John Rowan: 31st March 1925 – 26th May 2018

Rest In Peace, most wonderful man

John died peacefully, at home, after a series of minor illnesses. The official cause of death was “Old Age”. I believe his body just couldn’t keep up with his active mind any longer.

John’s last published work will be a chapter in “Handbook of Dialogical Self Theory and Psychotherapy: Bridging Psychotherapeutic and Cultural Traditions”, edited by Agnieszka Konopka, Hubert Hermans, Miguel M. Gonçalves, published by Routledge.

Obituaries for John can be found at:
Journal of the Society of Existential Analysis 29.2
Therapy Today (September 2018)
The Psychologist (Autumn 2018)

The I’s
There is the I that gets impatient, tetchy
There is the I that gets tired, worn out
There is the I that knows itself to be true and real
There is the I that soars above
There is the I that sees images everywhere – we call it the soul
There is the I that is infinite, that goes on forever, and has no limits
There is the I that is not an I, that never was an I, that never will be an I, but is still inescapable
There is the I that will never understand all this, but will just give up, and give up, and
endlessly, beautifully, effortlessly
give up

John Rowan
(Written somewhere in the Caribbean, January 2016)

Contact:   Sue Rowan


Leave a Comment October 1, 2018

12 Sept 2017


On the 14th of June I had a fall.  I had just put the bins out for collection and was coming back to the house, when I fell.  I was in a slightly sideways position and could not move.  I was only about six feet from the front door.  I called out eventually but I was behind the car and could not be seen from the road.  After about half an hour two men working on a platform two doors up noticed me and came to the front door.  My wife came to the door and was shocked – she had thought I was upstairs.  They sat me on a chair with an umbrella until the ambulance came.

Eventually the ambulance came and I was taken to Whipps Cross hospital.  I was there for three days while they did various tests, and then they sent me home.  But convalescence has been vey slow.  The NHS has been magnificent with various services, first of all getting me up and  washed and dressed every morning, then teaching me how to walk again, then raising up the sofa six inches for me, providing me with two walking frames and later two good sticks.

Unfortunately that was not the end.  Our doctor detected something else, and ordered me into hospital again, where I had to spend two weeks, first of all in a  large ward with about fifty old men, and then in  a small ward with three other men, which was much nicer.  At one point a  lovely big hamper of fruit arrived, thanks to my son in America.

Eventually,  after many tests and procedures, they let me come home.  Since then,  I have been recovering more quickly, and am pretty well back to normal, except that walking is difficult and  I have  lost two stone.  A physio comes round every week and makes me do exercises.  I am getting stronger and fitter.

I have to say that the NHS has been marvellous through all this and I take my hat off to them.

John Rowan

Leave a Comment September 12, 2017

10 June 2017

The phrase ‘authentic self’ did not appear in the English language before 1835, and the term ‘existential’  did not appear before 1850.  This means that previous ages did not have these terms or these ideas.  So the existential concept of the authentic self was not known in antiquity, nor in the Middle Ages – nor does it occur in any religion.  For Buddhism,  for example, which postulates the existence of nine different levels of consciousness, all the lower non-mystical states of consciousness are lumped together as ‘the gross’.  Now in existential psychotherapy we are often, implicitly or explicitly, helping people to move in such a way as to become more authentic.  In a way, that is our trademark.  It  therefore behoves us to understand this concept more deeply and more fully than any other therapeutic discipline bothers to do.  We are helped in this by the work of James Bugental, who had the unique distinction of being on the editorial boards of the Journal of Humanistic Psychology and of the journal Existential Analysis – two of his books were about authenticity.

Leave a Comment June 11, 2017

12 May 2017


There have been a number of books on a Buddhist approach to psychotherapy, by people such as Brazier (1995),  Epstein (1996), Rubin (1996), Rosenbaum (1999), Magid (2002), Safran (2003), Aronson (2004), Bobrow (2010), Jennings & Safran (2010) and Schuman (2017).  They all fail to make the distinction between first-tier thinking (A is A, etc) and second-tier thinking (A is not simply A, etc).

This distinction is, it seems to me, quite crucial to the practice of psychotherapy,  It is the difference between everyday logic (black/white, right-wrong, true/false, yes/no and so forth) and dialectical logic, where paradox and contradiction are acceptable.  This has been shown to be important in many fields – Hegel, Marx, Wallace, Joachim, Lenin and so forth.  As Mary Parker Follett so memorably put it – “Never let yourself be bullied by an either/or”.

Second-tier thinking is so important in psychotherapy because it is the home of authenticity, the real self, the truly autonomous person and so forth – what Ken Wilber calls the ‘Centaur Stage’ of development.  This is the mental stage where we start to see the world through our own eyes, instead of through the eyes of others.  It was well described by Abraham Maslow, and then further researched by Lawrence Kohlberg, Jane Loevinger, Jean Piaget, Beck & Cowan, Ken Wilber, Susanne Cook-Greuter, William Torbert and Robert Kegan.

In therapy we often find ourselves supporting our clients in the important move from first-tier thinking to second-tier thinking – from always looking to other people for the correct opinions, to seeing through our own eyes and forming our own opinions.  What we often do not understand is how modern this level of thinking really is.  It only really begins in the nineteenth century with people like Kierkegaard and Nietzsche.  You cannot find it in Buddhism: for Buddhists both first-tier and second-tier thinking are just part of the gross.  Neither can you find it in the classical thinkers of the East or the philosophers of the West.

Buddhism is rich and valid in its account of the higher states of consciousness, the dharmakaya, the sambhogakaya, the nirmanakaya and so forth.  But for them there is no such thing as a distinction between conventional thinking and autonomous thinking.  It is all part of the gross, the everyday consciousness which has not yet set forth on the path to enlightenment or Nibbana.  There are nine levels of consciousness in Buddhism, but none of them are about authenticity.  Therefore I say that Buddhism is not very useful in the mainstream of psychotherapy or counselling.

Leave a Comment May 12, 2017

3 April 2017

Busy Blog !

Been so busy recently.  Got off my proposals for the EUROTAS conference in  Prague later this year – one of the keynote speakers this time – Prague is such a lovely city – Sue and I plan to spend a few days in and around it.   Sent off my revised chapter on Transpersonal Coaching to the SAGE Handbook of Coaching, together with an improved version of the AQAL chart approved by Ken Wilber.  Put on the weekend workshop with Brian Kaplan, which went like a bomb – reduced numbers but a wonderful atmosphere.  Brian got out some lovely Certificates of Attendance for the participants.  Sent off a new article to the BACP Private Practice magazine.  The new edition of the ACPNL Magazine is due out any day now – number 83 it is now.  Written to Slavoj Zizek about Hegel and dialectics: my new book has now reached Chapter 4.

Last Friday was my birthday, and Sue took me out to Sheekey’s – a wonderful experience!  Then yesterday my daughter Nicky took us out for brunch to the Albert Hall – Eggs Benedict and Bloody Maries all round!  Wow!

Leave a Comment April 3, 2017

21 February 2017



As far as I know the major research on laughter in therapy was conducted by that great theorist of the humanistic approach, the late Alvin Mahrer (1985).  In his 1996 book he says: “Experiential therapists may not be wildly emotional of feeling in their actual lives.  They may not be screamers or hard laughers.  But in the session, they must be able to have strong feeling.  They must be more open than the patient to strong feeling, and to just about any kind of strong feeling…  You  must allow yourself to undergo pain, hurt, turmoil, anguish, all kinds of bad feelings.  In the same way, you must be able to undergo strong good feelings.  You must be skilled in undergoing scenes, moments, opportunities of absolute silliness, whimsy, laughter, clowning, rollicking, giggling, and chuckling.” p.175  (This injunction is followed by no less than twelve references to the research literature, including the classic study of 1984 by Mahrer and his wife.)

Before that there was the amazing work of Eileen Walkenstein, who had a completely fresh and unboundaried approach to therapy – full of real humour and fun.

Not well enough known or referred to is the exciting work of Frank Farrelly (Farrelly  & Brandsma (1974) which is still being carried on in London by Brian Kaplan.  This approach relies a great deal on being open to the incongruous, the quirky, the unexpected.  Brian even creates badges for his clients to wear, with humorous references to their supposed problems.

It seems to me that this is a serious challenge to therapists here, whatever their labels or persuasions.  Are we bringing into the session the full range of our own capabilities, or are we making a quite restricted choice of what to reveal?  Are we allowing our full range of feelings to come into the session, and encouraging the client to do the same?  Are we noticing the incongruous and the quirky, the surprising and the funny, and allowing it into the session?


Leave a Comment February 21, 2017

January Blog


The exciting workshop on the carnivalization of therapy, led by Brian Kaplan and me in March, is coming on apace. An entry has appeared in the Gestalt News and Notes, which goes out to hundreds of therapists worldwide. A nice item, complete with photo, has appeared in the EUROTAS Newsletter, which goes out to hundreds of therapists in the European Transpersonal tradition. A nice piece has appeared in the AHPP Newsletter, which goes out to humanistic therapists in the UK.
Applications are coming in, and it looks as if this is going to be a bit of a star attraction. It quite unique, opening up areas not covered in the standard offerings by the likes of the BPS, the BACP, the Tavistock, the WPF and so forth. It is really saying that we are often too cautious in sticking to what we already know in therapy, and that a good look round is in order.
It must be healthy to challenge the idea that empathy will get you everywhere, or the idea that the Unconscious is a sort of sacred cow, or the idea that one tradition is always enough. By turning everything topsy-turvy, as in a carnival (Bakhtin’s idea) we can get a breath of fresh air blowing through our existing practices, which so easily get stereotyped and too predictable.
If you want to know more, just email, and more will be revealed.

Leave a Comment January 22, 2017

workshop workshop workshop


One of the great events of 2016 was, for me, the Dialogical Self conference in Lublin. I found myself proposing a completely new take on the theory, bringing to the fore the idea of a carnivalistic approach to therapy. In a carnival everything goes topsy-turvy, all the established truths get questioned, nothing is not untouched in the end. This was a radical vision, and I felt quite inspired by it.
By coincidence, I then happened to meet Brian Kaplan, who has been using the challenging approach often labelled as Provocative Therapy for many years now. Anyone interested in this approach can see examples of it on YouTube, conducted by Frank Farrelly, who originated it. Brian and I had some exciting conversations, where we found that we had much common ground. We talked ourselves into a resolve to launch a combined workshop, where the ideas of provocation and carnivalization could be demonstrated and explored. Anyone interested in these ideas could see and experience them in action.
The workshop will take place on Sunday the 26th of March next year, in Hampstead. A flier is now available, setting out all the arrangements, obtainable from Brian Kaplan is a medical doctor working with a whole-person approach, and he and I seem to see the world in ways which sometimes similar, sometimes complementary. This is a real opportunity to blow away the cobwebs of psychoanalysis, person-centred and CBT approaches, and expose ourselves to the genuinely fresh.

Leave a Comment December 11, 2016


Last night I was coming home on the tube after seeing a play in the West End. I had an Evening Standard, but no pen, and I like to do the crossword on the journey home. I saw a shop on Leicester Square – one of those shops full of tourist tat which one never normally sets foot in. I thought – perhaps they sell pens – maybe I can buy one there. So I went in through the very narrow doorway, and saw a man behind the till. I asked him if they sold pens, and told him I wanted it for the ES crossword. He looked at me for a moment, all wrapped up because it had been raining, and then broke into a smile. He picked up the pen he had just been using, and held it out to me. ‘How much is that?’, I asked. ‘No, no, just take it!’, he said. I thanked him very much and left the shop.
I thought that was a kind act, thoughtful and helpful. And how unexpected! I just want to mark the spot, so to speak, so that it is not forgotten. Perhaps it may inspire someone else to do something similar. Anyway, there it was, and I appreciated it very much.

Leave a Comment November 17, 2016

25 October 2016


What is this passion for passwords? So many sites where I might want to buy something ask me for a password. They usually offer to help me create a password by sending me an email. Then I have to find the email site, and create the new password. Then I have to go back to the original site, if I can remember what it was, and enter the new password. This happens with perfectly ordinary shops with no special pretensions to fame or uniqueness, and I find it very annoying.
What on earth is the point? If I go into a shop on the hight street, they do not ask me for a password: the fact that I want to buy something seems to be quite enough. They do not sit me down and grill me about my identity and my right to purchase their goods – I just walk in, buy something, and leave. Why not with a website?
I hate passwords. If I am asked for a password I usually leave the site and try somewhere else for what I want. It just seems like a kind of bullying to me – won’t play unless you play by my stupid rules. I can understand that if I use a site very often, and they know me well, a password would be quite convenient for both parties, just to make sure that I who I say I am. It would be saved and automatic, and I would not have to enter it in more than once. I don’t object to that – for example, my Amazon account works in that way.
But for every twopenny company to ask automatically for a password before they will do their duty – that does not make sense at all to me. Death to passwords, I say!

Leave a Comment October 25, 2016

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Dr John Rowan
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