by John Rowan  



It makes sense to say that there are three different standpoints from which we can do psychotherapy and counselling: the instrumental, the authentic and the transpersonal.  It may be useful, as a sort of mnemonic, to sum these up in terms of a very old symbol system.  They are pointed to in an interesting way in the Wheel of Fortune, the 10th of the Great Trumps in the Tarot pack of cards.



This card shows a great wheel with six spokes and a large hub, supported by a wooden frame, complete with a handle suitable for turning it.  (This is in the Marseilles pack, one of the oldest.)  On one side of the wheel a strange animal is being carried upwards, and on the other side another strange animal (perhaps a monkey) is being carried downwards.  On a fixed platform at the top sits a Sphinx, wearing a crown and holding a sword.  Of this card Barbara Walker says: "The Wheel of Fortune marked a turning point in the initiatory process.  It may have been the very source of the term turning point."  (Walker 1984, p.97)  It therefore fits very well with the nature of therapy, which usually performs the function of moving the client on in some way.


Other later Tarot packs have many additional features, but the main features described above usually remain central.



I should like to suggest that the Sphinx represents the approach to therapy which tries to be above the battle, objective, unmoved. The sword is to cut through deceptions and follies, and to reveal the truth beneath.  Such a therapist aims at being correct and objective. This is what I have called (Rowan & Jacobs 2002) the instrumental way of working, which is so common and so highly valued by researchers and accountants today.  The cutting force of rationality is referred to here.  The Sphinx may ask riddles, but always has the answers ready.


In line with the symbolic force of the Tarot pack, we may align each of these positions with one or more gods or goddesses.  The god I think of in connection with this attitude is Thoth.  This is the great god of judgment, of justice, of finding the truth.


If I have to think of a therapist who is an example of this, I think of Albert Ellis.  But there are many other therapists of many different persuasions who take up this position.



Another type of therapist believes in going up and down with the client.  There is a close connection and perhaps a deep involvement with the client.  Such a therapist will often be self-disclosing.  Such a therapist will often be looking for catharsis.  This type of therapist aims at authenticity both for self and client, and I have called this (Rowan & Jacobs 2002) the authentic way.  But the Wheel of Fortune is rather mocking of such aims, suggesting that the pursuit is eternal rather than blessed with a result.  Nor is this unrealistic, given that such therapists are less interested in cure and adjustment.  Perhaps it is right to think in terms of an eternal pursuit.  Perhaps the wounded healer has to stay wounded, as both Hillman (1979) Jung and Searles (see Sedgwick 1993) suggest.


The god I think of here is Dionysos.  He is the god of passion, of the ability to lose control and regain it, the god who can enter into the worlds both of the female and the male.  This is a god of ecstasy and despair, capable of entering into either fully and with a good heart.


If I have to think of a therapist who is an example of this, I think of Moreno, who put so much emphasis on spontaneiry and creativity, but there are many other therapists of varying disciplines who take up this position.



A third type of therapist tries to sit within the hub, completely participating in all that goes on but not moved by it.  There is a coolness and an ability to be fully present without being carried away.  This is the paradox of the still point at the hub of the turning world which T S Eliot reminded us about.  At the Subtle stage we are not bound by the rules of the up-and-down world, even though we are fully present within it.  We are in the world but not of it, at those moments when we reach the hub of things.  I have called this (Rowan & Jacobs 2002) the transpersonal way of working.


The god I associate with this attitude is Hermes.  He is the god of communication, able to go back and forth between the upper and the lower worlds, happy to live in the world of dreams and in the world of commerce, and to be an authentic trickster in both.  "He is at the boundaries between conscious and unconscious, he holds the bridge and is there at the place where paths meet.  In the endless process of discovering Soul which has no conclusion or stopping point he proceeds and leads the way by luck and good timing.  He seizes the opportunity."  (Chetwynd 1986, pp.82-3)


If I have to think of a therapist who is an example of this, I think of Arnold Mindell.  But again there are actually quite a number of therapists who live here all, most or some of the time.



Chetwynd, Tom (1986) A dictionary of sacred myth  London: Unwin

Hillman, James (1979) 'Puer's wound and Ulysses' scar' in Puer Papers 100-108  Dallas: Spring Publications

Rowan, John & Jacobs, Michael D (2002) The therapist's use of self  London: Sage

Sedgwick, David (1993) Jung & Searles: A comparative analysis  London: Routledge

Walker, Barbara (1984) The secrets of the Tarot: Origins, history and symbolism  San Francisco: Harper & Row


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John Rowan is the author of a number of books, including The Reality Game: A guide to humanistic counselling and therapy (2nd edition) (Routledge 1998), Ordinary Ecstasy: The dialectics of humanistic psychology (3rd edition) (Routledge 2001), Subpersonalities (Routledge 1990), The Transpersonal in psychotherapy and counselling (Routledge 1993), Discover your subpersonalities (Routledge 1993) and Healing the Male Psyche: Therapy as Initiation (Routledge 1997).  

He has co-edited Innovative Therapy in Britain (Open University Press 1988) with Windy Dryden, and The plural self: Multiplicity in everyday life with Mick Cooper (Sage 1999).  There are chapters by him in many other books on psychotherapy.  He has had six books of poetry published.  

On the Editorial Board of Self & Society, the Journal of Humanistic Psychology, the Transpersonal Psychology Review and the Counselling Psychology Review, John is a founder member of the UK Association of Humanistic Psychology Practitioners, and is a past member of the Governing Board of the UK Council for Psychotherapy, representing the Humanistic and Integrative Section.  

He is a Fellow of the British Psychological Society (member of the Psychotherapy Section, the Counselling Psychology Division, the Transpersonal Psychology Section and the Consciousness and Experience Section), a qualified individual and group psychotherapist (AHPP and UKCP), a chartered counselling psychologist (BPS) and an accredited counsellor (BACP and UKRC).  He is a Fellow of the BACP.  He has been leading groups since 1969, and now practises Primal Integration, which is a holistic approach to therapy.  

He and his wife live in North Chingford, London: he has four children and four grandchildren from a previous marriage.