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PCP and gender
"We have attempted to delineate the role of the psychotherapist and his basic approaches within the systemic position of the psychology of personal constructs" (Kelly, 1955, p. 685).
"The client may want to bare himself without taking any responsibility for formulating his ideas in communicable form" (Kelly, 1955, p. 983).
There is a curious contradiction between the emphasis of Personal Construct Psychology on empathy, on openness in construing experience, and on the readiness to revise constructions in light of invalidation; and the almost total disregard of gender as an issue. Throughout the basic text (Kelly, 1955) as well as in subsequent writings, Kelly (1996; Maher, 1969) persists in using the third person masculine singular when referring to "the therapist" or "the client". In his discussion of sex roles (Kelly, 1955, pp. 930-931), Kelly refers to a male client's difficulties in resolving conflicts rooted in childhood and his resistance to loosening his construals. Subsequent research by students of Kelly dealt with differences between the genders only in relatively few researches. Among the findings: girls present more psychological constructs in regard to persons than boys, who tend to use descriptive constructs, and more complex constructs than boys in regard to objects (Little, 1969). Women differentiate between elements less than men, tend to be more capable of social construing and to construe situations more holistically (Landfield, 1971). Similar findings are cited in research where women were found to construe occupations in a more integrated way than did men (Bodden, 1970; Harren et al., 1979; Neimeyer & Metzler, 1987).
There is only indirect reference to gender in research related to solving issues in counseling. It was significant, for example, that findings from the application of the Bannister-Fransella (1967) Grid Test for Schizophrenic Thinking could not be explained in terms of sex (or age, or intelligence, or most personality factors) (see Kear-Colwell, 1973; Poole, 1976; Stefan & Molloy, 1982). In sex-therapy, counselors seem to analyze the reptest in the same way for both partners. By contrast with other areas, however, analysts implementing PCP tools give full consideration to women's construals (Bannister & Bott, 1973; Proctor, 1996; Winter, 1988).
Some research does make a point of examining women's point of view. In attempting to explain differences of construal between the sexes, Carlson (1971) concluded that women see themselves less as "agents" in confronting situations than do men. Neimeyer and Hall (1988) focus especially on problems of personal identity among women in satisfactory, unsatisfactory, and abusive marriages. O'Sullivan (1984), who found that agoraphobia is more prevalent among women than among men, sought an explanation for her findings by construing that in Western societies, girls are traditionally sheltered from experimentation and from experiences that are likely to change their core structures. Among recent studies, Iantaffi (1999, p. 81) notes that she conducted interviews with disabled women in academia, for, like  feminist concerns, "disability issues stem from common roots of prejudice, discrimination, and oppression, where the personal becomes political..." .
The small number of references to gender in PCP theory and research is somewhat odd considering how central rejection of the Freudian claim that anatomy is destiny was to Kelly's constructivism. Furthermore, at the time that Kelly was formulating the theory, Karen Horney (1939), a psychoanalyst, was energetically arguing against Freud's explanations of women's weakness in terms of "penis envy". The polemic by De Beauvoir (1949 / 1952), accusing the patriarchal social order of assigning women the role of parasites, forcing them into submission, was also well-known. Moreover, concern with gender identification and psychosexual development was central to post-World War II research in Jungian psychoanalysis as in theories of social learning theory and cognitive-development (Unger, 1979).
According to Winter (1992), PCP researchers felt more certain of the validity of repgrids when they discovered that findings did show differences between girls and boys, men and women. It is possible, however, that Kelly allowed the indifference to gender because he related to the effects of sex, as, among others, to those of age, origin, and language, as part of a cluster of cultural controls. In that light, he could anticipate that a sensitive therapist would discover differences rooted in gender by working through a diagnosis with the kind of open mind that therapy – and research – require. Still, O'Sullivan (1988) considered that the question of whether PCP and feminism are compatible required examination. Her conclusion is that key features of PCT (constructive alternativism, credulous listening to the other, anticipation, validation of different kinds of knowing, and reconstruction and recreation rather than adjustment to the status quo) have parallels in feminist thinking and thus can provide a basis for a truly non-sexist, even a feminist, therapy.
Given the expansion of feminism as a political movement and the spread of varieties of feminist theorizing during the last several decades of the twentieth century, Kelly might, had he lived, revised his construal, or non-construal, of gender. But a thorough exploration of how gender influences personality and how gender issues can and should be integrated into the theory are yet to be carried out. 


  • Bannister, D. & Fransella, F. (1967) A grid test of schizophrenic thought disorder: A standard clinical test. Barnstaple: Psychological Test Publications.
  • Bannister, D.  & Bott, M. (1973) Evalutating the person. In: P. Kline (ed.) New approaches to psychological measurement. London: Wiley.  
  • Bodden, J. (1970) Cognitive complexity as a factor in appropriate vocational choice. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 17, pp. 364-368.  
  • Carlson, R. (1971) Sex differences in ego functioning: Exploratory studies of agency and communion. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 37, pp. 267-277.  
  • De Beauvoir, S. (1952) The second sex.  [trans: H. M. Parshley]  New York: Alfred A. Knopf.  
  • Harren, V. A., Koss, R. A., Tionsley, H. & Moreland, J. R. (1979) Influence of gender, sex-role attitudes and cognitive complexity on gender-dominant career choices. Journal of Counseling Psychology,26, pp. 227-234.  
  • Horney, K. (1939)  New ways in psychoanalysis. New York: W. W. Norton.  
  • Iantaffi, A. (1999) Constructing academia: Drawing rivers with disabled women students in higher education. In: J. M. Fisher & D. J. Savage (eds.) Beyond experimentation into meaning. Farnborough: EPCA Publication, pp. 81-87.  
  • Kear-Colwell, J. J. (1973) Bannister-Fransella grid performance: Relationship with personality and intelligence. British Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 12, pp. 78-82.  
  • Kelly, G. A. (1955) The psychology of personal constructs. New York: W. W. Norton.  
  • Landfield, A. (1971) Personal construct systems in psychotherapy. Lincoln: University of Nebraska.  
  • Little, B. R. (1969) Sex differences and comparability of three measures of cognitive complexity. Psychological Reports, 24, pp. 607-609.  
  • Maher, B. (ed.) (1969) Clinical psychology and personality: The selected papers of George Kelly. New York: Wiley.  
  • Neimeyer, G. & Hall, A. G. (1988) Personal identity in disturbed marital relationships. In: F. Fransella & L. Thomas (eds.) Experimenting with personal construct psychology. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, pp. 297-307.  
  • Neimeyer, G. J. & Metzler, A. (1987) Sex differences in vocational integration and differentiation. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 30, pp. 167-174.  
  • O'Sullivan, B. (1988) Feminism and PCT.  In: F. Fransella & L. Thomas (eds.) Experimenting with personal construct psychology. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, pp. 459-471.  
  • O'Sullivan, B. O. (1984) Understanding the experience of agoraphobia. Unpublished Ph. D. thesis, University of Dublin.  
  • Poole, A. D. (1976) A further attempt to cross-validate the Grid Test of Schizophrenic Thought Disorder.  British Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 15, pp. 179-188. 
  • Procter, H. (1996)  The family construct system. In: D. Kalekin-Fishman & Walker (eds.) The construction of group realities: Culture, society, and personal construct theory, Malabar, FL: Krieger, pp. 161-180.  
  • Stefan, C. & Molloy, P. (1982) An investigation of the construct validity of the Bannister-Fransella Grid Test of Schizophrenic Thought Disorder. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 21, pp. 199-204.
  • Unger, R. K. (1979) Female and male. New York: Harper & Row.  
  • Winter, D. (1988) Construction in social skills training. In: F. Fransella & L. Thomas (eds.) Experimenting with personal construct psychology. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, pp. 342-356.  
  • Winter, D. (1992) Personal construct psychology in clinical practice: Theory, research and applications. London: Routledge.

Devorah Kalekin-Fishman
Establ. 2003
Last update: 15 February 2004