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Although, within personal construct theory, psychological disorders are not classified in terms of psychiatric nosological categories (see diagnosis), several personal construct research studies have explored the features of construing of people who have received particular psychiatric diagnoses. One such diagnosis, agoraphobia, can be considered to represent a clear behavioural expression of the strategy which George Kelly termed constriction, in which a person narrows their perceptual field in order to minimise apparent incompatibilities. There is consistent research evidence, from investigations of the personal construct systems, approaches to conflict situations, and marital relationships of individuals diagnosed as agoraphobic, that they and their partners tend to construe people in a uniformly positive light and may have a low level of awareness in relation to the construing of interpersonal conflict (e.g. Winter and Gournay, 1987; Winter, 1989). Conflict situations may therefore tend to be beyond the range of convenience of the construct systems of such individuals, for whom agoraphobia may allow them to avoid these situations and to constrict their interpersonal world to a partner who is a constant source of validation. There are some indications that such a pattern may have a basis in a family background in which exploratory behaviour was inhibited and the child was protected from invalidation (Lorenzini and Sassaroli, 1988). Amongst the other features found in some of the studies of the construct systems of agoraphobics and their partners is a tendency to differentiate highly between people in terms of whether they are likely to be unfaithful.

A treatment approach has been developed for people diagnosed as agoraphobic in which exposure therapy is supplemented with Interpersonal Transaction Groups (see group psychotherapy) focusing on reconstruction in areas central to the personal construct theory model of agoraphobia (e.g. elaboration of the construing of conflict). Clients receiving this approach have been found to show significantly greater improvement than while they were on a waiting list, although evidence that the personal construct psychotherapy sessions are more effective than supportive therapy is less clear (Winter et al., 1999).


  • Lorenzini, R. and Sassaroli, S. (1988). The construction of change in agoraphobia. In F. Fransella and L. Thomas (eds.), Experimenting with Personal Construct Psychology. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
  • Winter, D.A. (1989). An alternative construction of agoraphobia. In K. Gournay (ed.), Agoraphobia: Current Perspectives on Theory and Treatment. London: Routledge.
  • Winter, D. and Gournay, K. (1987). Constriction and construction in agoraphobia. British Journal of Medical Psychology, 60, 233-44.
  • Winter, D., Gournay, K., and Metcalfe, C. (1999). An investigation of the effectiveness of a personal construct psychotherapy intervention. In J.M. Fisher and D.J. Savage (eds.), Beyond Experimentation into Meaning. Farnborough: EPCA Publications.

David A. Winter

Establ. 2003
Last update: 15 February 2004