right, and their rightness is also true for everyone else regardless of individual preferences or contextual factors, then loudly advertising what they believe and using marketing strategies to sell it are completely permissible, and in some cases central to their mission. Yet proselytizing is often construed by constructivists as antithetical to what it means to be a constructivist. That is, constructivists sometimes get caught in a kind of propositional construing in which committing to a tightly defined vision is seen as problematic. In this line of thinking, valuing the belief and meaning-making systems of others requires us to be, at most, invitational (and more often reticent and reserved about our own unique sense of what is right or meaningful). Thus it becomes inconsistent to recruit new constructivists in any way that looks or feels like we are imposing our own beliefs dr ways of making meaning on them. However, as one of us (Jon) has been saying in recent years, constructivism does not require an "anything goes" acceptance that precludes commitment and belief (Raskin & Debany, 2012)--or, in this case, even proselytizing. When it comes to marketing constructivist ideas, we need not feel ambivalent simply because we realize that our view is but one view. There is nothing wrong with strongly advocating a constructivist perspective. Doing so need not be seen as insisting ours is the one and only way. In encouraging her PCP colleagues to initiate a "take-over bid" for the discipline of psychology, Fay Fransella (1978) strongly challenged personal construct psychologists' ambivalence toward proselytizing. Her prescient viewpoint on this issue offers a constructive alternative that may be worth putting to the test.
Practically speaking, reticence about imposing ideas on others means that constructivists have not traditionally been natural sales people. This is particularly true for one of our authors (Sara), who has often found it nearly impossible to sell anything--including things that people actually wanted to buy. Girl Scout cookies are a good example. Instead of selling them, Sara took extra babysitting jobs to pay for the cookies she was supposed to sell and then gave the cookies away. Imposing on others by "guilting" them into buying something they may not have wanted was simply out of the question for Sara. This aversion to selling has often seemed to be a "core construct" of the PCP community--manifesting itself in avoiding things like fund raising activities, deliberately recruiting students, or working to broaden or expand the membership in constructivist organizations. This does not mean that new members wouldn't be welcomed--they would, but only if they really wanted to be there and joined on their own initiation. While this stance may be understandable, it certainly does nothing to grow constructivism.
However, as Fransella's (1978) example suggests, there are exceptions to this rule. There are people who have effectively marketed constructivist ideas without being self-conscious about it. Some of these efforts have even entered mainstream pop culture. Several years ago, we were surprised to turn on an episode of "Oprah" and see psychotherapist Bill O'Hanlon talking about his latest self-help book, Do One Thing Different (O'Hanlon, 1999). What he seemed to be selling was fixed-role therapy marketed to the masses in simple and straightforward language that anyone could understand. Oprah seemed duly impressed. More recently, Lara Honos-Webb (a.k.a., "Dr. Lara") has become well-known for her "Gift of" book series ("The Gift of ADHD," 2007; "The Gift of Depression," 2007). These books, which provide alternative constructions of disorders like ADHD and depression, are rooted in Honos-Webb's earlier academic writings on experiential personal construct psychology and narrative (Honos-Webb & Leitner, 2001; Honos-Webb, Sunwolf, & Shapiro, 2004). Our point is not to say that we should all write a self-help tome in an effort to secure a booking on "The View" (although this might be fun!), but that it is possible to confidently advocate for and market complex constructivist ideas in ways that fellow psychologists and the general public can comprehend without violating our core principles.
Constructivism is a Tough Sell
We are impressed whenever someone effectively conveys constructivist ideas to colleagues or the general public because, put simply, constructivism is a tough sell. It is challenging to new-comers, not just because it tends to be jargon-heavy, but also because its ideas run counter to what most of us have been previously taught. Throughout history, thinkers espousing ideas consistent with constructivism have found it difficult to win people over because their viewpoint often seems to contradict traditional ways of understanding. In radical constructivist Ernst von Glasersfeld's (1995) words, philosophers with constructivist-consistent ideas have often encountered difficulty:
By renouncing the quest for certain knowledge about reality, they had deprived themselves of the very argument that philosophers use to distinguish knowledge from mere opinion or belief. Consequently, these wayward thinkers were for the most disregarded in the history of philosophy, (p. 25)
Despite this difficulty, "today the philosophy of science teems with ideas that subvert the millenary tradition of realism and its goal of objective knowledge" (von Glasersfeld, 1995, p. 25). The challenge for constructivists is how to convey their position without seeming "kooky." It is our position that a fully articulated constructivist perspective does not reject science or existing knowledge paradigms. It merely places them within a framework that sees all knowledge schemes as human endeavors. Hence, one of us (Jon) warned in his opening contribution to this volume about the perils of "careless constructivism," described as the unfortunate tendency of many constructivists to make provocative statements (e.g., "Reality is invented") without thoroughly explaining the underlying stance being adopted (Raskin, 2015, this volume).
It is our contention that although constructivism can be difficult to convey, it can be done. For instance, one of the authors (Jon) sometimes teaches an undergraduate course in constructivist psychology at his university. He spends the first third of the class covering three different theories: personal construct psychology, radical constructivism, and social constructionism. The second part of the class shifts to practical and research applications, with the third part examining critiques and controversies. What Jon has found is that even students who end up disagreeing with some of constructivism's main tenets generally come to (a) appreciate and understand the perspective, and (b) see it as a meta-framework that does not require them to give up on the quest for truth, but merely recognize that any time they are on such a quest, they are always venturing forth from within a perspective that opens up some ways of knowing and forecloses others--a la Kelly's (1977) playful insistence that the truths we seek inevitably lie just beyond the horizon. That is, when students come to understand in full the distinction described in the opening contribution to this volume about ontological versus epistemological modes of construing (Raskin, 2015, this volume), they find themselves less threatened--and thereby more amenable--to the constructivist position. Our take home message here is that communicating constructivism is hard, but can be done. We may never have swarms of people clamoring for constructivism like they do to learn the intricacies of the Legend of Zelda, but we can certainly do a better job than we have at making constructivism understandable and relevant to a wider audience.
USING IT INSTEAD OF LOSING IT
Of course, one of the keys to constructivism's future is how well we share our approach with the wider world. Although it often seems like we are alone in the universe, there are instances where research and practice rooted in constructivism have had a broader impact. We highlight three examples of this: the repertory grid, coherence therapy, and Robert Neimeyer's work on grief and loss. In each of these instances, practitioners have been "using it instead of losing it" and in so doing show how constructivism can be effectively disseminated in an impactful way.
The repertory grid (rep grid) is a notable example of an application of constructivist theory that has gained widespread attention; it is as close as PCP comes to having a "gimmick" capable of garnering widespread attention in the field (Efran & Cohen, 2015, this volume). As many of our readers know, the repertory grid (or repertory grid technique) is a methodology that helps elicit idiosyncratic personal constructs through a systematic step-by-step protocol. The protocol can be done via pen and paper or through a variety of computer applications such as Rep 5, GRIDSUITE, and GRIDCOR (PCP Portal, 2010). The derived personal constructs in any given protocol can be analyzed in a variety of contexts and be used to promote insight and proactive social action.
The rep grid is rooted in George Kelly's personal construct theory. While other tools may elicit opinions based on others' constructs (such as a traditional survey methodology), the rep grid assumes that the individualized ways that people give meaning to their constructions must be the focus of attention if one desires to understand their lived experiences (Blundell, Witkowski, Wieck, & Hare, 2012). People's bipolar personal constructs often interact with one another to contribute to a complex personal negotiation of meaning. The rep grid process yields a kind of "construct map," which provides a means of mapping individuals' personal meanings (Blundell et al., 2012). Kelly's original use of this methodology was primarily in clinical psychology settings, an area still popular for those interested in repertory grid analysis. For example, researchers have examined topics including therapists' perception of patients (Blondell, et al., 2012; Ralley, 2009), career counseling (Mackay, 2004), treatment approaches (Neimeyer, 2004) and the overall use of the tool as a form for clinical research (Ralley, 2009).
However, the use of rep grids has expanded far beyond the realm of psychotherapy. One of the most well-known areas of application is in the field of human resources, marketing, and customer service. For example, researchers have used rep grid analyses to understand (a) branding of merchandise (Henderson, Iacobucci, & Calder, 2002), (b) management techniques (D. Desai & Sahu, 2008, Hodgkinson, 2002, Napier, Keil & Tan, 2009), (c) consumer behavior (Zinkhan & Biswas, 1988), and (d) product development (Crawford, Taylor, & Li Wan Po, 2001). Repertory grid analysis seems to be a well-used research tool in this field. In addition, it has been used in a diverse array of cultures all over the world. The rep grid has been used to address a range of topics--including understanding spirituality (deGuzman, Dalay, de Guzman, de Jesus, de Mesa, & Flores, 2009), reactions to healthcare (Adams, 2011), tourism (Schweizenberg, Wearing, & Darcy, 2012), film analysis (Blowers & McCoy, 1986), and even fingerprint technology (Davis & Hufnagel, 2007). As such, the repertory grid is a nice example of a constructivist methodology that has not only proven to be useful among constructivists, but also has made the leap into several other disciplines. It has been able to traverse the epistobabble and find a common language that people from all over the world can use and share. While personal construct psychologists, including apparently Kelly himself, have lamented that grid methodology has sometimes been adopted by methodologists without ample attention to the theory behind it (Fransella, 1995), the method's popularity nonetheless offers a potential opportunity for personal construct psychologists to share their theory more widely.
Coherence therapy provides another example of a constructivist approach that has garnered significant attention from mainstream psychology--as evidenced by publications (Ecker & Hulley, 1996, 2008), presentations, and national and international workshops (Coherence Psychology Institute, 2013). Coherence therapy broadens the scope of constructivist psychotherapy by viewing all problems or difficulties a client experiences as directly related to preexisting unconscious constructs. Constructivist psychotherapy broadly aims to take a valuing position with clients and places emphasis on the validity and intelligibility of the client's distress rather than labeling symptoms as a disease or an enemy. Yet knowing that distress is valid and understandable only takes us so far. When clients arrive at the therapy office they already view their troubles or symptoms as senseless, dysfunctional and irrational, even if we as their therapists believe their troubles have their own internal rationality. Clients arrive wanting change, and although they usually appreciate the humanistic conviction that they are valid as persons even in their distress, they still want change.
Further, while having insight into "why" behavior is happening is interesting, it doesn't truly address the underlying issue--wanting the behavior to stop. Wanting troubling behaviors, thoughts or emotions to stop is usually what brings clients to therapy. Understanding or having insight into why the behaviors, thoughts or emotions are happening can be helpful, but usually insight alone is not enough. Thus, believing that reality is personally constructed may help build insight and understanding, but what happens to the personal constructs once they are elicited is what separates constructivist psychotherapy from other approaches. Coherence therapy intentionally works to discover and transform unconscious personal constructs.
As a humanistically-oriented constructivist approach, coherence therapy views presenting symptoms as part of the client's solution to some other worse suffering. This is not "secondary gain" or a form of malingering. In coherence therapy the client is viewed as always having the ability to dispel the presenting symptom by accessing and revising the unconscious constructions of reality that require it (Ecker & Hulley, 1996). Coherence therapy is uniquely constructivist in viewing clients as masters of their own experiencing--not because they can "handle" the symptom or trouble that is upon them, but rather because the symptom itself is already an unconscious manifestation of their own protective action taken in response to a core way of understanding the world. Coherence therapy aims for retrieving the unconscious, coherent personal themes or constructs that are generating problematic moods, thoughts, or behaviors (Ecker & Hulley, 1996). Coherence therapists experientially help elicit the client's unconscious constructs that necessitate the existence of the presenting problem. Thus, the client's lucid experience of the symptom as an expression of deeply meaningful personal constructs dispels previous self-pathologizing construals of the symptom as indicating a defect of self (Ecker & Hulley, 1996).
Coherence therapy is another excellent example of constructivists "using it" instead of "losing it." With a certificate program and variety of other training resources available to clinicians (Coherence Psychology Institute, 2013) and a way of presenting constructivist ideas without necessarily ensnaring newcomers in lots of technical jargon to scare them off, coherence therapy is an example of how to effectively share constructivist ideas with a wider, non-constructivist audience.
Grief and Loss
Bob Neimeyer's work on grief and loss provides a final example of constructivist ideas being applied in ways that have had a significant impact on psychology and related disciplines. Neimeyer has combined aspects of personal construct psychology, narrative therapy, and social constructionism into a meaning-based approach to conceptualizing and working with people experiencing grief and loss (Neimeyer, 2001). One of his central premises is that people often lack the meaning-making structures necessary to effectively make sense of things when faced with grief and loss. Therapy therefore becomes an arena to help people in this very difficult endeavor.
While rooting his work firmly within a constructivist epistemology, Neimeyer identifies in clear and accessible language three activities that are important in successful meaning reconstruction following loss: sense making, benefit finding, and identity change (Gillies & Neimeyer, 2006). These ideas provide a firm foundation for psychotherapeutic applications and have gained widespread attention in books (Neimeyer, 2001), training videos (American Psychological Association, 2004), and workshops. Additionally, Neimeyer has applied constructivist ideas to research on complicated grief, which involves long-term struggle in meaningfully integrating a loss into one's life (Neimeyer, 2005/2006, 2006). In understandably and accessibly applying constructivist ideas to grief and loss, Neimeyer's work provides an excellent example of a constructivist "using it" instead of "losing it."
Must constructivism continue to exist? No. As Kelly (1955/1991 a, p. 22) himself said, every theory is an "eventual candidate for the trash can" once its utility has been exhausted. However, we don't believe that constructivism has come close to reaching its expiration date. Therefore, what is our responsibility to keep constructivism active in a field where the "latest" and "greatest" tend to get the most attention from practicing clinicians? Must we continue to work to keep constructivism in the mainstream of academia, to have it taught in theories courses, and be included in textbooks? Has the "good word" been spread enough that we can rest on our heels and stop attempting to help constructivism be front and center in psychological theory and practice?
Both fortunately and unfortunately, we believe that constructivists do have a responsibility to keep constructivism relevant to the larger field of psychology and psychotherapy. Constructivism has just enough popularity and coverage in most psychology and counselor education programs to capture the interest of students who are drawn to perspectives that support meaning making and non-objectivist stances. If, with further study and reflection, these students find that constructivism is a good fit for them, then having journals, organizations, and conferences--which all signify legitimacy in academic circles--is necessary for them to be taken seriously for both internships and future employment. Additionally, having outlets for constructivist research and theory (in journals, at conferences, in educational and training settings, and in the wider popular culture more generally) helps to build community and a body of literature that can sustain constructivism into the future.
While having the desire and seeing the logic in keeping constructivism viable in an ever-changing professional landscape, few of us have the time, energy, or skill set to make this happen on our own. While understanding the risks and downsides of organizing, without an organization that is responsible for keeping constructivism going, the diffusion of responsibility usually means that very little action is taken. Yet having an organization with an official membership is not enough to create a generative process that promises the continuation of the ideas and intellectual integrity of constructivism. Practical guidelines, treatment of topical issues through a constructivist lens, opening our circles more to dissolve the appearance of having a closed insider networker, being open to new ideas that stretch the current notions of constructivism, and being willing to advocate for constructivist perspectives in ways both understandable and appealing to those outside our tight nit community are all important as we move forward.
There is a necessary amount of time, energy and commitment that comes with perfecting a new skill. For one of the authors (Sara), learning to play Zelda would be truly difficult (although she did have a great aunt named Zelda). However, she might be able to do it if the directions were clear and there were others there to help her. Further, if the guidelines were written in very simple "non-video game-esque" language, there is even a chance she might find herself enjoying what she was doing. Similarly, if practical guidelines and "real world" applications for constructivist therapy and research could be written in clear language, simply and lucidly explaining complex theoretical ideas and the practices they lead to, there is a good chance that many people--even those who never would have thought themselves interested--might find ways of incorporating constructivist ideas into their work. We challenge the constructivist community to take up just such a task. If behavior is indeed an experiment--as Kelly (1969) himself suggested--then we are quite curious to see where such experimentation and perturbing of the status quo ultimately leads.
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|Title Annotation:||PART IV: LOOKING FORWARD|
|Author:||Raskin, Jonathan D.; Bridges, Sara K.; Kahn, Jack S.|
|Publication:||Studies in Meaning|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2015|
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