Psychological distress exists whenever people have difficulty validating their personal constructs, anticipating future events, and controlling their present environment. When distress becomes unmanageable, they may seek outside help in the form of psychotherapy.
In Kelly's view, people should be free to choose those courses of action most consistent with their prediction of events. In therapy, this approach means that clients, not the therapist, select the goal. Clients are active participants in the therapeutic process, and the therapist's role is to assist them to alter their construct systems in order to improve efficiency in making predictions.
As a technique for altering the clients' constructs, Kelly used a procedure called fixed-role therapy. The purpose of fixed-role therapy is to help clients change their outlook on life (personal constructs) by acting out a predetermined role, first within the relative security of the therapeutic setting and then in the environment beyond therapy where they enact the role continuously over a period of several weeks. Together with the therapist, clients work out a role, one that includes attitudes and behaviors not currently part of their core role. In writing the fixed-role sketch, the client and therapist are careful to include the construction systems of other people. How will the client's spouse or parents or boss or friends construe and react to this new role? Will their reactions help the client reconstrue events more productively?
This new role is then tried out in everyday life in much the same maimer that a scientist tests a hypothesis—cautiously and objectively. In fact, the fixed-role sketch is typically written in the third person, with the actor assuming a new identity. The client is not trying to be another person but is merely playing the part of someone who is worth knowing. The role should not be taken too seriously; it is only an act, something that can be altered as evidence warrants.
Fixed-role therapy is not aimed at solving specific problems or repairing obsolete constructs. It is a creative process that allows clients to gradually discover previously hidden aspects of themselves. In the early stages, clients are introduced only to peripheral roles; but then, after they have had tune to become comfortable with minor changes in personality structure, they try out new core roles that permit more profound personality change (Kelly, 1955).
Prior to developing the fixed-role approach, Kelly (1969a) stumbled on an unusual procedure that strongly resembles fixed-role therapy. After becoming uncomfortable with Freudian techniques, he decided to offer his clients "preposterous interpretations" for then complaints. Some were far-fetched Freudian interpretations, but nevertheless, most clients accepted these "explanations" and used them as guides to future action. For example, Kelly might tell a client that strict toilet training has caused him to construe his life hi a dogmatically rigid fashion but that he need not continue to see things in this way. To Kelly's surprise, many of his clients began to function better! The key to change was the same as with fixed-role therapy—clients must begin to interpret their lives from a different perspective and see themselves in a different role.
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