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Cognitive Behavioural Coaching

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Cognitive behavioural coaching (CBC) is a corporate and personal coaching technique used to enable those restricted by emotional or psychological barriers to reach their goals. It was derived and developed from two separate source techniques – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy (REBT).

What is Cognitive Behavioural Coaching?

Cognitive behavioural coaching (CBC) is a corporate and personal coaching technique used to enable those restricted by emotional or psychological barriers to reach their goals. 

  • It was derived and developed from two separate source techniques – firstly, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which was outlined in its contemporary form by psychiatrist and professor, Aaron Temkin Beck. It was a concept interwoven with his earlier-described concept of ‘automatic thoughts’, the emotion-filled contemplations that would materialise in an individual’s mind when asked an emotive question. He discovered that by learning and developing the ability to identify and report such responses, one was able to overcome the difficulties associated with automatic thought. 
  • Secondly, and to a lesser extent, Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy (REBT), the work of Albert Ellis
Both have been used increasingly over the past 40 years – though, particularly CBT – to treat trauma and mental health issues such as depression and agoraphobia.

Interconnections between behaviours, thoughts and feelings.

The effective principle of CBC is this: what we think about a situation, affects how we feel about it. As we can control what we think of things, we can therefore subsequently control our feelings. The tools and methodology used in CBT can equally be applied to non-clinical scenarios, such as dealing with lack of motivation, confidence issues and general personal or professional skill development. 

With regards to leadership and business, CBC was developed with the intention of aiding individuals in overcoming functional weaknesses or mental obstacles within the workplace.

Breaking Down Emotional Barriers

The aim of CBC is to identify the root of an issue that may be preventing an individual from reaching their full potential. 

  • It differs from other coaching frameworks such as GROW in that it focusses on emotional or psychological barriers, rather than purely practical knowledge, skill or strategic shortcomings. 
The primary belief of CBC is that abnormalities and deficiencies stem from faulty cognitions or inaccurate interpretations of the world around us. When the cause of the issue is identified, the next priority is to ascertain which action/actions should be undertaken to take control of the issue and to address it, by altering the individual’s belief systems regarding the event or situation. 

  • Although similar to CBT, this form of coaching is primarily focused on the workplace and the individual’s ability to perform. CBC focusses on the notion that our reactions are the driving factor behind our beliefs concerning such events, rather than our reactions being directly caused by the event.

By focusing on and isolating the negative thoughts and beliefs surrounding events, it becomes possible to utilise alternative behaviours and viewpoints to ultimately alter our negative beliefs surrounding the event. These alternative viewpoints and behaviours can, in turn, be reinforced by positive feedback from managers and colleagues, creating a ‘new self’ through discarding old beliefs. 

This is why CBC operates in many cases under the notion that if someone can talk themselves into ineffectiveness, they are also able to talk themselves out of it. This ability subsequently allows, in theory, the individual to reach their true potential within the workplace.

Changing Beliefs

It is suggested that CBC covers a broad range of issues and can effectively be used to resolve indecisiveness, procrastination, impatience, self-confidence and assertiveness, to name but a few examples.

 This means that it can be applied in the workplace to fine-tune team members that are struggling with certain aspects of their jobs.

  • For example, CBC can be used for ‘stage-fright’ (performance anxiety) - if an individual believes that the event of public speaking is going to result in a bad outcome, then they will avoid it or shut themselves off. In this case, one would have to address the belief system surrounding the individual’s perception of public speaking through discussion. 
  • When the core cause is identified, alternative views and behaviours can be proposed to the individual. By doing this, the belief system can be slowly eroded and rebuilt with positive beliefs, which - in theory - will enable the individual to expose themselves to public speaking and thus, over time, become accustomed to the experience and effective at it, resulting in personal growth and a more effective team member. 
There are many methods of application, but one framework for using CBC from a coaching perspective is the ABCDE model (Neenan and Dryden, 2000), which will here be discussed.


ABCDE Model listed

  1. Activating Event or Adversity – the process begins by identifying the event which causes or triggers mental or psychological stress, or other negative emotional shifts. These are not always significant – people can be greatly affected by superficially trivial events or words. Recognising the issue is sometimes difficult but is an important first step in rectifying its effects. If it is a particularly traumatic event, a coach may have to use a delicate touch to encourage discussion of the affected individual’s memories of such.
  2. Beliefs – these are the systems which have facilitated the individual’s response to the prior stimuli. These are often negative, limiting beliefs and challenging these restrictions is a crucial step in recovery. During this stage, one may begin to examine the logic surrounding these belief systems, and why they have developed in the first place. Individuals must be able to remove harmful “self-talk”, particularly those which convey a pessimistic output towards one’s skills, knowledge or abilities.
  3. Consequences: Emotional, Psychological – these are the consequences of one’s belief systems on their actions. Believing you are going to be bad at a certain task is often self-fulfilling, and the lack of confidence will not allow you to perform under your own pressure. Public speaking is a prime example – if one believes that they are going to perform a terrible speech, then the likelihood is that their oratory skills will suffer even more as a result.
  4. Disputes: Challenging Self-Defeating Beliefs – this is when one’s harmful belief systems truly begin to be approached and subsequently repaired or destroyed. It is suggested that there are three disputes that one may take up with their beliefs: Empirical: What is the basis for these beliefs? Functional: Do the beliefs aid working towards another, possibly unconscious goal? Logical: Does the belief make sense, or is it part of another underlying belief system? If the beliefs do not hold true to any of these disputes, it makes it a lot simpler to remove them from one’s mental processes.
  5. Effects – The impacts of altering or removing the pre-existing harmful belief system. This is when new habits and patterns are formed, and previous mental processes are deconstructed and reconstructed as to have positive outputs. These often work in positive feedback loops – greater results encourage more self-belief and further impressive outputs follow.

CBC in Practice - Help Yourself, and Help Others

In business, CBC is a useful tool that managers can use to address small problems that can be restricting the potential of team members, whilst performing a certain task

CBC along with other practical coaching frameworks such as the commonly-used GROW model, are useful for aiding employee development if they are apparently held back by less extensive psychological, emotional or skill-based issues. 

CBC frameworks such as ABCDE can be applied by oneself, to aid in personal issues, but it is often sensible and practical to use an objective, qualified and experienced coach to guide an individual along the correct route to success. 

Note. CBC is not an effective tool for dealing with extensive psychological problems such as depression and thus should not be applied to those suspected of being victims of such disorders. In these cases, it is suggested that these individuals should employ the help of a professional life coach or therapist to aid in their struggles.

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