The Therapists Use of Self. Workshop Facilitated by John Rowan

by Aidan Duggan

It was a pleasure to welcome John Rowan to Kedron for his workshop entitled, The Therapists Use of Self: Three Approaches to the Therapeutic Relationship. This workshop is based on the book that he co-wrote with Michael Jacobs in 2002.

John’s writings of the last number of years have been very strongly influenced by the work of Ken Wilbur. Adapting Wilbur’s writings to psychotherapy John has come to say that therapists work from different grounds and this strongly influences the nature of interaction, the territories explored and the areas of self engaged with by both therapist and client.

John sees therapists, clients and people in general as being or doing from four distinct positions; the instrumental, the authentic, the transpersonal level 1 and the transpersonal level 2. These correspond to Wilbur’s mental ego, centaur, subtle and causal levels. The ego-mental level is where the majority of people are coming from in life.  He disowns the ego stage as rather underdeveloped and of limited value in the psychotherapeutic field. Some ways of working like CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), REBT (rational-emotive and behavioural therapy), brief therapy and solution-based therapies fall into this category. These are methods that ‘treat’ the ‘patient’ and are largely based on an expert model.

John demonstrated working on the authentic and transpersonal levels. It was fascinating to observe the differences in energy that exists on the different levels.  This had a pronounced reflection in the nature of the interaction between the client and John. Many of us humanistic therapists focus mostly on the authentic level and perhaps like to believe we work somewhat on the transpersonal level 1 also. It was very helpful to observe John seamlessly moving between levels and to demonstrate that it is possible to work psychotherapeutically on four differing levels with clients. One of the gifts of Wilbur and Rowan has been to chart these areas of work and to clarify what is genuinely authentic and transpersonal levels 1 and 2.

However there was something uncomfortable for me about John’s unwillingness to address the mental-ego level. Many of us as therapists say that we don’t work at this level when in fact we do. The areas we choose to explore with clients or the challenges we make are mental-ego driven. The formation of the cartography of uses of self by John is partly a mental-ego function. Further being an expert and expert driven is a legitimate function of the therapist. That’s why some clients come to us.

Rowan, J. & Jacobs, M. (2002). The therapist’s use of self. Berkshire: Open University Press.

Aidan Duggan (IAHIP) is Senior Psychologist and Head of Dept. at Kedron.  Kedron is the only residential psychotherapeutic centre in Ireland.