Main Page
Alphabetical Index

Hints for prints


Psychoanalysis and PCP
Sigmund Freud’s theory of personality organization and functioning, and the therapy he devised to treat psychological difficulties, is the material to which the term 'psychoanalysis' strictly applies (Brown, 1961).  However, developments in relation to that material make a discussion of psychoanalysis and its relationship to personal construct psychology (PCP) somewhat difficult. This is because the term is commonly used more widely. It can now refer to the original ideas, their development shortly after Freud’s death by the so called neo-Freudians and by more recent developments which generated a perspective that was to become known as 'the French Freud'.
In relation to the original ideas, Kelly (1955) writes of Freud and his contemporaries in quite positive terms, though he does not provide a systematic treatment of psychoanalysis or of the ‘early schismatics’. He indicates that Freud had taken on a most significant task in "wading into the headwaters of the stream of individual man’s life in search of the underground springs that feed it" (p. 4), and he commends him for this.  He values, too, Freud’s development of the idea of a system in the mechanisms underpinning human functioning. Moreover, this was a system that portrayed human beings in dynamic terms and as warm, living creatures rather than passive receivers of information (p. 776). However, he appears to have fallen in with the general criticism of his time that psychoanalysis was not truly a science; its hypotheses were "rubber hypotheses" and did not lend themselves to scientific evaluation (Kelly, 1955, p. 885). Further, the 'biological' and 'energy' concepts did not find favor with Kelly and he echoed concerns at the inflation of psychoanalysis to the status of a religion in some quarters. 
More generally, the original statement of personal construct psychology provided by Kelly accepted a number of psychoanalytic concepts and translated them into PCP terms. Transference is one example, where Kelly noted significant similarities between Freud’s notion and a different understanding in PCP. Again, the psychoanalytic idea of ego-strength is rendered in PCP not in terms of one’s ability to 'adjust to reality', but in terms of how, and whether, one can communicate about the world in realistic terms. Finally, Kelly saw value in many psychoanalytic techniques – which is perhaps unremarkable given the therapeutic eclecticism of PCP – but would use them with a different focus.
In relation to subsequent developments, it has been suggested (Warren, 1990) that PCP would be equally at home with understandings of Freudian concepts in terms of the reading of Freud that emerges as 'the French Freud'. Those developments and that reading of Freud are themselves complex, but one key idea therein is that Freudian concepts are to be understood as illuminating the language of the unconscious. The focus is on meaning, on hermeneutics, and this generates a most comfortable fit with PCP which is well conceived as a hermeneutic constructivism (Chiari and Nuzzo, 2000).
In general, and while Kelly (1955) did express significant reservations and criticisms of psychoanalysis as he then understood it, it is not unreasonable to say that there is a highly sympathetic reaction to Freud’s project in PCP. There is a translation of various psychoanalytic concepts into PCP terms. There is an acceptance of some psychoanalytic techniques, such as working with dreams and helping a client bring material to consciousness, though those techniques are differently utilized in PCP. Finally, both theories share a focus on the ‘grand vision’ and a philosophical alignment with the phenomenological tradition, to be considered major contributions to understanding human psychology and to psychotherapy.
  • Brown, J.A.C. (1961). Freud and the post-Freudians.  London: Cassell.
  • Chiari, G. and Nuzzo, M.L. (2000). Hermeneutics and constructivist psychotherapy: The psychotherapeutic process in a hermeneutic constructivist framework.  In J. W. Scheer (ed).  The Person in society: Challenges to a constructivist theory.  Giessen: Psychosozial-Verlag.
  • Kelly, G. A. (1955). The psychology of personal constructs. New York: W.W. Norton.
  • Warren, B. (1990). Psychoanalysis and personal construct theory: An exploration. The Journal of Psychology, 124(4), 449-463.
  • Warren, B. (1998). Philosophical dimensions of personal construct psychology.  London: Routledge.
Bill Warren
Establ. 2003
Last update: 1 December 2003