Is there any life on this net????

James Mancuso (
Fri, 18 Oct 1996 22:02:53 -0400

Confessions of a Constructivist who Remains Reluctant to Take the Role
of Psychotherapist

In 1958 I completed my Ph. D. program in psychology, having
specialized in "clinical" psychology. That same year, I studied Kelly's
PSYCHOLOGY OF PERSONAL CONSTRUCTS. Thereupon, I have experienced
considerable ambivalence about having someone categorize me as a
In the first place, my construction of myself as a PROFESSOR
required, I believed, that I engage in prompting persons to articulate
and to elaborate their constructions. Thus, any effort to have a person
elaborate and articulate particular constructions that he/she might use
as he/she construes SELF would, it seems to follow, lead to that person
reconstruing his/her SELF. Thus, if I prompted a person to elaborate a
construction INTELLIGENCE, then, it would follow, the person's
construction SELF would change as a result of his/her attempt to locate
his/her self relative to that construction. Similarly, if I prompted a
person to elaborate his/her construction DEPRESSED, it would follow that
he/she would, thereupon, revise his/her self constructions if and when
he/she might construe his/her self as DEPRESSED.
On this premise, I would find it difficult to delineate one role
construction which would be labeled PROFESSOR, and another which would
be labeled PSYCHOTHERAPIST. Both roles
require the prompting of construct elaboration, and - ultimately - such
change would lead to elaborating of self construction. Thus, when would
I seek to be construed as PSYCHOTHERAPIST, and when would I seek to be
construed as PROFESSOR??
Furthermore, in either role I would consistently construe my
SELF in ways that would guide my conduct toward prompting an acceptance
of a constructivist/ contextualist epistemology.
Thus, it was with considerable interest that I studied Dusan
Stojnov's article [JCP, Vol. 9, 1996, pp. 185-199] in which Dusan
explores the moral/ethical implications of a PCP version of
constructivism. Dusan aptly explores the various issues which a
constructivist faces as he/she professes his/her position. He notes
that one would need to categorize an adherent a PCP position as a
relativist - in so far as the CONTENT of one's construction of events
would be under scrutiny."Although there is no prescription of content
that should be tested, and to this extent PCP is relativistic in
content, the form, or the structure of construing is prescribed" (p.
193). In action, this epistemological approach translates into "A
constructivist approach does not presume that principles of justice have
some fixed, objective evidence, so that description of them must be true
or false in some standard way. On the contrary, it assumes that people
have a responsibility to fie the particular judgment on when they act
[DEPRESSED, INTELLIGENT - after participating in one of JCM's
courses????] into the coherent program of action, and [constructivist
positions] start from the premise that no one view of GOOD can be taken
for granted" (p. 196). [Dusan, I hope that my diddling with your quote
does not do it injustice!!!]
So, before asking to be categorized as a PSYCHOTHERAPIST, I must
resolve this question, "Do I engage in negatively valued roles enactment
if I prompt a person to adopt a constructivist/contextualist world
To come to a conclusion regarding this issue, I would need to
resolve a prior question, "Can I engage in psychotherapy while
refraining from prompting a person to adopt a constructivist view?"
Dusan quotes Beverly Walker's discussion of the goals of
therapeutic interactions. From my reading of Beverly's text, I assume
that - though a PCP psychotherapist isn't out to prompt a particular
outcome [based on particular ways of construing SELF - e. g., HAPPY,
INTELLIGENT] - such a psychotherapist would prompt a
constructivist/contextualist position.
It happens that the same Vol. 9 of JCP which contains Dusan
Stojnov's piece also contains a very illuminating article by Gabriele
Chiari and Laura Nuzzo. This article is a must for someone who faces
the question of whether or not one can be satisfied with a
constructivist/contextualist world view. After a cogent discussion of
the varieties of constructions of CONSTRUCTIVISM, they focus on the
utility of and the justification for adopting a RADICAL CONSTRUCITIVIST
EPISTEMOLOGY. One would need to follow their clear explications to
arrive at their view of the relationships between that epistemology and
PCP psychotherapy, expressed as follows,"Change is seen, in fact, as a
continuous recursive process of reconstruction of experience, as the
fundamental condition for an optimal function, because it results in the
maintenance of an adaptation between a knowing system and its
environment and in the conservation of an organizational coherence. In
fact, a personal construct system appears as disordered when it
encounters difficulties in modifying itself in its continuous
interaction with environment, rather than in the presence of false
perceptions or irrational beliefs" (p. 173).

So!!! I have invested a great part of my self definition as
PROFESSOR OF PSYCHOLOGY in the task of attempting to adopt, clarify, and
justify a constructivist/ contextualist position. After all of that, I
have no trouble accepting Gabriele and Laura's views on PCP
Now, if I do decide that I wish to have my construction as
PROFESSOR OF PSYCHOLOGY "fit" into my construction of my self as
PSYCHOTHERAPIST, I am convinced, I would attempt to have my dialogue
partner - in the THERAPY situation - adopt this perspective as well.
This is a moral judgment - as, I think, Dusan aptly points out.
If I were to prompt a dialogue partner to take a
constructivist/contextualist position, could I construe my conduct as
GOOD? I would need to ask, "Is such an orientation to the self
demonstrably more adequate than is a formist or a mechanist approach?
If a person, for example, accepts a formist approach and construes
his/her homosexuality as a biological given, is he/she likely to find
his/her SELF more understandable? If a person regards his/her state of
withdrawal from the constant stream of difficult-to-construe stimulation
a biologically based DEPRESSION, would his/her strategy lead to more
effective function as the result of ingestion of drugs - that is, more
effective relative to adopting a constructivist view to interpreting
his/her construing strategy.
Do I have a responsibility for clarifying to the person that I
am taking and prompting a constructivist/ contextualist world view?

Now, the purpose of all of this!!!! One can now find great
deal of material which elaborates on a constructivist approach to
psychotherapy. Would I find a volume which helps me to frame my SELF as
If I have come to satisfactory resolutions of the issues I have
raised, how do I go about carrying on a fruitful dialogue that might be
At this point, I think, I would be ready to read/study a
constructivist's formulations about his/her conduct as he/she engages in
the psychotherapy process. Actually, as a thorough-going
constructivist, I should be ready to specify my own formulations about
the conduct in which I will engage.
As I have cogitated on this important step, I have easily
allowed myself to come to the conclusion that, as an all-out
constructivist, I would be safe in following Christ's instructions to
his disciples: "Just talk! I'll put the words into your mouth."
That is, if I have fully incorporated constructivism into my
world view, I would find it difficult to perform an action which would
be incompatible with my system. In other terms, I could consistently
construe myself in ways which [according to my understanding] would
provide guidance for actions that would prompt the dialogue partner to
extend and elaborate his/her system. Or, reflecting Lewin's famous
phrase, "There is nothing so practical as a good theory."
Nevertheless, I would be more safe [and professionally
satisfied] if I could spell out the ways in which my conduct would
relate to my acceptance of the goal of promoting a person to adopt a
constructivist world view. I would want to be able to specify how one
of or another of my actions leads a person to accept the principle of
constructive alternativism. I would want to be able to describe why I
took one or another action in an effort to have the person understand
the ways in which he/she draws upon his/her personal construct system to
fill in the slots of a narrative structure that would provide the plot
for his/her flow of action. I would want to be able to describe how my
actions as a psychotherapist leads to the person's re- cognition of the
ways in which he/she seeks social warrant for his/her self narrative.

Am I on the right track toward earning the category

James C. Mancuso

15 Oakwood Place Professor Emeritus
Delmar, New York 12054 Department of Psychology
Telephone: (518) 439-4416 University at Albany
Albany, New York 12222