Personal construct theory

Led by Professor David Winter, Professor Harry Procter and Professor Richard Bell, our research includes the following areas, in which there are numerous publications:

  • Derivation of personal construct models of psychological disorder (including post-traumatic stress disorder, deliberate self-harm and agoraphobia)
  • The development of therapeutic approaches based upon these models
  • The evidence base for personal construct psychotherapy and under-researched therapies
  • Therapists’ and clients’ therapeutic preferences
  • Repertory grid technique
  • Construing in love and hatred
  • Serial killing and violent offending
  • Radicalisation and de-radicalisation
  • War Survivors

Impact of research on practice

The programme has included the development of new therapeutic approaches, with associated treatment manuals, for various psychological disorders. For example, research that involved the development and evaluation of a personal construct intervention for clients who self-harm led to a successful bid for NHS funding for a psychologist to deliver the intervention. More generally, a primary focus of much of the research has been the review and extension of the evidence base to guide practice in the psychological therapies. This has included the publication of a book funded by a grant from the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy reviewing the evidence for, and making recommendations concerning, counselling and psychotherapy for the prevention of suicide. Numerous personal construct research projects with clear clinical implications were also conducted, primarily in NHS settings, by trainees on the University’s Doctorate in Clinical Psychology when the lead researcher, Professor David Winter, was its Programme Director.

Other studies within the programme have led to the development of a personal construct model of radicalisation and a methodology for its study. The model has clear implications for the development of de-radicalisation programmes. The lead researcher was invited to present the methodology involved in this research at a NATO symposium on immigration and terrorism, and to be lead author of a report for the EU on addressing radicalisation and violent extremism in young people in the Mediterranean region.

A further area of research within the programme has been the psychological impact of civil war. A series of studies of war survivors in Sierra Leone, which have been reported in a book and several journal papers, involved work with former child soldiers, amputees, psychiatric in-patients, and people suffering the additional trauma of being affected by the Ebola epidemic. Amongst the offshoots of this research was the provision of interventions aimed at reducing the number of in-patients kept in chains in Sierra Leone Psychiatric Hospital (the number reduced from 75% to 20% over the course of the work). The research is now being extended to people affected by the civil war in Sri Lanka, where staff are being trained in methodology and therapeutic interventions informed by the work in Sierra Leone.

The lead researcher also acted as an advisor on personal construct methodology to the World Health Organisation at a meeting in Geneva.


Within the University, there is collaboration with members of the DClinPsy programme team (e.g., Dr Saskia Keville, Dr. Keith Sullivan, and Dr. Helen Ellis-Caird), with Dr. Stefanie Schmeer in the Department of Psychology and Sport Sciences, and Nick Reed in the Department of Geography.

David Winter’s collaborations have resulted in joint publications with colleagues from the universities of Barcelona, Bristol, Melbourne, Memphis, Oslo, Padua, Ulm, Roehampton, and Wollongong, the Institute of Psychiatry, London School of Economics, and University College London. This has included him being Visiting Professor at the Universities of Padua and Bicocca University, Milan; Brotherton Fellow at the University of Melbourne; Principal Research Fellow at the University of Wollongong; and Visiting Lecturer at the Universities of Barcelona, Belgrade, Bergamo, Crete, and Ulm. It has also involved applications for European research funding as a partner in projects led by the University of Barcelona.

Editorial collaborations include David Winter being Associate Editor of the Journal of Constructivist Psychology and Research Editor of the European Journal of Psychotherapy and Counselling.

Research infrastructure

The School of Life and Medical Sciences hosts the Centre for Personal Construct Psychology (founded by Professor Fay Fransella and currently directed by Nick Reed), which offers consultancy services to individuals and organisations and workshops provided by international experts (to date, from Australia, Germany, Italy, Norway, and Spain), and facilitates collaborative research. The Centre has organised two conferences at the University, one of these being the 21st. International Congress on Personal Construct Psychology, which was attended by delegates from five continents.

The University houses the Fransella and Mair Collections, comprehensive collections of published and unpublished works on personal construct psychology, which constitute an invaluable resource for researchers in this field.