Constructivist Psychotherapy: Principles into Practice

Article excerpt

The field of cognitive psychotherapy has experienced considerable growth and development in recent years and, as a result, has become a prominent feature of the psychotherapeutic landscape (Dobson, 1988; Dryden & Golden, 1986; Freeman, Simon, Beutler, & Arkowitz, 1989; Ingram, 1986; Neimeyer & Neimeyer, 1987). Increased differentiation, however, has accompanied this growth, as new developments from both within and outside the cognitive and clinical sciences have been brought to bear on current configurations of the field. Among the most notable of these developments, has been the emergence of the constructivist perspective (Mahoney & Lyddon, 1988).

As Mahoney (1991) points out, the term constructivism originates from the Latin construere, which "means 'to interpret' or 'to analyze,' with emphasis on a person's active 'construing' of a particular meaning or significance" (p. 96). More formally, the term as it is used in philosophy and psychology refers to a theory of knowledge, or epistemology, that is based on the assertion that "humans actively create and construe their personal realities" (Mahoney & Lyddon, 1988, p. 200). Constructivist epistemology is often contrasted with objectivist theories of knowledge.

Objectivists tend to believe in a free-standing, stable, and external reality - a reality that gradually yields its timeless truths under the succession of increasingly accurate approximations of its innermost nature. Constructivists, on the other hand, assume that the primary source of knowledge is the human capacity for creative and imaginative thought, and thus speak of an invented reality. Constructivists and objectivists also differ with regard to the criteria by which truth claims about knowledge may be warranted. While objectivists focus on the accuracy or validity of knowledge as a measure of epistemic truth (that is, how well knowledge either copies or corresponds to objective reality), constructivists view all knowledge as inherently fallible and thus measure the value of knowledge in terms of its current utility or viability (Anderson, 1990; Howard, 1991; Mahoney, 1991). Moreover, from a constructivist perspective, human knowledge and human knowing structures are presumed to have the capacity to undergo developmental changes in the direction of increased complexity and integration (Guidano, 1990; Mahoney, 1991).

Three salient themes shape the focus of this Special Issue on the interface of constructivism and cogntive psychotherapy: pragmaticism, diversity, and integrationism. First, as the title of the issue indicates, the overriding emphasis is on the practical dimensions of constructivist psychotherapy. All the contributions to this volume are designed to elucidate the way in which general constructivist principles are translated into the everyday realities of clinical practice. In the lead article Robert Neimeyer sets the stage for this focus by differentiating traditional cognitive-behavioral features from constructivist emphases at both the level of epistemology and the level of clinical strategy. He argues that these contrasts, rather than representing distinct boundaries between various cognitive approaches (e.g., rationalist vs. constructivist), may instead be better understood as useful dimensions for measuring emerging developments within particular schools of therapy.

A second theme reflected by the contributions is that of diversity. An attempt has been made to highlight the diversity of assessment practices, strategic methods, and clinical applications emanating from contemporary constructivist orientations. …