Constructivism in Psychology

Constructivism is a well-established and highly influential paradigm in psychology and psychotherapy. It represents an “umbrella term”, a wide meta-theoretical perspective with various flavors and types, ranging from genetic epistemology of Jean Piaget, George Kelly’s personal construct psychology, to narrative approaches and social constructionist theoreticians such as Kenneth Gergen.

What connects all constructivist theories is their epistemological approach, the belief that knowledge is made rather than discovered. Constructivism emphasizes active construction of meaning by individuals and larger societal and cultural systems, as opposed to more traditional theories that think of knowledge as existing out there in the world, ready to be discovered.

Constructivism suggests that individuals create their own reality through their subjective experiences, interpretations, and interactions with the world that follow from various ways in which they construe their experience. Individuals are not passive recipients of information or objects sculpted by external forces, but as persons who actively engage in the process of creative knowledge and making sense of their experiences in their own idiosyncratic ways. Because of its emphasis on personal meaning-making processes, constructivist psychology is particularly attuned to various individual and cultural differences.

In psychotherapy, constructivism provides a foundational theoretical layer for various therapeutic approaches that facilitate personal growth and change. Constructivist therapies focus primarily on understanding all the specific ways in which individuals make sense of their worlds and then helping them modify their existing constructs or produce new ones, that lead to greater well-being. From a constructivist standpoint, new constructs will provide a person with different meaning, different choices and will lead to better outcomes. What makes constructivist psychologies so appealing to many is that they are able to take a more holistic view of human beings, understanding their experiences in their own worlds instead of labeling them with any external label, a social category or a diagnostic one. In constructivist therapies, the individual always comes before anything else.

Different constructivist approaches emphasize the importance of a collaborative therapeutic relationship, fostering an environment characterized by curiosity, openness, and mutual exploration o meaning, with particular attunement to issues of power differences and dynamic. From the standpoint of personal construct psychology, both the client and the therapist are seen as two fully realized and equal human beings, both experts, albeit in different areas: the client is an expert in their own life story, the therapist is an expert in methodology and technology of change. When the two meet, a fruitful and creative endeavor can begin. By engaging in reflective conversations and experiential exercises, individuals can gain insight into their subjective constructions, challenge limiting beliefs, and develop new perspectives and ways of being.

Constructivist therapies recognize that there is no single objective truth or reality, but rather multiple subjective realities that individuals construct based on their unique experiences and interpretations. Ethics of constructivism dictate that in order to relate to one another, we have to understand each other’s point of view, not as seen from the outside, but as seen from the person’s own shoes. This perspective encourages therapists to approach clients with empathy, respect, and a non-judgmental stance, acknowledging and validating their subjective realities and looking for personalized solution that fit the natural evolution of those realities.

Constructivist therapies also highlight the importance of language, narratives, and storytelling in shaping our understanding of ourselves and the world. By helping individuals explore and reconstruct their narratives, constructivist approaches can empower clients to reinterpret their experiences, develop new meanings, and ultimately cultivate personal growth and positive change.

Although at times too technical for laypersons to easily understand, constructivism is a fundamentally optimistic approach, stressing the importance and power of human meaning-making processes and relying on our ability to shape the world in new and original ways.