|The credulous approach
a stance of openness and acceptance adopted by a clinician in order to
understand how the client is presently experiencing the world. In
writing about personal construct therapy,
George Kelly (1955/1991) encouraged
clinicians to take such an approach. The information a client shares in
the consulting room is credulously accepted at face value and presumed
to be experientially true for the client, even if this information does
not fit with how others (including the therapist) might construe
things. As Kelly (1955/1991) himself observed, an effective clinician
“never discards information given by the client merely because it
does not conform to what appear to be the facts! From a
phenomenological point of view, the client—like the proverbial
customer—is always right”
(p. 241). Adopting a credulous attitude serves a simple but essential
purpose: it allows the clinician to understand the client’s world by
viewing it through the client’s eyes (Leitner, Dunnett, Anderson, &
1993; Neimeyer, 1995).
This recognition and understanding of the client’s perspective allows
the clinician insight into the functioning of the client, specifically
in terms of the personal constructs the client currently holds
and how these constructs are put to use in everyday life. By adopting
an open, empathic, and non-judgmental position, the clinician is able
to get a sense of what it is like to live in the client’s experiential
world, thus gaining an appreciation for the client’s present feelings
and behaviors (Epting, 1984). The credulous approach conveys a
great deal of respect for the client’s reality. It demonstrates that
the client’s views are valid and valuable within the client’s personal
Credulity, in this context, does not mean that the clinician blindly
accepts everything the client says without question. The way the client
initially presents to the clinician is the foundation upon which trust
is built. The client will sometimes present in certain ways that may
seem to reflect discrepancies or “untruths” as observed by the
clinician (Fransella, 1995; Kelly, 1955/1991). However, it may be
unwise to challenge the client, especially early in the therapy, for
fear of damaging the trust that is crucial to forming a successful
therapeutic role relationship. Acceptance and respect are critical
aspects of creating an environment where the client feels safe enough
to allow the clinician to facilitate exploration of alternative ways of
construing problems. When there is a discrepancy between how the client
and clinician construe things, the clinician who has developed a
trusting relationship with a client can introduce this discrepancy into
the therapeutic conversation—not as
a way of correcting the client’s “irrational” or “distorted” beliefs,
instead as a means to help the client consider the potential benefits
drawbacks of how the client currently construes events and, if called
to encourage the client to entertain constructive alternatives to
ways of construing.
Of course, clinicians are not the only ones who can benefit from the
credulous approach. Clients may often find it helpful to assume such an
In so doing, they may playfully be able to try out alternative ways of
construing events that lead to new behavioral possibilities. The
encourages both client and clinician to entertain new prospects for
themselves and their relationships by trying on for size novel ways of
things in order to decide whether or not they might effectively make a
difference (Landfield & Epting, 1987). Self-characterization
and fixed-role therapy are examples
of how the credulous approach can be applied to psychotherapy.
In sum, taking on a credulous approach allows the clinician to gain a
level of understanding of the client’s world through implementing a
unwary attitude. The clinician is not attempting to discover where the
falls in relation to some preconceived truth about how the client
feel or behave. On the contrary, the client is leading the clinician
the client’s personal lived reality. Once there, honest understanding
begin (Epting, 1984).
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G.A. (1991a). The psychology of personal constructs. Vol. 1:
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A. W., & Epting, F. R. (1987). Personal construct
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L. M., Dunnett, N. G. M., Anderson, T. M., & Meshot, C. M.
(1993). Unique aspects of personal construct psychotherapy. In L. M.
Leitner & N. G. M. Dunnett (Eds.), Critical issues in personal
construct psychotherapy (pp.3-17). Malabar, FL: Krieger.
G. J. (1995). The challenge of change. In R.A. Neimeyer &
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Jonathan D. Raskin & Laurie Ann Morano