Main Page
Alphabetical Index

Hints for prints


Credulous approach

The credulous approach is 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 empathically viewing it through the client’s eyes (Leitner, Dunnett, Anderson, & Meshot, 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 framework.

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, but instead as a means to help the client consider the potential benefits and drawbacks of how the client currently construes events and, if called for, to encourage the client to entertain constructive alternatives to current 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 attitude. In so doing, they may playfully be able to try out alternative ways of construing events that lead to new behavioral possibilities. The credulous approach encourages both client and clinician to entertain new prospects for understanding themselves and their relationships by trying on for size novel ways of construing 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 trusting, unwary attitude. The clinician is not attempting to discover where the client falls in relation to some preconceived truth about how the client should feel or behave. On the contrary, the client is leading the clinician into the client’s personal lived reality. Once there, honest understanding can begin (Epting, 1984).


  • Epting, F.R. (1984). Personal construct counseling and psychotherapy. New York: Wiley.
  • Fransella, F. (1996). George Kelly. London: Sage.
  • Kelly, G.A. (1991a). The psychology of personal constructs. Vol. 1: A theory of personality. London: Routledge. (Original work published 1955)
  • Landfield, A. W., & Epting, F. R. (1987). Personal construct psychology: Clinical and personality assessment. New York: Human Sciences Press.
  • Leitner, 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.
  • Neimeyer, G. J. (1995). The challenge of change. In R.A. Neimeyer & M. J. Mahoney (Eds.), Constructivism in psychotherapy (pp. 111-126). Washington DC: American Psychological Association.

Jonathan D. Raskin & Laurie Ann Morano

Establ. 2003
Last update: 15 February 2004