A Cognitive Behavioural Approach to Coaching


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This short article offers a definition of a cognitive behavioural approach and considers how to apply this within a coaching context.

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.

This Cognitive Behavioural Model is based on the premise that how we think (cognition), affects how we feel (emotion) which influences how we act (behaviour). 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 possible 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 contrast:

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 lead to me accepting the invitation and successfully presenting my work.

A coaching context

When a Cognitive Behavioural Model is applied in a coaching context this can be highly effective in driving behavioural change. This model provides a clear structured framework which increases awareness around the unhelpful negative thought patterns that can interfere with development including self-limiting beliefs and it seeks to replace these with more constructive ones. This can be achieved by following 5 steps which build on each other as follows:

Step one

Self-reflection explores current thinking, attitudes and beliefs

Step two

Self-awareness captures insights into how thought patterns are helping and hindering goal attainment

Step three

Self-regulation seeks to remove and eliminate negative thoughts, self-limiting beliefs and unhelpful patterns and replace these with more constructive, helpful ones

Step four

Adapt – practice new choices, disrupt old patterns, replace with different behaviours and thinking

Step five

Change – driving new thoughts, beliefs and behaviours based on objective, facts and evidence, reinforcing new ways of behaving

Coaching is a great development intervention that is highly suited to using a cognitive behavioural approach. Arguably, the Cognitive Behavioural Model is one of the most effective ways to secure real change, rather than surface level change. Real change is change which is sustainable over time, which embeds new constructive patterns and ways of working built on a solid foundation for success. When we lack awareness and insight into how ‘cognition’ impacts ‘feeling’ we are less able to influence ‘action’ in a conscious and intentional way. The Cognitive Behavioural Model is an evidence-based approach, which seeks to ground thinking into fact and evidence which helps remove emotional responses which can distort reality. This process is very effective in eliminating unhelpful thinking patterns. This does not mean to say that emotion does not have its place within coaching, far from it, however, when emotion distorts thinking, we have maladaptive patterns which interfere. In these circumstances, a Cognitive Behavioural Model has a lot to offer.

Article written by: Dr Jodi O’Dell

To find out more: contact@engagecoach.com www.engagecoach.com

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