Let's Talk: Using Personal Construct Psychology to Support Children and Young People


Simon Burnham

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    Simon Burnham would like to thank: the last several cohorts of trainee educational psychologists at Southampton University on whom a lot of the raw materials for this book have been ‘road tested’; colleagues from Portsmouth's Primary Behaviour Support Service (as was) for asking about PCP and managing to integrate what they found out into their work; Dr Bob Stratford for sometimes behaving ridiculously and for being a good sport; colleagues who took the trouble to give me feedback about earlier versions of the Let's Talk programme; and ‘Billy’ for pitching me out of my comfort zone.


    I very much like the spirit of Burr and Butt's (1992) ‘invitation’ to the theory and practice of George Kelly's Personal Construct Psychology (PCP), so I'm borrowing that idea to give you a sense of what I'll be asking you to engage with if you proceed any further than this preface.

    This book offers a personal perspective on PCP, from the point of view of someone who has been putting it into practice through a process of alternately wrestling with and embracing Kelly's ideas for a little over ten years now. Sometimes I observe the spirit more than the letter of those ideas but I do this with a clear conscience in the knowledge that I'm also signposting original sources of which you can make your own sense if mine seems inadequate or unlikely.

    My professional practice, and therefore the context of many of the anecdotes here, and all of the case studies, is in educational psychology. I invite you to ignore this fact and generalise everything I say to any other context you care to imagine in which it seems important to hear children's voices and understand their behaviour more clearly.

    This book is not about therapy or counselling. I'll be inviting you to consider how PCP is highly relevant to all our lives all the time. Psychotherapy, about which Kelly wrote a great deal, is a very small part of what PCP has to offer.

    This is not a ‘from scratch’ manual for those who find themselves working with troubled and difficult young people. I've left many gaps on the assumption that you are bringing skills and knowledge of your own.

    I've tried to write in a style that is at times conversational – I hope you will find this engaging and not distracting.

    If you have any prior knowledge of PCP you may be surprised to see that amongst the things I have omitted in this very short book is any mention of the repertory grid. This reflects the simple fact that the book is based on my own practice and I feel I am in good company in sharing Phillida Salmon's (1988) suspicion that the rep grid technique strays a little too far from natural conversation for comfort.

    As a final thought I'd say that, unlike most other psychology, I think you are extremely unlikely to do any harm at all by knowing and using just a little PCP – quite the opposite in fact – so I invite you to read on and help fulfil my ambition to see a lot more people using a little PCP in addition to the relative few who use it a great deal. If you subsequently move from the first to the second of those groups, spread the word!

  • References

    Bannister, D. and Fransella, F. (1986) Inquiring Man: The Psychology of Personal Constructs. Routledge: London.
    Burr, V. and Butt, T. (1992) Invitation to Personal Construct Psychology. Whurr: London.
    Butler, R. and Green, D. (1998) The Child Within: The Exploration of Personal Construct Theory with Young People. Butterworth Heinemann: Oxford.
    DfES (2001) Special Educational Needs Code of Practice. Department for Education and Skills: London.
    Fransella, F. and Dalton, P. (1990) Personal Construct Counselling in Action. Sage: London.
    Kelly, G.A. (1955) The Psychology of Personal Constructs, Vols 1 & 2. W.W. Norton: New York.
    Maher, B. (ed.) (1969) Clinical Psychology and Personality: The Selected Papers of George Kelly. John Wiley and Sons: London.
    Maslow, A.H. (1970) Motivation and Personality. Harper and Row: London.
    Moran, H. (2001) Who do you think you are? Drawing the Ideal Self: a technique to explore a child's sense of self. Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry6 (4): 599–604. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1359104501006004016
    Muir, J. (1911) My First Summer in the Sierra. Available at http://www.yosemite.ca.us/john_muir_writings/my_first_summer_in_the_sierra/chapter_6.html.
    Ravenette, T. (1999) Personal Construct Theory in Educational Psychology: A Practitioner's View. Whurr: London.
    Salmon, P. (1988) Psychology for Teachers: An Alternative Approach. Hutchinson: London.
    Salmon, P. (1995) Psychology in the Classroom: Reconstructing Teachers and Learners. Cassell: London.
    UNICEF (1990) United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Available at http://www.ohchr.org/english/law/pdf/crc.pdf.
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