• Walthea Patterson

Cognitive Behavioural Coaching

In recent years “coaching” has become a familiar term in the business and wider world. Coaching is recognised as a way to get external support to achieve identified goals. Often it is put in slightly vague but aspirational terms of helping people to achieve their full potential or live their dreams. This can have the effect of making the process itself seem opaque and perhaps even magical. Myles Downey, author of Effective Coaching, defines coaching as “the art of facilitating the performance, learning and development of another.”


One aspect of coaching that is underemphasised is that it requires work and a commitment to change on the part of the client. To return to the sporting analogy I used in my previous article – it’s all very well for an aspiring athlete to hire the best coach available but unless they put in the hours in the gym in between coaching sessions they will never make the progress they want. Coaching is a partnership, whether the coaching sessions take place face to face or online, both parties must be committed to the process.


What is cognitive behavioural coaching?


Cognitive Behavioural Coaching is a specialised form of coaching which draws from the psychological practice of cognitive behavioural therapy. Cognitive behavioural coaching uses cognitive behavioural techniques to help the client to put in place new habits of thinking and behaving in order to achieve certain goals. The long-term goal of the coach is that over time, the client can moderate their own attitudes and behaviour, becoming their own coach and recognising and changing their own self-limiting behaviours.


The cliché goes that there are only two things which prevent us from achieving our goals: the steps we need to take to achieve them, and the willingness to take those steps. Cognitive Behavioural Coaching focuses on the attitudes of the client towards taking those steps towards reaching their stated goal. For example, a person may say they hate their job and want to change career, and yet continually avoid taking any action to explore what they want, what skills they have, and what opportunities are available in the marketplace. They would benefit from coaching, to move past their own stagnation.


A Cognitive Behavioural Coach uses the methods of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to create awareness in their clients of how their attitudes and behaviour impact their abilities to achieve their goals. While someone might seek out Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to fix psychological problems, working with a Cognitive Behavioural Coach is usually instigated by a desire to enhance their quality of life in the midst of a changing environment due to career changes such as promotion, relocation, redundancy or retirement. Working with a Cognitive Behavioural Coach can also be beneficial during a change in personal circumstances such as the end of a relationship, when starting a family or after a diagnosis of illness.


Change the way you think, change the way you feel


At its essence, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy believes that if people can change their way of thinking then they can change the way they feel in relation to particular issues. It links thoughts, feelings and behaviours recognising how these three interact to cause us to behave in particular ways. Change the way you think and you can change the way you feel and behave. The cognitive behavioural coach focuses on the impact their client’s current habits of thinking are having on their quality of life, relationships and career. The coach can challenge the client’s ways of thinking, allowing them to recognise any self-sabotaging habits, such as procrastination or poor time management, and help them to move past these psychological blocks.


Seeing coaching in the mysterious terms of “achieving personal goals” risks overlooking the actual work involved in achieving those goals. Cognitive behavioural coaching emphasizes that effort is required in order to reach those stated goals and that this may involve moving out of comfortable familiar ways of thinking and behaving. As humans we’ve evolved to avoid pain and discomfort, and while this helped our species to survive up to now, on an individual level it can lead to stagnation. The rewards for choosing “courage over comfort” (as Brené Brown puts it) can be personal growth and yes, achieving goals and fulfilling potential.



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