Constructivism theory of learning has influenced different types of psychotherapy. According to researcher Robert A. Neimeyer, to define constructivism, this theory considers humans as meaning makers. "Constructivists focus on the meaning clients attribute to their world and the ways these shape and constrain clients' sense of themselves, their relationships, and their difficulties", he says.
What is constructivism?
Constructivism is considered an approach to learning. This approach holds that individuals actively construct their own knowledge in life and their individual experiences determine that reality. The constructivist theory definition developed by American psychologist Jerome Bruner identifies that:
- Learning is an active process where learners build new ideas or concepts that are based upon their current/past knowledge.
- The learned then selects and transforms information, constructs hypotheses, and makes decisions, relying on a cognitive structure to do so.
- Cognitive structure (or schema, mental models) provides meaning and organization to experiences and allows the individual to go beyond the information given.
Psychotherapy has been heavily influenced by constructivism. In fact, it is considered as a meta-theory that includes many approaches such as:
Types of constructivist therapy
There are different forms of constructivism in psychotherapy. These are the main forms of therapy that fall under the umbrella of constructivism: Solutions Focused Brief Therapy, Emotionally Focused Therapy, and Narrative Therapy.
- Solution Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT)- It is used with all kinds of people, families, and problems. As with many constructivist therapies, the emphasis is on strengths and solutions of the client that may already be available to them.
The focus is on what is already working, instead on what is wrong. This results in more solutions. When a client comes in with a problem the therapist will typically look for the "what has worked in the past" and focus on this as a solution instead of emphasizing the problems. According to research, SFBT can be used effectively as an intervention program to reduce depression.
- Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT)- It is used mainly with couples to deepen, enrich, and save relationships by emphasizing the importance of a safe and secure emotional bond with another.
However, the importance of the individual and conjoint experiences a couple has had will help emotionally bond them even during times of trouble. This can become a focus in therapy.
- Narrative Therapy-It offers clients the opportunity to master their lives through the stories they tell themselves. The Narrative Therapist helps bring forth the preferred realities of clients and enables them to essentially re-author their lives. It has been used with children, families, and adults.
With the chance to basically try and rewrite their story it helps change the "narrative" they have been telling themselves and helps them change the way they view their experiences in life.
How constructivism works
How does it work? Well constructivism works by focusing on specific ideas that an individual's reality is constructed through their individual experiences but they are not discovered, they are constructed. In constructivism there is not one objective view of the world. Each person creates their own version of reality that again is based on their individual life experiences and how they perceive them. Perception is everything because two people may experience the same thing but the way they view/perceive the experience is how they construct their reality. There are some important themes in constructivism to include order, senses of self, and active agency:
- Having a need for order, people find patterns, and create meanings to organize the world in a way that’s easily understandable for them.
- Relationship with the self is important, but it is fluid. It is affected by personal experience and interactions with other people.
- Some things may be beyond a person's control but it is up to them to increase their understanding of the world and make choices that can benefit them.
Constructivist therapy techniques
- Solution-Focused Therapy
- Goal clarification
- Miracle question
- Experiment invitation
- Emotionally Focused Therapy
- Cycle de-escalation
- Changing interaction patterns
- Consolidation and integration
- Narrative therapy
- Narrative construction
- Unique outcomes
Some of the constructivist theory based therapy exercises include:
- Solution mind mapping
- Guided imagery
- Sensory awareness exercises
Uses of constructivist therapy
The different types of constructivist therapy utilized can be beneficial for many concerns and issues:
- It can be helpful in the treatment of grief by helping the person struggling with grief reconstruct meaning within the relationship/individual lost to the individual to move forward and process grief.
Experiencing loss has many challenges and reconstructing and reorganizing a new reality of life without the person who was lost is an integral part of progress in the grieving process. Research has shown a clinically significant decrease in psychopathology measures after treatment of grief with narrative therapy.
- Individuals who have experienced trauma may also benefit from a form of constructivist therapy. Trauma can affect an individual's sense of self and how they view themselves. By reconstructing what has been experienced the individual may be able to work towards a new positive view of themselves and be able to better understand the trauma.
- There really is no limit to who can benefit from constructivist therapy. If a person's reality is skewed and causing them daily trouble within their lives regardless of their diagnosis (depression, anxiety, bipolar, trauma, or even a behavioral disorder which can lead to a negative view of oneself) a form of constructivist therapy such as narrative therapy can help the individual make progress.
Concerns and limitations of constructivism
Although, there is no limit to who can benefit from constructivism regardless of diagnosis, like all types of therapy and theories in psychology, there are concerns to consider One of the criticisms of the theory is that it says that there is no one truth because all truths are equally valid. Traditionally, psychology focuses on the individual and minimizes the role of context and culture. Constructivism, on the other hand, looks at the context in which the self exists. It considers the self to be fluid and changing. This causes a clash with the understanding of the self in psychology. Constructivism and the different constructivist therapy modalities can be extremely beneficial in helping an individual work towards overcoming concerns and problems within themselves or as a couple/family. The principles of constructivism help individuals understand how their experiences in life have led to their current view of reality, and the tenets of constructivism can help an individual reconstruct a healthy, positive, and progressive outlook in life moving forward.