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PCP and consciousness
Kelly did not elaborate on theories of consciousness and in fact was very dismissive of contemporary European notions of consciousness at the time (Kelly, 1966, 1969). Yet, three principles seem to underly PCP constructions of consciousness as derived from PCP. Firstly, to be aware of one aspect of the world, I must necessarily be unaware of other aspects, and that this selectivity is not a deficit but an inherent logical necessary, for example, in PCP we unquestionably accept the person's idiosyncratic focus on their problem. Second, that any awareness arises against a background of unawareness, which as it were lights up the actual act of awareness. So, for example, implicit poles form backgrounds for the emergence of explicit poles in repertory grid analysis. Thirdly, consciousness exists by degrees and at anyone point we may slide in and out of consciousness depending on accessibility and utility of addressing the relevant psychological issues. PCP notions would subscribe more to a continuum rather than a categorical notion of consciousness, and would conflict with more recent cognitive models which view consciousness categorically and largely cognitive, highlighting distinct cognitive domains that may produce consciousness. For example, Baars (1988) adopts a theatre metaphor of consciousness seeing conscious attention as a work space lit up by the search light of consciousness. Elements outside the workspace are "unconscious" and so unreportable. Interestingly, however, in his contrastive analyses approach to comparing two events similar except for the consciousness factor, Baars (1997) comes close to elaborating on a rep grid approach to discovering the elements of consciousness through pyramiding or working back to common elements underlying opposite construct poles (conscious versus unconscious).
This PCP continuum model is more in line with phenomenological thinking that intentional consciousness precedes cognition. Particularly the notion of intentional consciousness that there is no "pure" consciousness and that our level of consciousness is a function of our "doings" and "constructions". Hence degree of consciousness is contextualized inside personal themes which define the horizon of consciousness. PCP also shares common ground with thinkers who construe consciousness in terms of self-awareness and who view all consciousness as consciousness of the self but the self-construing in relation to the world (e.g.Velman, 1990; Natsoulas, 1992). Sartre (1943), for example, holds that my self-consciousness is defined through my relationship with the world and my position in it.
As noted, PCP comes to terms with awareness by viewing it as a continuum that the person may drift in and out of, instead of, asking whether it is an ever-present commodity. Different aspects of the continuum perform distinct functions at different moments, and the question of whether it is preferable to be conscious depends on the context and the task. This fits very well with the Kellyan idea that core constructs determine level of awareness, which can range from subliminal to full consciousness. In this dimensional view of consciousness, being unaware of an activity may serve a function that could be impeded by a state of awareness.
PCP and constructivism point out that the categories of consciousness of which we are familiar (waking, dreaming, fantasy) are really very fuzzy (Mahoney, 2003) and such transitions over boundaries of consciousness may take a creative form and permit a creative overlay of past and present experiences. Fantasy and day dreaming are also central themes in constructivism and show us the realms of hypothetical being. They may help give us a perspective on what we are living "as if" real. The organizing processes in dream consciousness are much looser and less constrained by space time dimensions and permit more experimentation than waking fantasies. Although Kelly accords importance to artistic and other non-verbal expressions in construing, there is no doubt that awareness and verbalisation are essential to the emergence of self-awareness and hence the possibility of exploration and change.
Collaborating in PCP with the person to produce a phenomenological description of his or her consciousness can be used as revelatory therapy as well as an exploratory technique. As revelatory therapy it can take the form of awareness exercises. The client envisages the problem differently simply by stripping away attributions and generalizations that have grown up around it. The ability to be aware of awareness or have conscious commentary on conscious thoughts, termed meta-cognition, is not some elusive second order consciousness in PCP, but part of a super-ordinate construction of consciousness. In sampling phenomenological experience this secondary appraisal of the problem would be monitored along with the actual problem. In other words the evaluative context of conscious experience would be included in the monitoring.    
  • Baars B.J.(1988) A cognitive theory of conciousness. London: Cambridge University Press:
  • Baars  B.J.(1997) A thoroughly empirical approach to conciousness: contrastive analysis. In Block, N. Flanagan, O. Guzeldere, G. (eds) The nature of conciousness. Cambridge Massachusetts: MIT/Bradford Books
  • Kelly, G.A. (1966) Ontological acceleration. In Maher, B. (ed) Clinical psychology and personality: The selected papers of George Kelly. New York: Wiley
  • Kelly, G.A. (1969) Humanistic methodology in psychological research. In Maher, B. (ed) Clinical Psychology and Personality. Malabar, Florida: Krieger
  • Mahoney, M.J. (2003) Constructive psychotherapy. New York: Guildford Press
  • Natsoulas, T. (1992) Intentionality,conciousness and subjectivity. Journal of Mind and Behavior, 13(3),281-308
  • Sartre, J.P. (1943/1957) Being and Nothingness. Methuen: London
  • Velmans, M. (1990) Conciousness, brain and the physical world. Philosophical Psychology, 3(1),77-99
Kieron O'Connor
Establ. 2003
Last update: 29 December 2003