Resilience Spotlight: Ronald Cohen, MD, Family Psychotherapist, Part 2

Posted on: July 25, 2013
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WMB (Watch Me Bounce): How do you train people in resilience?
RC (Ronald Cohen): Unlike traditional therapy and psychiatry, I work with the entire family so that it comes out whole in a manner that is less costly, more focused and results in greater efficacy, in a shorter period of time. A family-resilience approach is positive, competency and strength based, health oriented, and non-pathologizing. Bowen Systemic Family coaching promotes optimal resilience by supporting family strengths and resources, and promoting healthy adaptation to adversity. The goals of resilience-based training include:

· Help individuals address the unmet psychosocial needs of chronic and fatal illnesses and disability within their family.
· Help families pay attention to the biological, psychological and environmental aspects of their situation.
· Help individuals increase self-directedness, make connections, and lead loving and productive lives.
· Help foster the ability to acknowledge suffering, restore dignity and make meaning of adversity.
· Help families emerge strengthened, more resourceful, able to love fully and raise their children well.

A three-generation genogram and family chronology both help people see their difficulties and experiences in a new and eye-opening systemic and relational way.
WMB: Can you discuss a personal experience (personal or a friend’s) about a time you had to deal with adversity?
RC: I have been fortunate and blessed to have not experienced any life altering trauma or loss. I look to my uncle, a man of deep insight, understanding and relatedness, who has mastered the art of the possible following untimely loss of parents, multiple illnesses of his wife and monetary difficulties of his children.
WMB: What do you love most about what you do? What do you love least about what you do?
RC: When the entire family works to make the difficult journey together, the results are almost magical. Bowenian Systemic Family Therapy fosters positive adaptation within the context of significant adversity so that families can acknowledge suffering, restore dignity, recover and grow. The process helps families emerge strengthened, more resourceful, able to love fully and raise their children well, which is a deeply rewarding outcome.

As a systemic family therapist who has been called the eternal optimist I look beyond the individual identified patient. The beauty and value of Systemic Family Theory coaching is that in contrast to traditional psychotherapy, it is uniquely applicable and productive regardless of the situation. A positive outlook, hope, optimism, mutual support, empathy and collaborative problem solving expand the universe of accomplishable positive outcomes.

What most distresses me professionally is the fact that I am unfortunately often frustrated in my attempts to educate other medical and behavioral health practitioners as to the value of a family resilience based approach.


WMB: Have you ever read a story(ies) that inspired you to fight against adversity? Can you recommend any stories, books or films that inspired you and may inspire others?

RC: Among the books I continually return to are:

• The classic “When Bad Things Happen to Good People
• Making Loss Matter : Creating Meaning in Difficult Times by David Wolpe
• Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn
• Zorba the Greek
Useful clinical texts include:

• McGoldrick et al, Living Beyond Loss
• Anything by Froma Walsh, Co-Director and Co-Founder of the Chicago Center for Family Health
• John Bowlby, A Secure Base

WMB: Are you familiar or at least acquainted with the empirical literature on resilience? (resilience/stress/trauma)? What do you think are some of the most important points that can be gleaned from this literature toward practically building resilience?

RC: Resilience can facilitated by:

• Hope, optimism and confidence
• “Transcendence and Spirituality”, defined as (1) a sense of larger values and purpose, (2) healing rituals, congregational support and a faith based community, (3) inspiration and (4) transformation, is one of the key processes in family resilience
• Mutual support, collaboration and commitment
• Open emotional expression, empathy and pleasure
• Cooperation, flexibility and proactive problem solving
To a very large degree it is the nature of the parental relationship that most contributes to a child’s resilience. “The foundation of any family is designed by its architects: the parents.”

WMB: What do you think of Watch Me Bounce? What do you think of using story to inspire resilience? How can stories help survivors of adversity? And how can they help the people who read them?
RC: Narrative Therapy and Narrative Medicine address both the “back-story” and the “present circumstances narrative” of the illness experience. Michael White taught us that personal experience is fundamentally ambiguous and narratives are co-created. It is the conversation that generates meaning. Narrative is contextual, reflective, interactive and reciprocal. Arthur Kleinman addressed this issue in his book “The Illness Narratives”. There is always a back story.
WMB: Given your expertise and experience, can you offer ant advice on dealing with someone who suddenly experiences an emotional or psychological crisis? Other than seeking proper support, professional care, and safety for everyone involved, what else can be done to help build “immediate” resilience in response to a crisis? Does such a thing even exist?
RC: Family involvement constitutes a critical support system for individuals with emotional and psychological distress. Most of us do not want advice, judgment or criticism. What we most need in times of trauma and crisis is to tell our story, to be validated, seen and heard, to have someone to commune with and witness our pain, and then help us light a candle of truth and dispel the darkness.

Proactively strengthening the foundations of love and affection helps to curtail repetitive negative cycles of anger and despair thereby promoting a secure base from which to reduce vulnerability, diminish conflict and repair attachment injuries. Working on self-differentiate provides a platform for maximum growth and personal development for everyone in your circle of influence.  
WMB: Lastly, is there anything else we have not covered that you would like to talk about?
RC: I’d like to conclude with three somewhat formal and somewhat academic definitions of the concept of self-differentiation as developed by Murray Bowen, which contain the core concepts upon which I base my therapeutic and family coaching work:

1. The process of partially freeing oneself from the emotional entrapment of one’s family of origin,
2. The process of developing a personal, authentic relationship with each member of your family,
3. The process of changing one’s part in old, repetitive, dysfunctional emotional patterns to the point at which one is able to speak calmly and non reactively one’s personal views of important emotional issues regardless of who is for or against them,and leave you with this thought,

“All is good in the end.
If it is not good,
It is not the end.”




Dr. Ronald Cohen, MD, Family Psychotherapist

Dr. Ronald Cohen, MD, Family Psychotherapist



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