George Kelly (psychologist)

American psychologist and therapist

George Alexander Kelly (April 28, 1905March 6, 1967) was a psychologist, considered the father of cognitive clinical psychology and best known for his theory of personality, Personal Construct Psychology.


  • I have been so puzzled over the early labelling of personal construct theory as ‘cognitive’ that several years ago I set out to write another short book to make it clear that I wanted no part of cognitive theory.
    • George A. Kelly. The Psychotherapeutic Relationship. 1965. p. 216
  • Man develops his way of anticipating events by construing, by scratching out his channels of thought. Thus he builds his own maze. His runways are the constructs he forms, each a two-way street, each essentially a pair of alternatives between which he can choose.
    • George A. Kelly, "Man's construction of his alternatives." Assessment of human motives (1958): 33-64.
  • The labyrinth is conceived as a network of constructs, each of which is essentially an abstraction and, as such, can be picked up and laid down over many, many different events in order to bring them into focus and clothe them with personal meaning. Moreover, the constructs are subject to continual revision, although the complex interdependent relationship between constructs in the system often makes it precarious for the person to revise one construct without taking into account the disruptive effect upon major segments of the system.
    • George A. Kelly, "Man's construction of his alternatives." Assessment of human motives (1958): 33-64.
  • I have been careful not to use either of the terms, 'emotional' or 'affective'. I have been equally careful not to invoke the notion of 'cognition'. The classic distinction which separates these two constructs has, in the manner of most classic distinctions that once were useful, become a barrier to sensitive psychological inquiry. When one so divides the experience of man, it becomes difficult to make the most of the holistic aspirations that may infuse the science of psychology with new life, and may replace the classicism now implicit even in the most 'behaviouristic' research.
    • George A. Kelly, "Humanistic methodology in psychological research," In: B Maher (ed), Clinical Psychology and Personality: the Selected Papers of George Kelly, Wiley. 1969. p. 140.
  • Johann Herbart’s work on education and particularly mathematical psychology influenced me. I think mathematics is the pure instance of construct functioning—the model of human behaviour.
    • Attributed to George A. Kelly in Hinkle (1970, p. 91), as cited in: Fay Fransella and Robert A. Neimeyer. "George Alexander Kelly: The man and his theory." International handbook of personal construct psychology (2003): 21-31.

The Psychology of Personal Constructs, 1955


George A. Kelly. The Psychology of Personal Constructs, 1955

  • Man anticipates events by construing their replications.
    • p. 37 in 2002 edition
  • Fundamental Postulate and its Corollaries
a. Fundamental postulate: A person's processes are psychologically channelised by the ways in which s/he anticipates events.
b. Construction corollary: A person anticipates events by construing their replications.
c. Individuality corollary: Persons differ from each other in their constructions of events.
d. Organization corollary: Each person characteristically evolves for his or her convenience in anticipating events, a construction system embracing ordinal relationships between constructs.
e. Dichotomy corollary: A person's construct system is composed of a finite number of dichotomous constructs.
f. Choice corollary: A person chooses for him or herself that alternative in a dichotomized construct through which he anticipates the greater possibility for extension and definition of his system.
g. Range corollary: A construct is convenient for the anticipation of a finite range of events only.
h. Experience corollary: A person's construction system varies as s/he successively construes the replications of events.
i. Modulation corollary: The variation in a person's construction system is limited by the permeability of the constructs within whose ranges of convenience the variants lie.
j. Fragmentation corollary: A person may successively employ a variety of construction systems which are inferentially incompatible with each other.
k. Commonality corollary: To the extent that one person employs a construction of experience which is similar to that employed by another, his psychological processes are similar to those of another person.
l. Sociality corollary:To the extent that one person construes the construction processes of another, s/he may play a role in a social process involving the other person.
  • p. 46; p. 71-72 in 2002 edition
  • The classic threefold division of psychology into cognition, affection, and conation has been completely abandoned.
    • p. 130
  • [The evildoer's] behavior has been threatening to those whose own morality is insecure; and as long as he is seen as having exemplified the tempting way of life, there are those who will need to punish him as a prophylaxis for their own temptations.
    • p. 407
  • We attempt to use the phenomenologist's approach to arrive at personalized constructs which have a wide range of meaning for the given individual; then we attempt to piece together this high-level type of data with what we know about other persons.
    • p. 455
  • While we could agree with the psychological phenomenologists and assign an important place to generalization within the realm of the individual, we were quite sure that some data must be lifted from the realm of the individual and construed nomothetically that is, in a realm comprising many individuals.
    • p. 677-678
  • Diagnosis is all too frequently an attempt to cram a whole live struggling client into a nosological category.
    • p. 775
  • From the standpoint of the psychology of personal constructs we may define a disorder as any personal construction which is used repeatedly in spite of consistent invalidation.
    • p. 831

The function of interpretation in psychotherapy. 1959


George A. Kelly, Kelly, "The function of interpretation in psychotherapy." in: Series of three lectures given to Los Angeles Society of Clinical Psychologists in Private Practice. B.M. Walker & F. Fransella (eds.). London and Wollongong. 1959

  • Is it a phenomenological theory? Granted that... phenomenology comes from various shapes and sizes, our fundamental postulate does not make the usual phenomenological commitments. We did not say, for example, that one is surrounded only by his perceptions. In fact, we started this discussion by asserting that there is a sense in which all of us are caught up in our circumstances. Nor do we say that each personal world is an island universe. The words 'personal' and 'private' are certainly not synonyms. I think the tree that falls in the primeval forest makes a bang just like any other tree. Moreover. we might sometimes, although at the moment cannot say how, take an interest in the noise that centuries ago nobody heard and eventually makes something scientifically important out of it.
    • p. 6-7
  • I sketched an epistemological position that assumed the reality of events, independently of how they are perceived. In taking this stand I broke off with the position known as phenomenology; at least I broke off with phenomenology to the extent that it is a form of pure philosophical idealism.
    • p. 20
  • It is important, then, to see confirmation, or the validation of one’s constructs, as securing a base upon which one can build major revisions of [one’s] construct system. This is why we so often cite security as necessary for broad advancement, whether in a person or in society. This is why the arts and sciences flourish at a higher level when nations and people are led to believe they are on the right track.
    • p. 21

"The autobiography of a theory," 1963


George A. Kelly (1963). "The autobiography of a theory." in: in B. Maher (ed.) Clinical psychology and personality: The selected papers of George Kelly (1969): 46-65.

  • In the very first course in psychology that I took I sat in the back row of a very large class, tilted my chair against the wall, made myself as comfortable as possible, and kept one ear cocked for anything interesting that might turn up. One day the professor, a very nice person who seemed to be trying hard to convince himself that psychology was something to be taken seriously, turned to the blackboard and wrote an 'S,' an arrow, and an 'R.' Thereupon I straightened up my chair and listened, thinking to myself that now, after two or three weeks of preliminaries, we might be getting to the meat of the matter.
  • Out of all this I have gradually developed the notion that psychology is pretty much confined to the paradigms it employs and, while you can take off in a great many directions and travel a considerable distance in any of them — as indeed we have with stimulus-response psychology — there is no harm in consorting with a strange paradigm now and then. Indeed the notion has occurred to me that psychology may best be regarded as a collection of paradigms wooed by exphysicists, ex-physiologists, and ex-preachers, as well as a lot of other intellectual renegades. Even more recently it has struck me that this is the nature of man; he is an inveterate collector of paradigms.

The Language of Hypothesis, 1964


George A. Kelly. The Language of Hypothesis 1964; 1969.

  • What I am saying is that it is not so much what man is that counts as it is what he ventures to make of himself. To make the leap he must do more than disclose himself; he must risk a certain amount of confusion. Then, as soon as he does catch a glimpse of a different kind of life, he needs to find some way of overcoming the paralyzing moment of threat, for this is the instant when he wonders who he really is - whether he is what he just was or is what he is about to be.
    • p. 147
  • A good deal is said these days about being oneself. It is supposed to be healthy to be oneself. While it is a little hard for me to understand how one could be anything else, I suppose what is meant is that one should not strive to become anything other than what he is. This strikes me as a very dull way of living; in fact, I would be inclined to argue that all of us would be better off if we set out to be something other than what we are. Well, I’m not so sure we would all be better off - perhaps it would be more accurate to say life would be a lot more interesting.
    • p. 157, as cited in: Trevor Butt. Understanding People, 2003. p. 89; Described as "a critique of Cartesian dualism"
  • There is another meaning that might be attached to this admonition to be oneself; that one should not try to disguise himself. I suspect this comes nearer to what psychologists mean when they urge people to be themselves. It is presumed that the person who faces the world barefaced is more spontaneous, that he expresses himself more fully, and that he has a better chance of developing all his resources if he assumes no disguises.
But this doctrine of psychological nakedness in human affairs, so much talked about today and which allows the self neither make-up nor costume, leaves very little to the imagination. Not does it invite one to be venturesome. I suspect, for example, that in the Garden of Eden it might have occurred to Adam to take a chance much sooner than he did if Eve had been paying a little more attention to her wardrobe. As it was I hear she had to bribe him with an apple. Later on they say she contrived a saucy little something out of fig leaves.
  • p. 157-8
  • What I am saying is that it is not so much what man is that counts as it is what he ventures to make of himself. To make the leap he must do more than disclose himself; he must risk a certain amount of confusion. Then, as soon as he does catch a glimpse of a different kind of life, he needs to find some way of overcoming the paralyzing moment of threat, for this is the instant when he wonders who he really is - whether he is what he just was or is what he is about to be. Adam must have experienced such a moment.
    • p. 158

Quotes about George Alexander Kelly

  • George Kelly's 1955 personal construct psychology can be viewed as perhaps the first constructivist theory of personality and psychotherapy — and in many respects, and in many respects, the most comprehensive. Kelly's work has often been classified as an early cognitive theory.
    • Edward S. Neukrug (2015), The SAGE Encyclopedia of Theory in Counseling and Psychotherapy. p. 598
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