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Cognitive-behavioural coaching - what is it and how does it work?

Updated: Dec 3, 2020

Coaching is currently booming with more and more people looking for courses and certifications in this area. The promise behind a coaching career is huge - from making money, through an amazing lifestyle through finding one’s soulmate. I mean… who doesn’t want that in their life?

If you don’t know what coaching is, you can refer back to my previous blog post - It will give you an idea of the process and what it involves.

For those who are more or less experienced coaching but would like to find out more, please note that there is no one ‘stream’ of coaching. Depending on a coaching institution they will promote various different approaches. One of them, and quite often used, is a cognitive behavioural approach to coaching. This integrative style in the coaching profession combines the following techniques: cognitive, behavioural, imaginal and problem-solving.

Its effectiveness can be measured through the focus areas:

  • working on performance issues

  • helping to build psychological resilience

  • improving the wellbeing of the client

  • stress management

  • dealing with psychological blocks that prevent clients to successfully change their habits.

This solution-focused approach is created to apply the least effort to achieve the best outcome (the principle of Occam’s razor).

The history of the approach can be backdated to the philosopher Epictetus (1st century AD) who claimed that people ‘are not distributed by things but by the view they take of them’. It is also with mentioning Dr Paul Dubois, who at the beginning of the 20th century formulated Rational Therapy.

This time (i.e. 20th century) revealed many practitioners who researched the subject of cognitive behavioural approach even further. We can mention names like John Broadus Watson (known as the ‘father’ of the behavioural approach), Dr Arnold Lazarus, Alfred Adler, Dr Albert Ellis, just to name a few.

During the 1980s and 1990s in the UK, there was a fusion between cognitive and behavioural therapy which resulted in forming cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Practitioners started adjusting that model to the needs of clients in non-clinical settings.

Since the early 1990s, the concepts and strategies started being used in coaching. This type of coaching was evolving in the UK with a prime focus on personal, life, business, executive, stress management and health. In the US, however, the focus went in the direction of excellence in teaching which resulted in developing Cognitive Coaching℠ (Costa and Garmston (2002)) in 1985.

Basic concepts of cognitive behavioural coaching:

  1. An individual has underdeveloped problem-solving skills (or can’t apply successfully the skills that they already have due to stress or pressure)

  2. Unhelpful beliefs are blocking the person to pursue a solution

In the cognitive behavioural coaching process, the emphasis lay in resolving negative emotions (for example anxiety) that can intervene with the coachees’ performance.

The goals in this approach are:

  • to improve problem-solving skills

  • helping clients to become aware of their thinking

  • modifying performance interfering beliefs (which increase stress levels and blocking the goal achievement)

This coaching process is designed to help coachees with developing their action plan for future goals and ultimately becoming their own coaches.

The effectiveness of cognitive behavioural coaching

There is well-researched evidence for the effectiveness of cognitive behavioural therapy which works for a range of clinical disorders such as depression and anxiety (Dobson, 1989; Gloaguen et al., 1998; National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), 2005).

Evidence also shows the efficacy of cognitive behavioural coaching.

Research by Grant (2001) found a significant improvement in clients mental health, self-regulation and self-concept (cognitive-based coaching) and improved academic performance (behavioural-based coaching). The combination of cognitive and behavioural coaching led to enhanced wellbeing and performance.

Which areas can cognitive behavioural coaching help with?

The cognitive behavioural approach to coaching is designed to help individuals that want to:

  • Improve their workplace (or scholarly) performance

  • Public speaking

  • Well-being

  • Time management

  • Decision-making

  • Problem-solving

  • Emotional and anger management

Typical situations where this approach is helpful are procrastination, assertiveness, career change, stress and anxiety (for example presenting in public).

It is suitable for work with children, adolescents, adults and older people. The techniques can be applied in individual, group, school, health and work settings (see Palmer, 2007c).

Are there any situations when cognitive behavioural coaching doesn’t work? According to Neenan and Palmer (2000; 217), these situations involves coachees inability to:

  • Accepting emotional responsibility - blaming other factors that should change before they do

  • Assuming coaching responsibility - avoiding/resisting the hard work required in the process

  • Having clinical disorders (for example depression which reduces motivation and goal-focused behaviour).

I hope you found that blog post informative and helpful. If you are ready for your personal coaching journey, I encourage you to set up a discovery call with me today -

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