Coaching Toward Better Family Relationships

Coaching Toward Better Family Relationships

In 2001, Betty Carter & Monica McGoldrick two of the most-respected authors, teachers, and clinicians in the field of family therapy, published Advances in Coaching: Family Therapy with One Person, detailing 25 years of research into the theory and techniques of “coaching” individuals to change themselves in the context of their family of origin. The technical term “coaching” refers to preparing and acting for change in the individual’s natural system of relationships.

In contradistinction to traditional individual therapy, coaching focuses on real world behavior with significant others rather than the in-session therapeutic relationship. It is not the interaction with the therapist but rather the individual’s relationships with their family of origin that is of utmost value. Although this approach is regarded as one of the major modes of intervention in family therapy, the actual methods and techniques are not widely understood nor often implemented effectively. Planful techniques for helping individuals deal with difficult family relationships are not widely known by most individual therapists.

The goal of coaching is to help individuals proactively define themselves in relationship to others in their families without emotionally cutting off or giving in. The process of change is built upon ownership of one’s emotional reactions to old triggers and interactions. Coaching, or family therapy with one person, offers individuals a process for making change in their relationships even without the participation of other family members.

As a therapeutic coach I help people plan and strategize. I begin by training individuals to become observers and researchers of their role in their family‘s patterns of behavior, what the anthropologists refer to as being a “participant observer”. The information and interactions are then reviewed and we talk about what kind of responses they got, what worked and what didn’t, and where they got stuck. Then we plan what they might do different next time in order to get a response that is more in line with what they are looking for.

Ronald Cohen of discusses theory and techniques of “coaching” individuals to change themselves in the context of their family of origin. The process then moves to helping individuals bring their behavior more in line with their deepest beliefs, even if this means upsetting family members by disobeying family “rules.”  An important part of the coaching process is to help people develop realistic expectations when moving planfully toward changing their part in the family dance. This includes being prepared to respond productively even if unfortunately the other person reacts unfavorably.

Coaching teaches the possibility of dealing with differences without losing connection, which is one of the primary developmental tasks for a young adult. If you are tied up with all of the stuff and rules and roles of your family of origin, it is really hard to figure out who you are and what you want to do with your life.

Coaching is “differentiation in action,” guiding people through a process of changing their own participation in unsatisfying family relationship patterns. It is a conscientiously thought through approach to establishing a unique one-to-one relationship with every individual in the family system.


Please feel free to ask any questions or to comment in the “Leave a Reply” box below. To request more information and/or schedule an initial consultation click here (

You are encouraged to forward this blog to anyone who would be interested in reading it.

Ronald B Cohen, MD, PC Ronald B. Cohen, MD
Bowen Family Systems Coach
1 Barstow Road, Suite P-10
Great Neck, NY 11021
(516) 466-7530
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  1. Deirdra Taylor on September 18, 2012 at 12:08 am said:

    I really enjoyed reading the blog. How can I learn more about Coaching.

  2. Jacquie Ye on January 13, 2013 at 9:01 pm said:

    Lovely!!! I like what you said. I can see from my personal experiences, being someone emotionally cut off from family for many years (I put the Pacific Ocean between my parents and I), and observing the process of learning to “stay emotionally connected but not reactive” has fostered both my personal/professional growth and the growth of my parents… Your words also remind me of a recent client, who has made significant progress with me but can so much benefit from the “coaching”… And many of my other clients (I see mostly college students), I suspect! … Should I go read the book “Advances in Coaching”? What would you suggest, Ron?

    • Ronald B Cohen, MD on January 17, 2013 at 10:23 am said:

      Hi Jacuie,

      The reference for the Carter & McGoldrick paper is McGoldrick, M. and Carter, B. (2001), ADVANCES IN COACHING: FAMILY THERAPY WITH ONE PERSON. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 27: 281–300. doi: 10.1111/j.1752-0606.2001.tb00325. It can be found at Monica’s contact information is; Monica McGoldrick, MSW, PhD, is Director, Multicultural Family Institute, 328 Denison St., Highland Park, NJ 08904; e-mail: Betty Carter unfortunately recently died. I will forward a copy of the paper and a colleague’s remembrance of Betty. Please feel free to contact me directly if I can be of further assistance.



  3. Clendon on February 1, 2013 at 11:46 am said:

    RE the side bar: In short, it is the meaning that we give to things, of the past or present, anything, that determines our experience of it. When a client gets this, it can add greatly add to their personal power, and creativity with respect to life. If I don’t like my experience of something, I change the meaning that I have given it.The result – self-responsibility.

    • Ronald B Cohen, MD on February 6, 2013 at 2:48 pm said:

      Hi Clendon,

      It would appear you are referring to the side bar that reads, “the past has influence over the present only by way of a person’s present interpretation of past experiences”. Therapeutic coaching or “family therapy with one person” focuses on understanding the rules and roles of one’s family of origin and developing the freedom to make one’s own decisions. The goal is self-differentiation, the process of changing one’s part in old, repetitive, dysfunctional emotional patterns so that one is able to speak one’s personal views calmly and nonreactively regardless of who is for or against them.



      • Ronald B Cohen, MD on September 25, 2013 at 2:00 pm said:

        Hi Melissa,

        Thank you for your support. I am both honored and humbled by your request. Please do.

        My web designer/business coach suggests the following re: SEO in regard to re-posting/republishing my original blog posts, “please write a little intro to the topic or pose a question to entice readers, then post an excerpt, not the entire content of the blog, with my name, image and a link back to my blog that would open in either a new tab or window.”

        Here are two links demonstrating how I like to share 3rd party information, (1) and (2), which used the introduction “A fellow US based Family Therapist shared his views on how substance dependent people and their families can benefit from Systemic Family Therapy. For the complete article by Ronald B. Cohen follow the link below,

        You might also suggest that anyone who would like a copy contact me directly. If you use this material in any public arena please give appropriate acknowledgements. Please let me know if this is acceptable and if you plan on proceeding. Please feel free to contact me with any further questions or concerns. Thank you for your consideration.



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Bowen Family Systems Coaching

Bowen Family Systems Coaching with Ronald B Cohen, MD is the treatment of choice for complicated relationship problems and intergenerational conflicts. Include the whole family in resolving and improving what is going on right NOW! When the entire family works to make the difficult journey together, the results are almost magical.
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