Introduction to Cognitive Behavioural Coaching
Cognitive behavioural coaching is a technique used in coaching that is successfully used to facilitate behaviour change and eliminate unhelpful patterns. It is a well researched technique rooted in clinical settings and draws on works of researchers and psychologists such as Aaron Beck and Albert Ellis.
In this article you will learn what a cognitive behavioural approach to coaching is, the benefits of using this technique, a consideration of how to apply the technique, and some practical strategies to deploy.
Understanding the Cognitive Behavioural Approach to Coaching
With its provenance firmly rooted in therapeutic settings, the Cognitive Behavioural Model (CBM) has a lot to offer coaching. It provides a useful framework and model which helps explain the relationship between attitudes, thoughts and beliefs, with feelings and action, represented in the diagram below.
The Cognitive Behavioural Model / Coaching (CBC) is based on the premise that how we think (cognition), affects how we feel (emotion) which influences how we act (behaviour). It is important to understand these relationships and recognise how they are interconnected.
Within coaching specifically, CBC technique draws on evidence-based research related to ‘meta-cognition’ and ‘self-regulation’. Meta-cognition refers to the processes involved in self-evaluation and thinking about one’s thoughts, feelings and behaviours (Grant, 2001).
Skills which reflect a view of ‘self’ have also been referred to as ‘core self-evaluations’ (Judge and Bono, 2001). It has been argued that a key ability which mediates the process of self-evaluation is the ability to be self-aware (Carver and Scheier, 1998). Self-awareness is the selective processing of information about the self, a concept explored by researchers interested in understanding the relationship between ‘internal state’ and behaviour (Fenigstein et al, 1975).
It is important to understand that there is a reciprocal relationship between four dimensions of human experience: thoughts, feelings, behaviour and environment. How we think affects how we feel, which influences the way we behave and these are addressed through a cognitive behavioural approach to coaching (Grant, 2001).
During self-regulation in the coaching process, the coachee is required to make behavioural and cognitive changes in order to achieve their goals. However, in order to achieve this, it is important to consider the psychological processes or ‘meta-cognitive’ skills that underpin and influence an individual’s capability to move through the coaching cycle and to regulate their thoughts and behaviours. The cognitive behavioural model is a practical and helpful model which simplifies this process.
This is best explored through a real life example which I faced recently:
At the beginning of the year I received an invitation to be a guest speaker at a very prestigious vet conference hosted annually, with an audience of 600 people. Let’s consider this invitation in the context of the Cognitive Behavioural Model. If I’d approached this offer with a negative, closed mindset.. my internal narrative would look something like this..
“Nobody is really interested in what I have to say, what do I know about this topic, I’m terrified of getting up on stage with a microphone, I couldn’t possibly do this…”
With this type of outlook my attitude, thoughts and beliefs are likely to lead to me feeling anxious and therefore, result in me deciding (action) to decline the invitation and then missing out on the opportunity to network and raise my profile.
In spite of my initial apprehension, the approach I adopted was to reflect and consider the value of this opportunity. In this thought process I reminded myself of all the years of research I have done and reflected on all the previous occasions when I had presented my work and where everything worked out fine. This approach led to me accepting the invitation and successfully presenting my work.
The Benefits of Cognitive Behavioural Coaching
There are multiple benefits to be gained from cognitive behavioural coaching, these include:
Enhancing self-awareness and self-reflection
Identifying and challenging limiting beliefs
Developing new patterns of thinking and behaviour
Building resilience and adaptability
Applying Cognitive Behavioural Approach in Coaching
When applying the CBC approach and technique within your coaching practice there are some core principles to be aware of, which include:
Self-reflection is one of the most powerful components of any coaching process which involves thinking and reflecting on ‘self’. A skilled coach will be using this technique continually through their practice, by encouraging their coachees to consider feedback and insights about themselves so they can start to see connections between thoughts, feelings and behaviours.
Assessing and identifying self defeating beliefs
A third component to consider is the role of assessing and identifying self-defeating or self-limiting beliefs. A self-limiting belief, is a belief that we hold about ourselves or the world, that we believe to be true which holds us back from achieving our goals. This belief is often not validated or substantiated with evidence. However, because we continue to believe it to be true, this becomes our rationale and reason why we cannot achieve the goal. This is best explored through an example.
Kit has been offered an opportunity to be a manager of a small team of 2 people to cover holiday leave for a month. He has a belief that he cannot manage people. He has worked in a team for 3 years and is very successful and accomplished in his job, but he has never managed people. Because he has never done anything like this before, he believes he can’t possibly do this, he is far too young and inexperienced. He doesn’t have the qualifications to be a manager. He feels a lack of confidence and declines this opportunity.
As you can see from this example, Kit has a number of limiting beliefs that stop him from taking advantage of this opportunity, which relate to his perceptions (thoughts) about his experience, capability to manage people, age etc. These beliefs lead to him feeling anxious and to lose confidence which lead to him saying ‘no’. The act of saying no represents his behavioural response in declining the offer.
A good way to identify self-limiting beliefs is to regard these as things which hold us back from achieving our goals, they can often be excuses or reasons we give ourselves as to why we can’t do something, or avoid doing something.
Challenging, reframing and changing thoughts, beliefs and behaviours
Once self-limiting beliefs have been identified, the next step in the technique is to start challenging these beliefs and reframing our thoughts from something negative into something positive.
Challenging a self-limiting belief involves questioning its validity, exploring the basis for this belief, and to question the evidence or proof that this belief is true.
Let’s explore an example of how to challenge a belief and reframe thinking
Dani’s ambition is to be a writer. Ever since childhood he has wanted to write a book. Throughout school he was encouraged to write short stories, he got good grades in English, he received lots of praise from his teachers who told him he had talent. But, deep down he always believed he wasn’t creative and didn’t have enough imagination to be a writer, so he never entered any writing competitions.
How to challenge the belief
This is about asking Dani to provide some evidence which demonstrates that he is not creative and has no imagination. This is about finding some real life examples, e.g. when did he last enter a competition, where is the negative feedback about his creativity? At the challenge stage you are trying to interrupt a negative thought pattern that is holding Dani back and limiting his potential.
This is about getting Dani to consider reframing his negative beliefs that are holding him back from becoming a writer and turning these into positive beliefs. To do this as a coach you would start by gathering evidence of times when he has been creative, encourage him to share some feedback from highschool grades and successes, to encourage him to start seeing himself as an imaginative and creative person. This starts with Dani forming a belief that he is creative and does have imagination and that these are things he can develop and build on.
Practical Strategies in Cognitive Behavioural Coaching
Self-reflection is an activity that helps increase self-awareness. The process of self-reflection involves thinking about ‘thoughts, feelings and our behaviour’. When we take time to think about this in an active way, we start to learn about ourselves.
Thinking about these things actively involves understanding ourselves better, e.g. what am I feeling? What triggered that feeling? What did that feedback suggest about me? Do I agree with it or not? Why did I do that action, make that decision? Was it the right decision? Would I still make that decision? Which bits do I disagree with? Etc. These are the types of questions we might ask ourselves when we engage in self-reflection. The aim is to start increasing our awareness about how our thoughts, feelings and actions are connected.
Self-awareness is about knowing one’s self, and having insight into our thoughts, feelings and behaviours. When we have self-awareness, we understand why we feel a certain way, or why we made a decision, we are aware of the impact we have on others etc. it is very difficult to change behaviour without self-awareness.
Once you understand yourself and have more insight, you are in a stronger position to make more intentional choices to change things. Without self-awareness, we often repeat the same mistakes because we don’t have the insight into why we do things, or why we feel a certain way.
Self-regulation describes a process in coaching which is where we modify behaviour. This process is about capturing self-learning and insights and applying this learning by modifying behaviour as a result of this learning. This is about starting new behaviours, continuing with things that work and stopping old ones so we continue to grow and develop. It is an iterative process.
Adaptation is the term used to describe how we start to change what we do. This is something that usually happens over time, and where we need to be flexible and open to trying new things. Adaptation is where behaviour change begins. It also applies to adaptation of thinking and replacing unhelpful thoughts with more helpful, positive ones.
Change refers to doing something differently, it is about moving from position A to position B, this may relate to a thought, feeling or an action. Change can be uncomfortable and often takes place over time. However, in order to establish change, you often need to stop unhelpful patterns and replace them with new, constructive ones, this will take us closer to our goals.
In summary, Cognitive Behavioural Coaching is a technique used in coaching to help drive behaviour change. It has its roots in clinical settings and is a well researched technique. The premise of CBC is that thoughts drive how we feel, which drives what we do. If we want a different outcome or result, then understanding the link between these factors is important.
There are different stages involved in applying a CBC approach which involves building self-awareness, challenging self-limiting beliefs and reframing negative thoughts and replacing them with more constructive, positive ones.
Whilst you’re here, be sure to explore our coaching courses. Our coaching accreditation course is an excellent way to learn the coaching fundamentals which includes the cognitive behavioural approach to coaching, as well as gain an accredited coaching qualification. If you’re already a coach, and want to advance your learning, then you may want to explore the option of our Advanced Coaching Course, which is a bespoke training programme aimed to help coaches better understand techniques and concepts. If you’re in a business, and want to elevate your managers’ managerial skills with a coaching style, then take a look at our coaching training for managers course.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is the cognitive behavioural approach to coaching?
It is a well researched technique that helps coaches facilitate behaviour change with their clients.
How does cognitive behavioural coaching differ from traditional coaching?
CBC works on a deeper level than more traditional coaching as it works with an individual’s mindset
Who can benefit from cognitive behavioural coaching?
Anyone who is experiencing self-limiting beliefs or has become stuck in unhelpful ways of thinking and behaving
What are some common techniques used in cognitive behavioural coaching?
Some common techniques would include challenging and interrupting thought patterns, reframing beliefs to more constructive beliefs, building self-awareness, modifying behaviour
How long does cognitive behavioural coaching typically last?
That depends on the individual and the experience of the coach, results can come quickly, but typically with ingrained habits you may expect to see results anywhere between 3 – 12 months
Is cognitive behavioural coaching effective for long-term behavioural change?
Yes, but as with any development process, this is an ongoing process and requires consistent effort and energy. Over the long term positive behaviour change can be expected
What are the ethical considerations in cognitive behavioural coaching?
As with any coaching contract, ethical concerns would relate to removing bias, judgements and adhering to strict codes of confidentiality
How can I find a qualified cognitive behavioural coach?
Research coaching federations and institutions that specialise in this type of coaching, or where they may have a list of accredited or qualified coaches registered
Grant, A. M. (2001). Towards a psychology of coaching: The impact of coaching on participants’ metacognition, learning, and self-reflection. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Sydney.
Judge, T. A., & Bono, J. E. (2001). Relationship of core self-evaluations traits—self-esteem, generalized self-efficacy, locus of control, and emotional stability—with job satisfaction and job performance: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86(1), 80–92.
Carver, C. S., & Scheier, M. F. (1998). On the self-regulation of behavior. Cambridge University Press.
Fenigstein, A., Scheier, M. F., & Buss, A. H. (1975). Public and private self-consciousness: Assessment and theory. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 43(4), 522-527
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jodi is the founder and driving force behind Engage. She is an occupational psychologist and executive coach with a PhD in Coaching Psychology, who for over 20 years has dedicated her career to helping people thrive and be the best version of themselves.
As a leading expert in coaching, she has worked globally with blue chip clients. She combines this wealth of experience and passion for human development with the scientific rigour of evidence-based research which underpins the Engage toolset.