David A. Winter
George Kelly (1955) urged the personal construct psychologist to take a "credulous approach" to his or her clients, attempting to see the world through the client's eyes and thereby, as Kelly described in his Sociality Corollary, being able to play a constructive role in relation to the client. In describing the credulous approach, he stated that "From a phenomenological point of view the client—like the proverbial customer—is always right. This is to say that his words and his symbolic behaviour possess an intrinsic truth which the clinician should not ignore" (Kelly, 1955, p. 322).
But what if one's client is a murderer or has committed some other violent offence? In such cases, even the most ardent personal construct psychologist may find his or her credulity strained to its limits. Even if he or she does manage to pass beyond any initial revulsion and begins to adopt a credulous attitude, an increasing degree of threat may be experienced as the initial fleeting glimpses of the world through the client's eyes develop into a clearer vision. As Kelly (1955, p. 505) described, from the perspective of Landfield's (1954) exemplification hypothesis of threat, "People are threatened by evildoers" because they may exemplify what we might all too readily become if only we dared or were less vigilant. Such threat may be alleviated by adopting an attitude towards the evildoer which is punitive rather than credulous. To quote Kelly again, 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.
(Kelly, 1955, p. 507)