Staff supporting people with challenging behaviour did not make or use consistent attributions about such behaviour in personal construct psychology study


There is a wide literature on support for people with learning disabilities and challenging behaviour, and studies looking at staff attitudes and attributions form a part of this. These studies have looked at inconsistencies in responses, the impact of specific attributions on helping behaviour etc. The authors of this current study acknowledge the contribution of such studies, but were concerned that they have previously used pre-determined categories or models. They also point out that the studies may have been open to researcher bias.

They set out to use methods derived from personal construct psychology to develop an objective investigation of the views and attitudes of staff.

Personal Construct Psychology was developed as an alternative to behaviourist or psychoanalytic psychology, suggesting that personal identity is defined by the way people construe or understand their own personal worlds, so is at its heart a phenomenological approach

The researchers in this study interviewed fourteen staff who worked in an in-patient service for people with learning disabilities about their perceptions of people they were supporting with challenging behaviour. They used the repertory grid technique which explores how people experience their world. The grid is a table with a list of items. The items are also written on cards which the tester shows to the person being interviewed, asking, “How are two of these similar and the third one different?”, the answer to which constitutes a “construct”.

What they found was that staff construed the people they supported and their behaviours in a heterogeneous manner. It was not possible on the basis of the findings to reduce this to a group average. Also, they did not make or use attributions about them in a consistent manner.

The authors suggest that future research should incorporate work culture and the staff–client relationship.

Thinking About Challenging Behavior: A Repertory Grid Study of Inpatient Staff Beliefs, Hare D et al in Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 50, 6, 468-478.

Keywords : staff, repertory grid, beliefs, challenging behavior, construing

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John Northfield

After qualifying as a social worker, John worked in community learning disability teams before getting involved in a number of long-stay hospital closure programmes, working to develop individual plans for people moving into their own homes. He worked for BILD, helping to develop the Quality Network and was editorial lead for the NHS electronic library learning disabilities specialist collection. This led him to found the Learning Disabilities Elf site with Andre Tomlin as a way of making the evidence accessible to practitioners in health and social care. Most recently he has worked as part of Mencap's national quality team and also been involved in a number of national website developments, including the General Medical Council's learning disabilities site.

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