Personal Construct Psychology

George Kelly

This photograph of George Kelly was taken at the 1962 Nebraska Symposium.

The photograph was supplied by Hemant Desai with the permission of the University of Nebraska.

Biographical Notes

George Alexander Kelly was born in 1905 in Kansas. He pursued undergraduate study for three years at Friends University followed by one year at Park College. Here he graduated with the Bachelor's degree in physics and mathematics, but his interests had already begun to shift to social problems--perhaps in part because of experiences that he had gained in intercollegiate debates. In line with this newly developing interest, he pursued graduate study in educational sociology at the University of Kansas. His master's thesis was a study of the leisure time activities of workers in Kansas City, and he completed minor studies in labor relations and sociology.

At this point, George Kelly's activities expanded to include a wide range of teaching in different situations. He was a part-time instructor in a labor college in Minneapolis; he taught classes in speech for the American Bankers Association, and he taught an Americanization class for future citizens. An additional brief spell as an aeronautical engineer in Wichita followed teaching experience in Iowa and at the University of Minnesota. In 1929, he moved to the University of Edinburgh as an exchange scholar. Here he worked under the direction of Sir Godfrey Thomson, completing the Bachelor of Education degree in 1930 with a thesis dealing with the prediction of teaching success. He then returned to the United States and became a graduate student in psychology at the State University of Iowa. In 1931, he received the Doctor of Philosophy degree with a dissertation dealing with common factors in speech and reading disabilities.

He remained for a summer to teach at Iowa and then moved to the Fort Hays Kansas State College, where he remained until World War II. During the decade at Fort Hays, George Kelly's major interest was focused on the practical problem of providing clinical psychological services for the schools of the state. He was able to develop) a program of traveling clinics, serving the entire state and providing training experiences for his students there. In the period 1935-1940, he published a series of papers, six in all, mainly concerned with practical questions of clinical diagnosis, the operation of clinical psychology in school settings, the use of diagnostic testing, etc. Although, his later and major work was to be in the area of personality theory, George Kelly never abandoned his interest in the applied problems of clinical psychologists and in their training.

With the coming of World War II, Kelly entered the Navy as an aviation psychologist and was placed in charge of the program of training for local civilian pilots. Later he went to the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery of the Navy in Washington and remained in the Aviation Psychology Branch until 1945. In that year he was appointed Associate Professor at the University of Maryland and in the following year a Professor and Director of Clinical Psychology at the Ohio State University. In the twenty years that George Kelly was to spend at Ohio State, he developed his major contributions to psychology. For the first few years of this period. his energies were mainly devoted to the organizing and administration of the graduate program in clinical psychology. In a few short years he succeeded in leading this program into the front rank of graduate training programs in the United States. He managed to achieve an atmosphere in which clinical interest and perceptiveness were combined with firm commitment to the methods and standards of science in a blend that was, unfortunately, rarely found in other similar programs.

In the meantime, he was working on the book that was to make his major contribution to the psychology of personality, and was to make him known to psychologists in all parts of the world. In 1955, the two-volume work, The Psychology of Personal Constructs, was published and gained immediate recognition as a unique and major development in the study of personality. Hard on the heels of its appearance came invitations to teach and lecture at universities in many corners of the globe. He held visiting appointments at the University of Chicago, University of Nebraska, University of Southern California, Northwestern University, Brigham Young University, Stanford University, University of New Hampshire g he lectured at many other institutions in the United States, as well as a wide range of universities in Europe, the Soviet Union, South America and the Caribbean, and in Asia.

During this same period there developed an increasing volume of research into the implications and the applications of his theoretical viewpoint. He was elected President of the Clinical Division and also of the Consulting Division of the American Psychological Association. In addition to his teaching, writing, and administrative responsibilities, George Kelly was widely known and sought after as a consultant and counsellor on many matters pertaining to professional clinical psychology. He had served as President of the American Board of Examiners in Professional Psychology and his experience was valued as a wise guide in many problems of training and of ethics.

In 1965 he moved to Brandeis University where he was appointed to the Riklis Chair of Behavioral Science. It was as occupant of this chair that he died in March 1966 (sic -- this is an error -- Kelly died in 1967), leaving incomplete his work on a new book in which he had planned to assemble and edit the many papers that he had delivered in the previous decade. More than most psychologists, perhaps, George Kelly's papers are themselves an autobiography of the man. In them, the reader will find the warmth, humor, and tolerance that characterized him so well to those who knew him best.

Acknowledgment: the biographical notes are taken from the collection of Kelly's papers edited by Brendan Maher:-

Maher, B., Ed. (1969). Clinical Psychology and Personality: The Selected Papers of George Kelly. New York, Wiley.

Bibliography of Kelly's Works

Kelly's major books are the two-volume set:-

The psychology of personal constructs. 2 vols., New York: Norton, 1955.

A collection of his paper was published in: Maher, B., Ed. (1969). Clinical Psychology and Personality: The Selected Papers of George Kelly. New York, Wiley:-

The bibliography of Maher's book lists the following additional publications:-
PCP Page, KSI Page, 11-Feb-95