FRANSELLA'S 80TH YEAR
|Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health NHS
all, I’d like to thank Fay very
much for inviting me to speak. I just want to explain a little bit
PCP developed for me over the years. When I was younger I used to hear
talking, articulating differently about ‘reality’ with such certainty,
right, what was wrong, morality, political, social. It did seem very
to me, they seemed to be talking about different realities.
When I was a young whippersnapper, I had
several experiences in the middle of the night – which were not induced
substances – which have informed me ever since, which has not been
anything. It was like having an altered state of consciousness,
seemed awesomely strange, like I was a stranger in a strange world. It
looking from a nothingness into a somethingness. As far as the world
concerned it seemed strange that anything exists, not just the world,
And through these experiences I realised
that even our most advanced human knowledge compared to this vast
was very limited. Beyond was an ontological, fundamental mystery.
Later, much later, when I read the
“why is there something rather than nothing”, it made a lot of sense to
I began to search in my own way to find frameworks that touched on this
experience, for years, looking for elements of these, which I realise
now I was
looking for a range of convenience, a range of fit, but nothing really
explained it. I used to read all sorts of things like existentialism
(Macquarrie, 1972), phenomenological sociology (Berger & Luckmann,
which talked about multiple realities, Tibetan Buddhism (David-Neel
Larma, 1967), works on altered states of consciousness (Brown, 1986,
Pearce, 1971/2002, Grof, 1985, Kaku, 1994, tart, 1988, 1990) and
which seemed potentially related (Polanyi, 1958, 1969.
When as a mature student I did a
degree course. Then, when I was looking in a bookshop, one day, I came
the book Inquiring Man by Don
Bannister and Fay Fransella (1971/1993) – which was not on the course
I realised that here was a psychology which fitted with multiple
which recognised how human beings are configured and located. I at that
was always looking at meaning and I found Osgood’s Semantic
(Osgood, Suci & Tannenbaum, 1961), which I was quite interested in,
when I came across Kelly’s Repertory Grid (Kelly, 1955) which worked
person’s own elicited meaning, this seemed better.
After I finished the degree course I saw
PCP foundation course at the Royal Free, run by Fay, and realised this
psychotherapy that I wanted to do. Later the advanced course developed
I had the opportunity to work at the PCP centre run by Fay, to teach
therapy, then later, PCP and education and finally with David Winter in
psychology department. And over two decades I was developing what I
as a ‘constructivist phenomenology’.
I’d just like to introduce you to
that some of you may have heard of before – a strand of something
the story of Flatland. In the 1880’s Edwin Abbott (1884) wrote a book
‘Flatland’, which was about flat creatures who lived on a flat plane,
only had two-dimensional constructs (Diagram 1).
Flatlanders could only see backward and
forward, leftward and rightward, and they refused to believe that there
anything more, i.e. any higher dimensions. The ‘hero’, A-Square, was of
flat, and the story was a satire of Victorian society as well as an
introduction to higher dimensions. According to the class of the
more complex they were. And so the ‘superior’ males were complex
circles etc, the ‘lower’ classes were very narrow triangles, and
women were only lines, “very dangerous to a gentleman”. Especially like
hero of the story, A-Square.
|And here we have, one day, A-Square sitting
in his living room, and A-Sphere, from three dimensional space,
Spaceland (Diagram 2). Of course, the square can only see in
two dimensions so what
square sees is first of all a point on the carpet and then gradually in
expanding form and then an expanding circle and then a smaller circle
point and he wondered was happening (Diagram 3 a). He was only seeing a
cross-section of the three dimensional sphere.
The sphere begins to visit A-Square
and he convinces the square that there is such a thing as a higher
basically, a three-dimensional space. He does this by lifting items
locked cabinet in Flatland into the third dimension and putting them
down. And of
course, to the square, the item seems to have been ‘teleported’
(Diagram 2, bottom).
Diagram 3a. A Sphere moves through Flatland
here is another diagram (Diagram 3b) from a book
Rudi Rucker (1985) – and the gentleman with the fez could be seen as
Cooper falling though Flatland.
3b. Man falling through Flatland
| Now in diagrams 4 and 5, supposing we imagine that all the solid
lines here are flat and represent Flatland. In this analogy, these flat
lines now represent our three dimensionally contexted physical world.
walnut thing here, analogically speaking is our three dimensional
Everything in the dotted lines represents multi-dimensionality, i.e.
interiority and its child of consciousness. So here we have an
‘construct’, exteriority and interiority, for just as Spaceland is not
dualistically opposite to Flatland, so interiority is not dualistically
‘opposite’ to exteriority. We live in a three-dimensionally contexted
world (and now we have collapsed our three dimensional physical world
analogically into two-dimensions). But as quite a few people are
perhaps consciousness and interiority is more multi dimensional.
When I am working with clients I
people to these analogies and also talk about the Tardis – Dr Who’s
Diagram 6: When Dr Who goes into the
looks very small from the outside, when he goes inside it it’s much
also give people three pages to read on ‘invisibility’, i.e., the
We see the other person’s external
– exteriority. We see them smiling, we see them grimacing, but we don’t
their consciousness, their interiority.
Analogically, this multi-dimensionality
interiority is particularly helpful for people with low self-esteem.
In this analogy, supposing
you have got
somebody who is ‘physically attractive’ or symmetrical but perhaps
interiority is rather jagged, whereas perhaps a person who isn’t so
‘attractive’ or symmetrical may have a very attractive interiority (Diagram 7).
And then we come to what the
Existentialists call the I-Thou and the I-it relationship (Diagram 8).
Here (top diagram), one person is
from their interiority, just purely onto the physical aspects
the other without taking into account sociality, without taking into
their interiority, this is an I-it relationship. Here (bottom diagram),
got two people who are in an I-Thou relationship; reciprocal sociality
recognition of the interiority within each other.
I’m just explaining a few strands that I’ve woven into PCP. Another
the Existential idea of thrownness (Heidegger, 1962). This is the idea
are ‘thrown’ into the world, we are thrown into a particular physical
are thrown into being born to particular parents, and into a particular
place, a particular culture.
If you can imagine a mountain (Diagram 9), it’s rather like some people are thrown
near the top of the mountain so they don’t have very far to go to the
whereas other people are thrown much further down the mountain, so they
much further to climb, so the idea of thrownness comes into play.
Also, in terms of thrownness, is the
Existential idea of ‘being there-ness’, nobody else is born for us,
can die for us, nobody else is in the ‘saddle of our experience’.
Analogically, in diagram 10, is our
life’s trajectory of being there-ness through passing time involving
obscuring (as represented by the clouds) of our ‘authentic being
with the occasional awakening.
In therapy, I suggest to clients that
hill in the diagram is life. The hill may be steep at times but if you
hundred weight sack of stones onto your back – e.g. constructs relating
self-esteem, negative construct assumptions about yourself, and
ruminations, then it makes the uphill journey even more difficult.
negative ruminations seem to result in a negative trance-like state.
|Diagram 12 concerns compassion and
understanding of the past self and the CPC cycle – circumspection,
and control. Very often people are very hard on themselves regarding
they have made in the past. So the analogy I give is, imagine you are
before the turning in the road, and somebody asks you what’s round the
down this road that you’ve never been down before – you don’t know. But
you’ve passed by the turning in the road, you can easily look back in
retrospect and think how ‘stupid’ one was.
But what that is doing in terms of the
cycle is phenomenologically collapsing the complexity of how you were
configured and located then. I use this quite a lot with clients who
on themselves, to try to encourage them to be more compassionate and
of their past self. So that they look phenomenologically with ‘no
blame’, a bit
like Kelly’s suspending one’s judgement, or phenomenologically
I also do often is to do some
pyramiding and laddering with a client on something that is less likely
threatening (Diagram 13). So I ask them to think of a person that they
be this person’s main characteristics? This is an example from a client
characterised “determination” and then it’s opposite “giving up”, and
pyramided both poles by asking “how would you know by a person’s
they had determination, what would you see or hear”? And then the same
“giving up”. And then I asked them for their preferred pole, in this
determination, and then ladder by asking “what for you would be the
advantage of having determination?”. And I asked the opposite of that.
I asked them if you “got somewhere where
you wanted to be” where ultimately would this take you to in your life
and in this
case it is to feel “more alive”.
In demonstrating this process one is
sharing some of the theory of PCP so that the client gets to know about
hierarchical nature of our human construct systems and what
subordinacy is, as well as some other terms. This is something I find
practice. Something I come across often is a negative superordinate but
never gained by laddering up the non preferred pole, something one
teaches in training personal construct therapists – do not ladder up
preferred pole. But, if you listen to the person for quite a while, you
through dialogue, begin to sense a negative superordinate construct.
For example (Diagram 14), a negative
be “I’m not good enough”, then you can explain to a client that this
negative message (**) at the superordinate level can generate a
phenomena in their on-going stream of consciousness. For example,
thoughts, feelings, sensations, images, memories, and what I ask people
is to observe how this superordinate ‘message’ (**) manifests at the
subordinate ‘gross mental content’ level. The different shapes at the
the pyramid represent negative thoughts, feelings, sensations etc but
the superordinate pattern (**) within them. Kelly’s technique in his
self-characterisation of ‘reflection against context’ is useful here,
for them to reflect any negative thoughts, feelings, sensations etc
this one negative superordinate construct. So what this begins to do is
things together for them, so that they can see that a multiplicity of
phenomena is connected, and then we can explore where this negative
superordinate came from in terms of a ‘message’ from another or others.
next step then is to de-construct and relativise the message and the
Diagram 15. Evaluating
the sociality of other people in our lives
method is to use sociality as an
evaluator. The analogy I give, is supposing you are backing a car into
tight parking space (Diagram 15), and you have got two people giving
is a person who can see your location, and is guiding you in, the other
person behind a high wall who is yelling out whatever they think. Who
listen to? And then the person usually will say I would listen to the
who can see my location. So this analogy can help clients evaluate how
how little sociality some of the other people in their lives have for
is especially helpful in relativising negative messages.
Diagram 16. Sociality;
words and action; communication
am just going through this quite
as I realise we don’t have a lot of time. This analogy in Diagram16 is
useful one in terms of other people earning the client’s trust.
Sociality as an
evaluator for people who find it difficult to trust or who have been
What I suggest to a client is that when they first meet somebody this
person is on the outmost circle. Apart from encouraging the client to
sociality for other people I also suggest to them that they can turn
around and ask “how much sociality is this new person showing me”?, “do
actions follow from their words”? “how are they communicating”? If
three months this new person is showing all these qualities they could
inwards to the next circle. And if after six months they are still
these qualities they could then move to the next circle and so on over
This means that any new people have to
the trust of the client through passing time and the client now has a
map to evaluate both new people but also people they already know.
quite a lot of people, particularly those with low self-esteem let
in too quickly, they get hurt and feel betrayed.
Diagram 17: Sedimentations
of human meaning over time
Diagram 17 analogically shows the
sedimentation of meaning over passing time, like Kelly’s experience
regarding replication, the more something is experienced, the more it
sedimented and consolidated and often reified, so here we have the idea
‘thematic resonation’, i.e. similar themes sedimenting through time.
a person has a certain experience, maybe an unpleasant experience, it
sets up a
configuration, a multi-level configuration, because construing is
feeling, sensating – is multi-levelled.
Diagram 18: Thematic resonance
And if, later on, they have a similar
experience, although the content may be different, thematically it may
the same resonation and it is going to chime with the earlier one
So it might originate in the family, then recur at school, and later,
or in a relationship. It always produces the same thematic resonance.
one negative event could trigger the thematic resonation off again.
For Kelly, there is not a great
between therapy and education. To me, where it is appropriate to share
the terms from personal construct psychology with clients, this is
because they feel they are being treated like intelligent people. I
clients that therapy is also self-development, for example, I’ve been
therapeutic group recently, which has been framed as a course using
ideas. Apart from the above, I ask participants, especially when they
feeling negative in their daily lives to observe their stream of
with ‘no blame’, i.e. to try and observe from a gentle superordinate
their subordinate on-going manifest content.
With PCP, we do explore the past, to
understand how a person’s past impacts upon their present phenomenology
psychology. So we include the past, how it impacts upon the present. So
encourage compassion and understanding for the past self but also care
future self. I usually ask clients if they can do two self
one looking at themselves as they are now, and the other how they would
become. This later gives a sense of direction, which is very important
lead to work concerning positive meaning for the future. You get a
for that person’s life.
Diagram 19: A multiform
Diagram 19 analogically represents ‘a
multiform’. A multiform can be defined as different construers
focused upon ‘the same’ thing, object, event, situation, or person etc.
example, a psychiatric case meeting with different professionals’
the family’s perspective and the client’s perspective, or the
policy-makers and the multi perspectives of the recipients of the
construing this policy, or different perspectives in an organisation,
different departments etc. In the diagram we notice that there is a
superordinate position, which comes about through the conceptualisation
multiform, i.e. the conceptualisation can lift us to a superordinate
which subsumes all the perspectives, acknowledging the range of
each person dwelling within that perspective and we can also explore
advantages and disadvantages of each perspective.
Finally, in terms of advancing PCP
philosophically we can recognise that all creature-beings construe
their phylogenetic – species-specific – structuring. As human beings we
also a species who construes the world through our human constructions.
Human Trajectory has generated highly advanced constructions – largely
from a three dimensionally contexted world – but we are still
However, and wherever we construe we codify and chunk-up ‘Reality’ in
– homonized – terms. Beyond ALL our human constructions lies a STRANGE
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|The article is based
on a talk given at the conference on 'PCP: a personal story' organised
the Centre for Personal Construct at the University of Hertfordshire, UK,
on September 29, 2006.
Thorman is a chartered counselling
UKCP registered psychotherapist. Three days a week he works in the
psychological therapy services as a Senior Psychotherapist for Barnet, Enfield
Haringey NHS Trust, he works voluntarily in a day centre in Luton with homeless
underpriviledged people; he also sees people for therapy and
privately (no fee involved). For over two decades he has been
‘constructivist-phenomenology’ and has been for many more years
existence is all about.
on photo to enlarge
C. (2007). Celebrating Fay Fransella's 80th year. Personal
Construct Theory & Practice, 4, 15-26
|Received: 6 November 2006 – Accepted: 10 November 2006 –
Published: 31 January 2007