The Clinician as a “Solid Self”

The Clinician as a “Solid Self”

An Issue of Personal and Professional Ethics

“There’s no place like home.
There’s no place like home.
There’s no place like home.”
— Dorothy
— The Wizard of Oz

How did we ever get anywhere without Google Maps? And for us guys, it’s a good thing we don’t have to stop at a gas station and ask for a GPS. But what do you do when you actually have to know where you’re going before you get there? Well it certainly helps if you’ve been there before. Now if we as clinicians, and especially those of us who subscribe to Bowen Family Systems Theory (BFST), aspire to engage the folks we work with on a journey of research and understanding, what is the road map we might employ?

It is universally true that we all carry unresolved problems from current and past life cycle stages into our clinical work. It thus becomes an issue of both personal and professional ethics to continuously work on development of our own “solid self.” Perhaps the most distinctive aspect of Murray Bowen’s “family systems theory of emotional functioning,” for practitioners, is its emphasis on the primacy of therapists defining themselves more clearly in the extended family they grew up in.

Essential to gaining competence and expertise in BFST “Coaching” is planful work on self-differentiation.

Murray Bowen described the benefit to mental health professionals of studying the history of and differentiating within their own families of origin. In many training programs, including the one I completed at Family Institute of Westchester, study and work on the family therapist’s own extended family is a mandatory part of clinical training.

Ronald B. Cohen, MD of Family Focused Solutions LLC discusses the importance of therapists to apply the same theory they teach to their clients to themselves.Losing sight of one’s part in the therapeutic system of interactions leads to the creation of a “therapist’s triangle.” To help avoid this non-productive outcome, BFST gives a high priority to understanding and making changes within the therapist’s own family of origin.

There is a clear positive correlation between work done in the therapist’s own family of origin and gains in the therapist’s clinical proficiency to a far greater extent than in traditional supervision of clinical work.

At the Family Institute I was coached in a process affectionately know as “Therapist’s Own Family (TOF).” Having done so, and then continued with private Bowen Family Systems Coaching, I’ve experienced the anxiety and avoidance, the emotional impasses and seemingly immovable triangles, and the negative reactivity and pushback of working on self-differentiation in my own family of origin.

One needs to do before one can coach.

Becoming an adult requires engaging with the difficult task of differentiation of self. Working on self-differentiation and learning about your family of origin can help you get a clearer picture of who you are, how you became who you are, and what your family of origin influences are. Understanding the dynamics of both your current and multi-generational family helps free you from unnecessary encumbrances. Observing one’s functioning in important relationships provides the necessary foundation for effectiveness in the practice of Bowen Family Systems Theory Coaching.

The central goal in the learning and application of BFST is to develop the ability to see theory as it relates to the “self ” of the therapist.

Carter and McGoldrick advise us all to remember “if you haven’t worked on differentiation yourself in your own family, you will probably be prone to misjudge the intensity of systemic reaction to your client’s moves.”

The best way to “learn Bowen” is to “do Bowen.”

It’s been said that there was only one un-coached coach, and that was Murray Bowen. A well-trained coach who has traversed the territory ahead can provide invaluable and sometimes essential guidance as to the nature of the terrain and how to navigate the emotional system in critical times. Bowen noted that his theoretical underpinnings, process of interaction, and desired outcomes were so different from conventional psychotherapy that the term therapy did not capture all of its important aspects.

Best of luck on this unfolding journey of a lifetime.

Please share your thoughts and experiences concerning the self of the clinician in the “Leave a Reply” box below. I look forward to hearing what’s on your mind. If you found this post helpful, please don’t keep it a secret. You are encouraged to click on the buttons in the second to the right hand column at the bottom of the page and share this article with your own networks. To request more information please click here. Looking forward to continuing the conversation.

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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