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Implicative dilemmas
Implicative dilemmas are relationships between an individual's constructs which present that person with a dilemma or conflict. The term was originally used by Hinkle (1965) to describe relationships between two constructs, A-B and X-Y, in which ‘A and B imply X, and B implies Y’ or ‘A implies X and Y, and B implies X and Y’ (p. 18). As an example, he described a relationship between the constructs ‘desirable - undesirable’ and ‘realism - idealism’ in which both realism and idealism implied desirable and undesirable aspects for the person concerned. More recent examples have tended to focus on interrelationships between three constructs which present logical inconsistencies. Consider, for example the following relationships between the constructs ‘depressed - happy’, ‘sensitive - insensitive’, and ‘desirable - undesirable’: happiness is considered desirable, but implies being insensitive, which is considered undesirable. Such dilemmas may provide an explanation for the maintenance of particular symptoms (Ryle, 1979), and have been associated with lack of response to therapy (e.g. Catina and Walter, 1989).

Implicative dilemmas may be identified from repertory grids, and some computer programs have been devised for this purpose (Slade and Sheehan, 1979; Bassler et al., 1992; Feixas and Cornejo, 1996), although in some cases a high level of conflict suggested by such an analysis may reflect a loosely organised construct system (Winter, 1983). They can also be identified by laddering (Hinkle, 1965) and by Tschudi’s (1977) ABC technique.

A therapeutic method has been developed for the resolution of dilemmas identified from repertory grids, and this is currently being evaluated (Feixas et al., 2000).


  • Bassler, M., Krauthauser, H., and Hoffmann, S.O. (1992). A new approach to the identification of cognitive conflicts in the repertory grid: an illustrative case study. International Journal of Personal Construct Psychology, 5, 95-111.
  • Catina, A. and Walter, E. (1989). What is a successful therapy? Paper presented at1st. European Congress of Psychology, Amsterdam.
  • Feixas, G. and Cornejo, J.M. (1996). Manual de la Tecnica de Rejilla mediante el Programa RECORD v 2.0. Barcelona: Paidos.
  • Feixas, G., Saul, L.A., and Sanchez, V. (2000). Detection and analysis of implicative dilemmas: implications for the therapeutic process. In J.W. Scheer (ed.), The Person in Society: Challenges to a Constructivist Theory. Giessen: Psychosozial-Verlag.
  • Hinkle, D. (1965). The Change of Personal Constructs from the Viewpoint of a Theory of Construct Implications. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Ohio State University.
  • Ryle, A. (1979). The focus in brief interpretative psychotherapy: Dilemmas, traps and snags as target problems. British Journal of Psychiatry, 134, 46-54.
  • Slade, P.D. and Sheehan, M.J. (1979). The measurement of ‘conflict’ in repertory grids. British Journal of Psychology, 70, 519-24.
  • Tschudi, F. (1977). Loaded and honest questions: a construct theory view of symptoms and therapy. In D. Bannister (ed.), New Perspectives in Personal Construct Theory. London: Academic Press.
  • Winter, D.A. (1983). Logical inconsistency in construct relationships: conflict or complexity? British Journal of Medical Psychology, 56, 257-70.

David A. Winter

Establ. 2003
Last update: 15 February 2004