Constructivist Psychologies

Constructivist epistemology provided a conceptual basis for three distinct psychologies in this century. First, the British researcher, Bartlett (1886-1979), applied constructivist concepts in his investigations of human memory processes. In his classic work on remembering, Bartlett maintained that memories were reconstructed out of bits and pieces of recollected information. That is, memories did not consist of stored, complete representations of past events that were recalled in toto. Bartlett viewed memories as past information unified by schemas, the threads of con

Constructivist Psychotherapies structive processes that exist at the time information is remembered.

The Swiss genetic epistemologist Piaget (1896-1980) was the second psychologist to establish a coherent theory founded on a constructivist basis. As a developmental psychologist with interests in children's forms of knowing, Piaget chronicled how children's meaning-making capacities changed as a function of both physical growth and active adaptation upon exposure to a succession of conceptually challenging experiences. Piaget contended that rather than representing a smooth "learning curve'' over time, cognitive development was punctuated at critical points by qualitative transformations in the very style and form of thinking, permitting the eventual emergence of abstract, formal thought having a level of plasticity unavailable earlier in childhood. Subsequent develop-mentalists in the Piagetian tradition have extended this model into adult life, when still more subtle dialectical forms of thinking emerge to permit more adequate accommodation to the complexities of social life.

Finally, the American clinical psychologist, Kelly (1905 -1967), became the first to develop a personality theory and psychotherapeutic interventions based upon a constructivist epistemology. Influenced by both Korzybski and the psychodramatist, Moreno, Kelly's psychotherapeutic system exemplified constructivist thinking in that he viewed people as incipient scientists, striving to both anticipate and to control events they experienced through developing an integrated hierarchy of personal constructs. As will be discussed in a later section, Kelly viewed psychological intervention as a collaborative effort of the therapist and client to help the latter revise or replace personal constructions that were no longer viable. By making the reconstruction of personal belief systems the focus of psychotherapy, Kelly anticipated the work of later cognitive theorists and therapists. More generally, Kelly's position that multiple, viable constructions can be developed for a given phenomenon and that no single version of reality is prepotent over others heralded the arrival of postmodern critiques of the humanities and social sciences.

Although overshadowed by psychology's embrace of information processing perspectives on human mentation in the 1960s and 1970s, constructivist approaches experienced a strong resurgence of interest in the 1980s with the founding of The International Journal of Personal Construct Psychology in 1988. This forum was renamed Journal of Constructivist Psychology in 1994 to accommodate the growing diversity of constructivist scholarship beyond Kelly's personal construct psychology. Increasing interest in constructivist theory, research, and practice in both individual and family therapy has enriched the field, spawning the diversity of constructivist perspectives outlined below.

A common thread among various constructivist scholars is that human psychological processes are proactive and form generating. Thus, rather than viewing people's behavior as a mere reaction to the "stimuli" of the "real world," constructivists viewhu-mans as actively imposing their own order on experience and shaping their behavior to conform to their expectations. Thus, a fundamental concern of con-structivist psychotherapists becomes the study of the personal and communal meanings by which people order their experience, meanings that must be transformed if clients are to envision new (inter)personal realities in which to live. While most members of the broad family of constructivist approaches would endorse this basic position, they differ significantly in the emphasis they place on the individuality or commu-nality of meaning making, and their corresponding emphasis on private interpretations of experience as opposed to broad linguistic and cultural processes that shape human action. For this reason, it is useful to examine two central issues in constructivist episte-mology from the standpoints of both (personal) con-structivist and social constructionist positions, to lay a groundwork for understanding the different foci and methods of the various "schools" of constructivist therapy that follow.

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