George Kelly (psychologist)

George Kelly (psychologist)

George Kelly (April 28, 1905March 6, 1967) was an American psychologist, therapist and educator, best known for developing Personal Construct Psychology.


George Alexander Kelly was born on a farm near Perth, Sumner County, Kansas and went to Friends University and Park College, where he received a Bachelor's degree in physics and mathematics. Early on, he was interested in social problems, and he went on to get his masters degree in sociology at the University of Kansas, where he wrote a thesis on workers’ leisure activities. He also completed minor studies in labor relations.

George Kelly went on to teach at various colleges and other institutions, with course topics ranging from speech making to “Americanization”. In 1929, he completed a Bachelor of Education degree at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, writing a thesis dealing with the prediction of teaching success, followed by graduate and doctoral degrees in psychology at the State University of Iowa. His dissertation was on speech and reading disabilities.

For some years before World War II, Kelly worked in school psychology, developing a program of traveling clinics which also served as a training ground for his students. He had a keen interest in clinical diagnosis.

In World War II, Kelly worked as an aviation psychologist, where, among other things, he was responsible for a training program for local civilian pilots. After the war, he was appointed Professor and Director of Clinical Psychology at the Ohio State University, where he remained for twenty years. Under his guidance, OSU’s graduate psychology training programs became some of the best in the United States, offering a unique blend of clinical skills and a strong commitment to scientific methodology.

It is also at OSU that Kelly developed his major contribution to the psychology of personality. "The Psychology of Personal Constructs" was published in 1955 and achieved immediate international recognition, gaining him visiting appointments at various universities in the U.S.A. as well as in Europe, the former Soviet Union, South America, the Caribbean, and Asia. He was also elected President of the Clinical and the Consulting Divisions of the American Psychological Association, and served as President of the American Board of Examiners in Professional Psychology, providing expertise and insight, especially regarding ethical issues.

Kelly also worked extensively on researching the implications and applications of his theory, while continuing to work in clinical psychology. Joseph Rychlak is among the prominent students of his who expanded on his theories. George Kelly died in 1967.

Kelly's concerns

Kelly saw that current theories of were so loosely defined, and difficult to test, that in many clinical cases the observer contributed more to the diagnosis than the patient. If you took your problems to a Freudian analyst, they would be analysed in Freudian terms; a Jungian would interpret them in Jungian terms; a behaviourist would interpret them in terms of conditioning, and so on.

The problem of observer bias (observer effect) is particularly acute in the social sciences such as psychology, sociology, economics, etc., where commentators' frame of reference can influence what they see, how they describe it, and what they prescribe. You can find explanations of schizophrenia which rely on brain chemistry at one end of the spectrum and family dynamics at the other. Some educationalists advocate main-streaming of bright children; some are totally against it. Some economists see government spending as a strategy to be used, and some see it as a strategy to be avoided. It's rare for them to find common ground.

Kelly wanted to develop a [ theory] and an investigative technique, which would remove the influence of the observer's frame of reference on what was observed.


His major works, in the areas of personality psychology and constructivism were -

*1955: "The psychology of personal constructs". Vol. I, II. Norton, New York. (2nd printing: 1991, Routledge, London, New York)
*1963: "A theory of personality. The psychology of personal constructs". Norton, New York (= Chapt. 1-3 of Kelly 1955).

External links

* [ sci:vesco - FREE Online Repertory Grid Software, 3D Grid Analysis]
* [ nextexpertizer - computer-supported repertory grid interview and analysis tool]
* [ Kelly's Concerns]
* - Excellent introduction to Kelly by Dr. C. George Boeree

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