Alan Cohen was born in Hackney, East London, January 1932. His parents were the children of Jewish immigrants from Latvia and Poland. His family suffered considerable hardship in the 1930s, with periods of unemployment. Cohen lived in North London before World War 2 and was evacuated during the War to several different locations, including Cambridge. This experience affected him greatly. He returned to London in 1946. After demobilisation he worked as a houseparent in residential childcare and then for Family Service Units in Islington.
After gaining the Certificate in Psychiatric Social Work at LSE in 1963 he worked for Nottinghamshire County Council Mental Health Services and from there moved to Nottingham Regional College of Technology (now Nottingham Trent University) as a tutor on the Social Work course. In 1974 he was appointed as a lecturer on the newly established social work course at Lancaster University. In 1983 he became part-time at the university in order to return to fieldwork. He worked as a social worker in resettlement from the Royal Albert Hospital, Lancaster (a learning disability institution) and in 1985 he took early retirement from the university. He returned to full-time social work in the Lancashire Social Services Learning Disability services, setting up an Adult Placement scheme, before retiring in 1996.
At Lancaster University he carried out research which led to a book published in 1998 "The Revolution in Post-War Family Casework : The Story of Pacifist Service Units and Family Service Units 1940 to 1959".
He carried out research interviews with many of the founding influences of modern social work.
He became the Director of Primary Care, The Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health. Alan Cohen died in 2012.