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The invitational mood
Personal construct psychology challenges the idea that language gives us access to the way things are. Those who believe that language provides a direct window onto nature – an objective accounting of the reality of people, things, and events – operate in accordance with an indicative mood. The indicative mood purports to indicate the way things are; when operating from an indicative mood, accounts about goings-on in the world are either correct or incorrect. By contrast, George Kelly (1964/1969), in his personal construct psychology, suggested that language might be used in a hypothetical manner. That is "our verbs could be cast in the invitational mood" rather than in the "indicative mood of objective speech" (Kelly, 1964/1969b, p. 149). The invitational mood is the idea that how we talk about things is tied to particular constructions of the world. Different ways of talking about things invite different implications for how to proceed. Rather than trying to ascertain which ways of talking about things are correct in a universal way, personal construct psychology invites us to consider the implications for different ways of construing the same set of circumstances. In other words, using an invitational mood, one can entertain seemingly contradictory constructions of the same thing in order to see where each construction leads. There is no pressure to remain wedded to particular constructions; one can shift among various ways of construing the same occurrences depending upon what one is trying to accomplish. Thus, what is true is always defined in relationship to the construction of events that one has been invited to accept. Different constructions of the same thing may be more or less useful, depending on what one is trying to accomplish.
Kelly’s famous example of the invitational mood is when he asks us to "regard the floor as if it were hard". If we regard the floor as if it were hard we are leaving open alternative interpretations of the floor. The nature of the floor becomes anticipatory as opposed to an objective interpretation, allowing us to question the strengths and limitations of our current constructions about the floor. Consequently, we can construe the floor in many different ways. When we are walking from the kitchen to the bathroom, the construction that the floor is hard may be very useful. However, there may be other times when we find such a construction limiting:
Suppose, instead, we employ the language of hypothesis. We say, in effect, "To be sure the floor may be regarded as hard, and we know something of what ensues when we cope with it in light of such an assumption. Not bad! But now, let us see what happens when we regard it as soft." (Kelly, 1964/1969b, p. 160)
The invitational mood has many similarities with the scientific notion of hypothesis. Tentative in nature, the hypothesis safely guards us from the stagnating trap of objective truth. Instead of perceiving people, things, and/or events as in some final and unalterable way, the invitational mood allows us to view these things within the realm of possibility. The hypothesis is our ticket to develop ideas and constructions that may be "pursued, tested, abandoned, or reconsidered at a later time" (Kelly, 1964/1969, p. 149).
The invitational mood can be used in therapeutic relationships as a method employed by clinicians to gently guide clients toward exploration of alternative possibilities and strategies for coping with their complaints and perceiving their worlds. The invitational mood and its encouragement to consider one’s most cherished assumptions as tentative, "as if" hypotheses rather than final and unchallengeable truths invites clients to suspend current constructions that are no longer working long enough to entertain new possibilities (Epting, 1984; Epting & Prichard, 1993).
Inviting, as opposed to challenging, communicates respect for clients’ current ways of construing things. If clients do not feel safe or are not ready to consider alternative constructions, resistance may occur in therapy (Epting, 1984; Leitner & Dill-Staniford, 1993). Inviting clients to explore avenues previously not considered, while simultaneously valuing their current constructions, allows a safety net on which they may fall back. Because clinicians are not communicating that their clients’ current constructions are wrong and are not forcing them to abandon these constructions in order to adopt the "right" ones, clients may be more open to the idea of exploration. When language is used in this way, people gain freedom from the habit of examining their beliefs and situations in terms of what is right or wrong within the framework of an objective reality (Raskin, 2004).
The invitational mood encourages people to accept responsibility for their constructions and grants them the permission to consider alternative constructions (McWilliams, 1996). Rather than seeing personal constructions as mirrors of external reality, the invitational mood reframes these constructions as human inventions each of us creates in order to navigate through life. Because we invent personal constructions, we are responsible for them. However, because we invent personal constructions, we are also free to entertain new possibilities—and this is precisely what the invitational mood invites us to do.

  • Epting, F.R. (1984). Personal construct counseling and psychotherapy. New York: Wiley.
  • Epting, F.R. & Pritchard, S. (1993). An experiential approach to personal meanings in counseling and psychotherapy. In L.M. Leitner & N.G.M. Dunnett (Eds.), Critical issues in personal construct psychotherapy (pp. 33-59). Malabar, FL: Krieger. 
  • Kelly, G.A. (1969b). The language of hypothesis: Man’s psychological instrument. In B. Maher (Ed.), Clinical psychology and personality: The selected papers of George Kelly (pp. 147-162). New York: John Wiley. 
  • Leitner, L.M. & Dill-Staniford, T. (1993). Resistance in experiential personal construct psychotherapy:Theoretical and technical struggles. In L.M. Leitner & N.G.M. Dunnett (Eds.), Critical issues in personal construct psychotherapy (pp.135-155).  Malabar, FL: Krieger. 
  • McWilliams, S. A. (1996). Accepting the invitational. In B. M. Walker & J. Costigan & L. L. Viney & B. Warren (Eds.), Personal construct theory: A psychology for the future (pp. 57-78). Melborne: Australian Psychological Society.
  • Raskin, J. D. (2004). The permeability of personal construct psychology. In J. D. Raskin & S. K. Bridges (Eds.), Studies in meaning 2: Bridging the personal and social in constructivist psychology (pp.329-348). New York: Pace University Press.

Jonathan D. Raskin & Laurie Ann Morano

Establ. 2003
Last update: 15 February 2004