The Practice Is the Performance

The Practice Is the Performance

Walking the Talk

“This work is a truly personal one;
we only know the whole truth of ourselves.”
— Rabbi Marcelo Bronstein

Murray Bowen began his essay Theory in the Practice of Psychotherapy with “There are striking discrepancies between theory and practice in psychotherapy,” which begs the question: what exactly is the practice of Bowen Family Systems Theory “Coaching”?

If we define “practice” as doing something regularly and consistently, as action rather than thought or ideas – not as a rehearsal, not as a means of perfecting and getting somewhere, but as a commitment to a new way of being with others – then how do we best develop a practice based on Bowen’s theory?

Sometimes I think about the analogy between basic/pure science/mathematics and applied science/applied mathematics/engineering. Other times I think that the operationalization of theory in clinical practice is just that.

Patricia Meyers notes three foundational techniques for the application of Bowen Theory:


Peter Titleman adds:


My colleague, mentor and theory coach, Jenny Brown, suggests that the two most productive questions to be constantly asking oneself in making therapeutic decisions are:

  1. What interventions are most likely to facilitate differentiation?
  2. What interventions are most likely to produce fusion and/or cutoffs?


Bowen variously referred to himself as a “Consultant” in family problems and a “Supervisor” of the family’s effort to resolve their difficulties. Peter Titleman suggests the terms Researcher, Learner and Questioner.

The Practice Is the Performance by Ronald B. Cohen MDBowen preferred the “Coaching” nomenclature because 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 essential aspects. “The term ‘Coach’ is probably the best in conveying the connotation of an active expert coaching both individual players and the team to the best of their abilities” (p 301).

Perhaps the most distinctive aspect for practitioners is the emphasis on differentiation of self in the therapist’s own family (TOF as we affectionately knew it at FIW). 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.”

Work on differentiation of self begins with taking a researcher’s stance, becoming curious about one’s current life situation. This then creates opportunities to increase one’s level of both functional and basic differentiation.

Towards this end the therapist works to:

So the answer to the question, just doin’ what you do. And if that’s not satisfying, then consultation with a well-trained Bowen Family Systems Theory Relationship Consultant and “Coach” may help you find the answers you need, even if they are not the answers you might want.

Best of luck on your unfolding journey of a lifetime.

Please share your thoughts and experiences about theory and its application to practice in the “Leave a Reply” box below. To request more information and/or schedule an initial consultation, click here. If you found this post helpful, please don’t keep it a secret. You are encouraged to click on the buttons at the bottom of the page and share this article with your own networks. 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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  1. Ed Weiss, MD on September 26, 2015 at 10:18 am said:

    Ron, I found your blog on Theory and Practice very interesting and touching on matters that I am just beginning to sort out for myself. I am looking forward to more communication with you.

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