Main Page
Alphabetical Index

Hints for prints


George Kelly (1955, p. 775) viewed psychiatric diagnosis as ‘all too frequently an attempt to cram a whole live struggling client into a nosological category’. His alternative approach, which he termed ‘transitive diagnosis’, was to use diagnostic dimensions focusing upon the avenues of movement open to the individual rather than a classification system based upon disease entities (Johnson et al., 2000). These diagnostic dimensions include constriction - dilation; and tight - loose construing. Other diagnostic constructs used by Kelly, and described in other sections of the encyclopaedia, are preverbal constructs; submergence; suspension; level of cognitive awareness; comprehensive constructs; incidental constructs; superordinate constructs; subordinate constructs; regnant constructs; core constructs; peripheral constructs; and various constructs relating to transitions in construing (e.g. threat; fear; anxiety; guilt; aggressiveness; hostility; the circumspection-preemption-control cycle).

Kelly (1955, p. 831) defined as a disorder ‘any personal construction which is used repeatedly in spite of consistent invalidation’. Disorders involve a failure to complete the process of experimentation outlined in the experience cycle. They may be regarded, just like the constructions of non-disordered people, as the individual’s attempt to make the best sense of his or her world and to cope with or avoid invalidation. To this end, all of us use the strategies described in Kelly’s diagnostic constructs, but while in the optimally functioning person there is a cyclical and balanced interplay of contrasting strategies, in disorders there tends to be the almost exclusive use of a particular strategy. Disorders may therefore be classified in terms of the strategies which most characterise them (Winter, 1992, 2003). Similarly, they may be viewed in terms of the "nonvalidation strategies" which the individual uses in order to avoid making sense of some aspect of his or her world (Walker et al., 2000).


  • Johnson, T.J., Pfenninger, D.T., and Klion, R.E. (2000). Constructing and deconstructing transitive diagnosis. In R.A. Neimeyer and J.D. Raskin (eds.), Constructions of Disorder: Meaning-Making Frameworks for Psychotherapy. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
  • Kelly, G.A. (1955). The Psychology of Personal Constructs. New York: Norton (republished by Routledge, 1991).
  • Walker, B.M., Oades, L.G., Caputi, P., Stevens, C.D., and Crittenden, N. (2000). Going beyond the scientist metaphor: from validation to experience cycles. In J.W. Scheer (ed.), The Person in Society: Challenges to a Constructivist Theory. Giessen: Psychosozial-Verlag.
  • Winter, D.A. (1992), Personal Construct Psychology in Clinical Practice: Theory, Research and Applications. London: Routledge.
  • Winter, D.A. (2003). Psychological disorder as imbalance. In F. Fransella (ed.), Personal Construct Psychology Handbook. Chichester: Wiley.

David A. Winter

Establ. 2003
Last update: 15 February 2004