Book Review: John Rowan, Breakthroughs and Integration in Psychotherapy

1992, Psychotherapy Series edited by Windy Dryden, Whurr
 Publishers London. ISBN 1-870332-18-0. Stg£15.00

Although the articles which make up this book have previously been published in 
various places, taken together in the one volume they form a most impressive body
 of work and a major contribution to the theory of humanistic psychology. At the
 same time, the personal imprint of Rowan’s own approach is so strong throughout 
that I am tempted to coin the phrase “Rowanian” to describe that contribution.
 And I rather suspect that this double effect is precisely what he must have 
intended, because he places a highly personal essay at the start of the book (A Late 
Developer – Why I Became a Psychotherapist). In the introduction, he comments 
that “one or two people have suggested to me that this section is ‘too honest’ in
 saying too much about my personal life, but I do not agree.”

In its own way, each one of the articles which follow bears this out. Even in Hegel and Actualization, for example, which sounds as if it would be a very 
academic subject, Rowan’s confident appropriation of Hegel’s ideas and lucid
 commentary on their relevance to specific issues in humanistic psychology ensure
 that the essay is never dry or specious. He constantly places Hegelian ideas into 
the familiar context of humanistic thought, comparing them at relevant moments 
to Perls’, Rogers’, Klein’s, Grofs, etc. so that the reader benefits in both
 directions; new light on the well-known ideas and new confidence in tackling the 
philosophical probity of Hegel. Or again, in Chapter 7, The Self: One or Many, 
Rowan confronts the over-simplification of the “real self” idea in a way which is so
 personally felt and vouched for that the theoretical issue underlying the question is 
illuminated. He clearly demonstrates that most of the writers who fall within the
 humanistic framework often talk in terms of multiplicity within the person -
”whether with Federn or Berne or John Watkins we talk about ego states; whether 
with Perls we talk about the top dog and the underdog; whether with Klein or 
Fairbairn or Guntrip we talk about internal objects… imagoes,… hidden observer,
… emotionally divided self, … false or unreal self, … community of self …” This
 wide-ranging approach brings sharply into focus the underlying essentials of a
 humanistic stance, and does so in an experiential way through that very personal 
”honesty” of which his friends were warning him.

After sections on Humanistic Psychology and Humanistic Psychotherapy,
 Rowan moves on to the most radical and challenging section of the book, a series
 of essays on Transpersonal Psychotherapy. Here again, he successfully juxtaposes 
the personal and the theoretical, combining explanation (for example of Ken
 Wilber’s ideas) with insights from his personal work and practice. There is nothing 
airy-fairy about his approach; Chapter 17, on Holistic Listening is a model of 
down-to-earth counselling skills, yet it takes him far beyond the idea of “empathy”
and on into an extremely fascinating discussion of countertransference. Typically, 
Rowan is unafraid of this phenomenon – he can even show that, used sensitively,
 the countertransference itself can be a major part of holistic listening.

But I think that the chapter which moved me most was a remarkable piece of 
work about men’s therapy (Chapter 21). “… unless men agree to be wounded,
 nothing much is going to change..,” Rowan challenges, “my belief (is) that the
 male as such is suspect” … “the aim is to go fully into the guilt and despair but 
not rest there … I spit on the phoney hope which believes that all is basically OK
 and that all we have to do is to celebrate the excellence of men and the 
marvellousness of women.” The extraordinary acerbity of this essay made me sit 
up and blink, even though I am familiar with his book, The Horned God. At first
 I felt almost indignant on men’s behalf because the attack was so much more
 radical than the run of feminist material on the subject. I have been pondering on
 what this essay says ever since, with some pain. But also with respect for Rowan 
the man and Rowan the radical theorist – which strangely is a comfort in a world 
where feminists don’t often hate men, because what he is saying is still so
 splendidly male. This essay should be prescribed reading on every course in
 Women’s Studies!

Mary Montaut