John Rowan Looks to the Future

By John Rowan

with an Introduction by Mary Montaut


When John Rowan spoke at the first Annual General meeting of the Irish Association for Humanistic and Integrative Psychotherapy (that’s the last time I write it out in full!) in March 1992, he addressed the key issue of integration in the field of Humanistic Psychotherapy. I remember him drawing an amusing, but at the same time, deadly serious, comparison between two figures of integration. The first was the Sphinx; she is a mythical being, made up of a woman’s head and breasts with the body of a lion. Even in the myth she was unable to reproduce. This type of integration is merely the expression of theoretical notions and has no real outcome. The contrast was with the Platypus. When the first descriptions of this creature were sent back to Europe from Australia, they were denounced as fabrications and fakes because scientists found it hard to credit that there could be an animal which laid eggs, suckled its young and had a beak into the bargain. However, this creature most successfully lives and reproduces, completely in defiance of theoretical expectation. Similarly, John suggested, there were kinds of integration in the field of psychotherapy which, desir­able though they might seem, theoretically, just don’t work – and others, most unlikely, which prove themselves to be viable.

The questions about which integrations work and which are more mythical are continually being explored by therapists in the Humanistic field. In the following article, written for Inside Out, John proposes some principles and guidelines from which the potential for integration can be assessed according to the stage or position in self-development of both the therapist and the client. In it he expands considerably on the ‘nesting’ idea which he described for us in 1992, whereby earlier forms of therapy can remain (nested) within later forms of practice, and are therefore available again whenever it may seem appropriate. This developmental relationship is not however, present between all the differing therapies which make up the Humanistic area, and therefore, he suggested, there might be attempts at integration which resulted in no more viable forms than the poor old Sphinx; whereas, between ‘nested’ and related therapies the potential for integration was real.

John Rowan Looks to the Future

With the coming of the fifth anniversary of Inside Out, we can look back­wards and forwards. I would like to look forwards and ask the basic question – Whither Humanistic Psychology? Today this is a far more com­plex question than it was a few years ago. The development of the trans-personal approach, and the equal development of the integrative approach, means that humanistic psychology cannot be considered in isolation from these other trends, so closely connected with it. When we think about the future, five main areas need to be considered.

(a)   Humanistic Psychology
(b)   Integrative Approaches
(c)   Transpersonal Psychology
(d)   Training
(e)   Cultural Trends

Humanistic Psychology

One of the most important ideas in the field of humanistic psychology is self-actualisation (Maslow 1987). In recent years doubt has been cast on the idea because of the attacks by post-modernism on the very idea of the self. If everything is constructed, if everything is an appearance, if everything is a simulacrum, then there is no place for an authentic self. However, if Wilber is right – and he has a detailed examination of post-modernism in his recent book (Wilber 1995) – there is a place for an authentic self at the level of development he calls the Centaur (see fig. 1, pages 32/33).

I regard self-actualisation as belonging very much to the centaur level of development. It is not all things to all people, but quite specific and limited. I don’t want to give in to the post-modernists and redefine self-actualisation theory. I just want to rid it of excrescences and misunderstandings. There is nothing wrong with the idea of self-actualisation. I wrote an article some time back that appeared in The Humanistic Psychologist (Rowan 1992), showing that the major philosopher Hegel was in favour of the idea and could even clarify some of the puzzles connected with the concept. Recently I have seen a paper by Hester Solomon (1994) that links Hegel with Jung, and of course Jung’s notion of individuation is very close to Maslow’s idea of self-actualisation. According to Samuels and his co-workers (1986), individuation is “the key concept in Jung’s contribution to the theories of personality development.” (p.76). I think the person who has done most to revive the concept in a fuller form is Ken Wilber. He has suggested that the self which is to be actualised in Maslow’s theory is only one particular version of the self, which he calls the Centaur self. Further on in the process of psycho-spiritual development comes the Subtle self (soul). Further on again comes the Causal self (spirit). This framework makes a lot more sense to me than the original version which mixed up self, soul and spirit. It did not allow for distinctions to be made.

It will be easier to differentiate the Centaur from the Subtle and Causal and the Non-dual (beyond the Causal but lumped in with it in fig.1, pages 32/33) as we become familiar with all these levels. I think the Centaur level has a unique part to play, both for the individual and for society. It is remarkable that it is this century that has seen the discovery of the Centaur level and the real self on any wide scale. These things are just not described at all in Eastern literature or in the earlier Western literature. They are very much of today, though of course there were precursors like Kirkegaard (1813-55), who saw at least some of the issues very clearly. It is only recently that I have become aware of the enormous contribution which phenomen­ology and existentialism have made to the humanistic approach.

Most humanistic therapists, like others, are faced with people who just want to get back to being the way they were before. The more interesting work, and the work that humanistic therapists are best at, is where the person wants to work through to the point of discovering their real self (exis­tential self, body-mind unity, true self, etc.) In order to do that job, which Jim Bugental (1987) describes as life-changing, the therapist has to be authentic. We cannot lead people to the real self if we have not got there ourselves.

Any approach that does not value authenticity is not going to be compat­ible with the humanistic approach. Those psychoanalysts who believe that everything happening in a session is transference or counter transference cannot be humanistic. And those cognitive and behavioural therapists who have no notion of the real self cannot be humanistic. On the other hand, those psychoanalysts who believe in the real self (Winnicott, Guntrip, Balint, Horney, Fromm, etc.) are compatible with the humanistic approach. And those cognitive and behavioural therapists who acknowledge the importance of the real self are also compatible.

Humanistic psychology is more successful in Britain at the moment than at any time in the past. It has been growing steadily in recent years. The Irish Association for Humanistic and Integrative Psychotherapy was formed in 1991 and is now flourishing. The AHP in Britain has over 1000 members and the journal Self and Society comes out bi-monthly. There is a professional wing, The Association of Humanistic Psychology Practitioners, with about 150 members, all of whom have been rigorously examined and accredited. The accreditation of psychotherapist members automatically gets them onto the National Register of Psychotherapists which has existed now in the UK for several years. It includes therapists from different approaches and took fifteen years to get together. I am quite proud of this effort, which I helped to pioneer.

The humanistic impact on academia is small but growing. There are no for­mal records of what courses are operating. I know of at least half a dozen in the humanistic and transpersonal area. Existing courses in psychotherapy and counselling are linking up with universities to provide MA and MSc pro­grammes – this is quite an exciting development. One has developed a PhD programme. If Wilber is right in his argument (1981) that the Centaur level is the next stage of development for the whole human race, then humanistic psychology is due for a quantum increase in its effectiveness and influence.


One of the most neglected areas in the field of psychotherapy is the transpersonal. Even now most psychotherapists have no idea as to what it is or why it is important.

In psychoanalysis the word is sometimes used to mean interpersonal. In the dictionary of counselling it is defined as: “Transpersonal therapy – any form of counselling or therapy that places emphasis on spirituality, human potential or heightened consciousness. The ‘transpersonal’ is concerned with what is beyond purely individual, problematic, everyday experience. The transpersonal is often known as ‘fourth force’ psychology (after psycho­analytic, behavioural and humanistic) and is considered by many to repres­ent a higher stage of human evolution …” (Feltham & Dryden, 1993. p.198)

Possibly the biggest challenge in psychotherapy today is this spiritual aspect of the work. If we can take Wilber and his co-workers seriously, we need to devote much more attention than we normally do to this approach. The argument is (Wilber et al 1986) that people operate on something like nine different developmental levels, some of which are completed, some are still in process and some are not yet visible at all. My belief is that anyone who wants to work as a humanistic psychotherapist needs to have a spiritual discipline to follow. Otherwise, there are important and crucial human areas such as spiritual emergencies (Grof & Grof.1990) where they cannot help their clients.

Over the next 25 or 50 years, I see the transpersonal approach being far more deeply recognised and understood. It will become more and more obvious that any psychotherapy that aims to deal with the whole person cannot ignore it.


Now we come to the question of the future of the integrative approach. In general it looks as if this is a growth area and there is now a ‘Journal of Psychotherapy Integration’ in Arizona, USA. Petruska Clarkson has published a book which has great promise for the integration of different psychotherapies. There are difficulties, some of which are not obvious at a glance (fig. 1, pages 32/33).

Integration means moving in and out of each discipline in a free-flowing way so that they become part of a single coherent therapeutic effort. There­fore it is not possible to integrate therapies from different columns in the figure. The whole understanding of the self changes from column to column. So it is not integration but alteration. (In a forthcoming paper in ‘Changes’ John Rowan argues this at length.)

To sum up, what I have been saying is that if two forms of therapy in a single column want to come together, they may construct something that may look as unlikely as a duck-billed platypus, but that may well be viable and productive. From such a union a new school of therapy may spring up. But if two forms of therapy in two different columns try to come together the result will be more like a sphinx, with parts that never quite fit and do not lead to any successful school or training.


Working in depth will mean that issues will come up in pre and peri-natal areas, infant material and spiritual areas. Many training courses avoid these and the beginning therapist will just have to get them somewhere else or face being inadequately equipped. Many training courses have inadequate coverage of group-work and the aspiring therapist will have to look else­where for psychodrama, encounter etc. This range of training is required if the therapist is to work in the ‘discipline of column 2’. It has often been pointed out that certain problems such as insensitive talkativeness, are never going to come out in one-to-one therapy, they need a group to become accessible. Detailed coverage of group-work is something I feel very strongly should be part of an adequate training.

Facilities need to be better established to enable psychotherapists to look after on-going training for themselves, new ways of working become avail­able. I believe there are many therapists who cannot help their clients work with early life experiences before the age of five years. Clients may often need to go further back if we want to see substantial changes in basic character structure. (See: Piontelli, Nelson, Verny.)

Further, it seems to me that any course that avoids discussion of the social context is letting its students down. There is so much opportunity for manipulation by psychotherapists that it is crucially important that students are made aware of the necessity for this not to happen in their work. I believe that psychotherapy is a political act. It needs to be taken seriously as a political act if it is not to do more harm than good. (See: Andrew Samuels, 1993 for a good discussion of these matters.)

I don’t know what will happen over the next few years but I do know what I want to happen. The main thing I would like people to learn is a negative one – don’t put all your eggs in one basket. I hate the narrow kind of therapist who was trained in one school, analysed by one analyst and practises in one mode. I hate even more the narrow kind of so-called ‘therapist’ who has never done any self-therapy. I very much like the open kind of therapist who has had many teachers and tried many modes and has settled on his or her own combination.

Chart p 33

Humanistic approaches are concerned most centrally and characteristically with column 2 and the transpersonal approach in psychotherapy is concerned most centrally and characteristically with column 3. Integrative approaches may be concerned with any or all three of the columns.

This is not just a personal preference – there is a theoretical rationale for it. As Freud said: ‘Therapists can only operate up to the limit of their own resistances.’ These resistances are strongest in the areas that have not been reached by the type of therapy they did in their training. When clients bring up material which they did not cover in their training they distort it and treat it as something else. This must be ineffectual.

Supervision has a most important part to play in all this. In recent years there has been some excellent contributions to the literature, notably, the work of Peter Hawkins and Robin Shohet (1989) and Elizabeth Holloway (1995).

I do not yet see the training courses that I think are needed. The general movement toward modularity in education and the much greater ability to pick one course from here and another from there, points in the right direction.

Cultural trends

All the above takes place within a context. It seems to me that the whole of our civilisation is going through a reaction to the optimism of the 1960’s. The main form this takes is post-modernism and de-construction. There is a skepticism about meta-narratives. The great theories, the great dreams of the past are now seen as untenable or actively harmful. What we are left with is fragmentation. This general and widespread tendency has affected human­istic psychology too.

Decent writers like Walt Anderson (1990) have taken up the post-modern­ist banner, and many people in the AHP have been influenced to the point of trying to revise the AHP mission statement in a post-modern direction. Luckily this effort failed. I think we can talk of a valid form of pluralism that avoids monism at one end of the spectrum and relativism at the other. John Kekes has been writing well about this recently, though I do not claim him for humanistic psychology – he is a philosopher.

Pluralism, according to Kekes (1994) says we can have a fundamental set of values, each of which can support the others. I believe this is exactly what we have always had and always needed in humanistic psychology.

The whole thrust of the chart in figure 1 is to say that there is not just one right way, not just one great truth: there are different truths at different levels. This is a pluralist vision. Yet it does not deny the important truth of relativism, which is that dogmatism and the One Great Truth are oppressive and inhuman.

Somebody once said that the mark of the intelligent person was to be able to hold two ideas in the mind at the same time. In the present age this makes more sense than ever before. Most of the problems in the world have come from people who know they are right. Some people have criticised Ken Wilber for having a grand theory, but his theory subverts itself in this respect, because it says so clearly that there are different truths at different levels and at the highest level the idea of truth itself becomes quite para­doxical.

I think we, in humanistic psychology, just have to keep on fighting our corner and not let go of what we believe. I don’t know how society will develop in the next quarter century. G.K Chesterton used to say that the majority of people had a simple game that they loved to play: they would notice carefully what the experts said they were going to do and then they would go away and do something different. All I know is that humanistic psychology has contributed something enormous to society, something that can never be forgotten or lost and which it is up to all of us who care about such things to keep whole.

References & Bibliography

Anderson, Walter T. (1990) Reality Isn’t What It Used To Be: Theatrical Politics, Ready-To-Wear Religion, Global Myths, Primitive Chic And Other Wonders Of The Post-modern World. Harper & Row, San Francisco.

Bugental, James. F.T. (1987) The Art of the Psychotherapist. W.W. Norton, NY.

Clarkson, Petruska (1995) The Therapeutic Relationship. Whurr. London.

Elis, Albert & Yeager, R.J. (1989) Why Some Therapies Don’t Work. Prometheus, Buffalo.

Feltham, C & Dryden, W (1993) Dictionary of Counselling. Whurr, London.

Grof, C & Grof, S (1990) The Stormy Search for the Self. Jeremy Tarcher, Los Angeles.

Hawkins, P & Shohet R (1989) Supervision in the Helping Professions. OUP

Holloway, E (1995) Clinical Supervision: A Systems Approach. Sage, Thousand Oaks.

Kekes; J (1993) The Morality of Pluralism. Princeton UP.

Maslow, A (1987) Motivation and Personality (3rd edition). Harper & Row NY.

Noble, E (1993) Primal Connections. Simon & Schuster, NY.

Piontelli, A (1992) From Fetus to Child: An Observational and Psychoanalytic Study Routledge, London.

Rowan, J (1992) ‘Hegel and Self-Actualisation’ in Breakthroughs and Integration in Psycho­therapy‘ Whurr, London.

Samuels, A (1993) The Political Psyche. Routledge, London.

Samuels, A, Shorter, B & Plaut, F (1986) A Critical Dictionary of Jungian Analysis. Routledge London.

Solomon, H (1994) ‘The Transcendent Function and Hegel’s Dialectical Vision’, journal of Analytical Psychology No.39 pp. 77-100.

Verny, T (ed.) (1987) Pre and Peri-natal Psychology: An Introduction. Human Sciences Press. NY.

Wilber, K (1981) Up from Eden: A Transpersonal View of Human Evolution. Anchor Doubleday, NY

Wilber, K (1983) ‘The pre/trans Fallacy’ in Eye to Eye: The Quest for the New Paradigm Anchor Books, NY.

Wilber, K et al (eds.)(1986) Transformations of Consciousness. New Science Library, Boston

Wilber, K (1995) Sex, Ecology, Spirituality. Shambala, Boston.

Wilson, M (1994) ‘Spiritual Terrain’ Counselling News No. 16, pp. 24-25