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The Edinburgh Alexander and Therapy Centre has been offering Alexander lessons and workshops since 1994.

Friday, 06 July 2012

Knowing How v Knowing That

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I first became aware of Gilbert Ryle’s distinction between ‘knowing how’ and ‘knowing that’ while studying philosophy at Aberdeen University as an undergraduate. It is a distinction whose importance I have found myself reflecting on for a number of reasons, not least the importance Alexander placed on it in emphasising the importance of the ‘means-whereby’ we go about our business.

Alexander, I think it is fair to say, was dismissive of ‘knowing that’; there are numerous accounts of him turning away from encounters with eminent people, who might have helped him promote his work, on the basis that for him their ‘use’ was obviously, shall we say, not what it might be.

I suspect that while necessary, in some senses to protect the developing use and practice of the Alexander Technique, it has rather isolated the Alexander world from developing its theory, which is there in the writings of Alexander. This is a pity, there is much the Alexander world can learn from others, equally there is much others can learn from us, in what we can observe and teach.

I was reminded of this at the weekend when I was at Trinity College in Dublin, attending the European Personal Construct Association’s (EPCA) conference. I had the privilege of running a workshop linking my work as an Alexander Technique Teacher and as a Psychotherapist. I will spare you the full title but the workshop focused on how Alexander Technique and Conscious Control can be helpful inter-personally in getting at habits laid down in the early weeks of life. Habits that have a profound effect on how we experience ourselves and then others.

While I think that not only did Alexander recognise a link and aim to work with it, I think that for many reasons his work and writings here are limited. Yet, they went on to inspire people like Margaret Naumburg who founded Art Therapy in the United States, Fritz Perls who started Gestalt Therapy, and through John Dewey, George Kelly who developed Personal Construct Psychology. Not enough work has been done to trace Alexander’s influence or to develop the theoretical links that would help expand his work in its practical reach.

On the ground individual teachers continue to make a difference, making links and finding people who are interested. Alexander Technique teachers have a lot to offer in terms of ‘know how’ or the ‘mean’s whereby’; we can learn to control not only our behaviour but what Alexander termed our ‘manner of reaction.’ He was explicit in his last book that people who were familiar with his work had missed the significance of his work here.

Fortunately not everyone has missed it as a welcome bit of news in my inbox today attests to, in that Eric Donnison and Caroline Dale are organising a project to teach AT to the kids, parents and staff of Kid’s Company founded by the truly remarkable Camila Batmanghelidjh. It’s a project one can only wish well to in its proposed undertaking of offering Alexander Technique and its ‘know-how’ to people who have had a very raw start in life.

Richard Casebow

Back in the mid-1980s, I started to suffer from severe sciatica that often made walking and working difficult. At the time, I was training in London to become a Chartered Accountant and I left, as I was spending increasing amounts of time off waiting for the pain to subside. Around this time, I also became depressed, as my prospects seemed to darken with little hope of a normal life. In seeking help I found my way both to a psychotherapist and then to an Alexander Technique teacher, both of which helped enormously. The therapy with forming a life plan and understanding myself, encouraged me to dream of the life I have now. The Alexander Technique gave me the practical tool to help realise it and to allow me to rehabilitate myself to lead a full normal life.


The link between Alexander Technique, Psychotherapy and the art of living intelligently became something that has fascinated me ever since and is something I have continued to explore myself and with pupils and clients since. This blog is my attempt to elucidate the links, as well as to talk about Alexander Technique pure and simple and the benefits of therapy.


I founded the Edinburgh Alexander and Therapy Centre in 1994, Counselling Conversations came later after I became a practising therapist in 2003. Professionally I act as the Treasurer of the Personal Construct Psychology Association and sit on the board of the UKCP’s house magazine The Psychotherapist. When I am not to be found working, there is nothing better I like to be doing than spending time on a Scottish hillside, exploring the arts or just spending time with friends and family, including the family cat.