Constructivism (psychological school)

Constructivism (psychological school)

In psychology, constructivism concerns the world of constructivist psychologies. Many schools of psychotherapy self-define themselves as “constructivist”. Although extraordinarily different in their therapeutic techniques, they are all connected by a common critique to previous standard approaches and by shared assumptions about the constructive nature of knowledge. In particular, the critique is aimed at the “associationist” postulate of empiricism, “by which the mind is conceived as a passive system that gathers its contents from its environment and, through the act of knowing, produces a copy of the order of reality. In contrast, constructivism is an epistemological premise grounded on the assertion that, in the act of knowing, it is the human mind that actively gives meaning and order to that reality to which it is responding”[1]. The constructivist psychologies theorize about and investigate how human beings create systems for meaningfully understanding their worlds and experiences[2]. In psychotherapy, for example, this frame could translate into a therapist asking questions that confront a client's world-view in an effort to expand his or her meaning making habits. The assumption here is that clients encounter problems not because life is inherently problematic or because they have a mental disease but because of the way they frame their problems, or the way people make sense of events that occur in their life.


Main Constructivist Theories

Personal Construct Theory

George Kelly was concerned primarily with the epistemic role of the observer in interpreting reality. He argued that the way we expect to experience the world alters how we feel about it and act. In other words, we order ourselves by ordering our thoughts. The goal of his therapeutic approach was therefore to allow the client to explore their own minds, acting as a facilitator but not intervening.

Genetic Epistemology

Jean Piaget argued that positions of knowledge are grown into; that they are not given a priori, as in Kant's epistemology, but rather that knowledge structures develop through interaction.

In contrast to Kelly's implicit verificationism, Piaget's theory is ultimately falsificationist: "behaviour is the motor of evolution." Change only occurs if the subject engages with experiences from outside its worldview.


  • Balbi, Juan (2008) Epistemological and theoretical foundations of constructivist cognitive therapies: Post-rationalist developments, Dialogues in Philosophy, Mental and Neuro Sciences . Volume 1, Issue 1, p.15-27.
  • Raskin, Jonathan D.(2002) Constructivism in Psychology: Personal Construct Psychology, Radical Constructivism, and Social Constructionism, American Communication Journal. Volume 5, Issue 3.

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