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Core role structure
Role is a central concept in PCP, one that developed Mead ’s (1913/1982) concept of sociality in a clinical context. Role is an activity based on one’s interpretation of the thinking of another person with whom one is interacting. Your theory of yourself as a person is built on role relationships with significant others, and core role structure for Kelly was thus central to a person’s sense of integrity. His discussion of it centres on difficulties clients experience in effecting psychological restructuring in therapy. So threat is defined as the awareness of immanent change in core role structure. People seek personal change but might find it entails more change than they bargained for. This threat accounts for the resistance observed by so many psychotherapists. The experience of guilt is also explained in terms of core role: an awareness of dislodgement from core role structure. A recurring theme in Kelly’s writing is advice to the clinician to adopt the credulous approach ; to listen carefully for the client’s meanings without reading in his or her own. Guilt should not be thought of in normative or absolute terms where it is a deviation from some societal rules. Instead it is a result of personal construction, for example the particular actions that one expects of oneself as a parent, that one fails to live up to (Kelly, 1969).

The concept of core role structure (like Mead’s self process) proposes a self which is a social construction and hence multi-faceted, but at the same time accounts for the experience of ‘real’ and 'true’ selves. In everyday life, we recognise a whole range of roles that we engage in. Nevertheless, we feel as though some are more central to us than others. It is not that peripheral selves are in any sense ‘false’, but they do not draw in our core role structure. Mair (1977) suggested the metaphor of a ‘community of selves’ to account for this experience and to help articulate the complicated nature of our role relationships. Contemporary construct theorists, for example, Leitner and his colleagues, have developed this conception in order to understand the importance of vital relationships in our lives.

see: Core constructs 


  • Kelly, G.A. (1955). The psychology of personal constructs. (2 Volumes) New York: Norton.
  • Kelly, G.A. (1969). Sin and psychotherapy. In B. Maher (Ed.), Clinical psychology and personality: the selected papers of George Kelly (pp. 165-188) London: Wiley.
  • Leitner, L. (1987). Crisis of the self: the terror of personal evolution. In R. A. Neimeyer & G. J. Neimeyer (Eds.), Personal construct therapy casebook  (pp. 39-56). New York: Springer.
  • Leitner, L. (1992). Sharing the mystery - a therapist’s experience of personal construct psychotherapy. In H. Jones & G. Dunnett (Eds.), Selected Papers form the second British conference on personal construct psychology (pp. 1-16). York, UK
  • Mair, J.M.M. (1977). The community of self. In D. Bannister (Ed.), New perspectives in personal construct theory  (pp. 125-149). London: Academic Press.
  • Mead, G. (1913/1982) The social self. In H. Thayer (Ed) Pragmatism: the classic writings. (pp. 351 –360). Indianapolis: Hackett

Trevor Butt

Establ. 2003
Last update: 15 February 2004