The cognitive behavioral coaching method is based on scientific evidence that thoughts and feelings directly relate to unhelpful behavior.
Cognitive behavioral coaching is one of the most widely known and relatively recent evidence-based methodology in life coaching. The theory and practices derive from cognitive and behavioral science that have their intellectual origins in the 1950s.
According to Margaret Boden, early cognitive science – one of the two strands of the cognitive behavioral approach – formed when the disciplines of logic, computer science, philosophy, neurophysiology, and psychology came together. Some early pioneers opposed the dominance of behaviorism and recognized the power of the mind in driving behavior rather than simply being programmed responses to external stimuli.
Cognitive behavioral science was born, with cognitive principles taking a rightful place at the table explaining human condition and behavior.
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Cognitive Influence of Behavior
Cognitions, or thoughts and feelings, affect behavior by creating urges, expectations, and motivations to act in ways that reinforce or relieve the power of the inner experiences.
From a young age, our interactions with others and interpretations of situations and events forge our personality and belief system. These are the lenses through which we try to explain the world and what is happening to us. Any thinking pattern that is unnecessarily negative tends to trigger unhelpful behavior as we try to cope with or escape the way it makes us feel.
Researchers refer to “cascading cycles of recurrent brain events” as a “cognitive cycle” where we, most often subconsciously, scan or observe our surroundings and receive stimuli from our environment that we interpret through our lenses of personality and belief system.
As a result, we instinctively decide what to do next. Many of our responses and behavior are not determined by the events we experience, but by our perspective and interpretation of it.
As much of a good coaching approach focuses on changing a client’s behavior and habits to facilitate or better align with his or her vision and goals, understanding and managing cognitive aspects are equally important as underlying driving forces.
By helping clients to explore and evaluate their views and beliefs that contribute to unhelpful behavior, a coach can guide clients to formulate and implement action plans to remove barriers to success and utilize opportunities fully. These principles for the basis of the cognitive behavioral coaching (CBC) approach.
Cognitive Behavioral Coaching
Michael Neenan, the Associate Director of the Centre for Coaching and Centre for Stress Management in Blackheath, London, and Stephen Palmer, President of the International Society for Coaching Psychology, define coaching as “the art of facilitating the performance, learning and development of another.”
Similar to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), CBC does not give clients advice or solutions to their problems or difficulties, but uses a time-limited, goal-directed, and present-focused framework to change the thoughts that stimulate negative behavior. These action plans for positive change are strengthened by methods and exercises to improve self-awareness, confidence, resilience, emotional intelligence, and other character strengths needed to move forward.
A Model of Problem-Solving
The cognitive behavioral coaching (CBC) approach is based on a 7-step model of problem-solving. Although these steps form a logical sequence that leads to an outcome, there are overlaps and any of the steps can (and should) be revisited at any time. The situations of most people are fluid. The constant change in their situations, preferences, and resources require a dynamic and responsive process to sustain positive change.
#1 – Identify the problem or opportunity
Using self-awareness and an auditing process such as the Wheel of Life exercise, the client identifies his or her problem, issue, concern, or focus area with the coach’s guidance. They specify what they would like to change and visualize the benefits of a successful outcome. They view the issue from different perspectives and do a deep dive to identify the root cause(s).
#2 – Formulate goals
After identifying what needs to change, the client formulates what they want to achieve by setting SMART goals. To be effective, a goal must be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.
#3 – Generate alternatives
The client looks at alternative ways or solutions to achieve his or her goals. Together, the coach and client can brainstorm as many ideas as possible while initially not screening for feasibility or odds-on before whittling possibilities down to an actionable list.
#4 – Consider the consequences
The client and coach subject all the ideas to an examination of consequences, risk, probability of success, and limitations. Plausible solutions are identified.
#5 – Make decisions
The best ideas form the basis of an action plan where the coach guides clients to divide larger goals or outcomes into smaller steps that include developing the skills necessary, building required resources, and setting up a support network where appropriate.
#6 – Implement actions
Clients implement their actions by developing and utilizing supporting daily habits, and cognitive and behavioral techniques like visualization and behavioral experimentation. They journal their experiences for regular review. Smaller actions are tweaked and refined as they go along.
#7 – Evaluate the outcome
The client and coach review the situation at preset intervals and at the goal’s target date. If required adjustments are made to the goals and action plans. A new auditing process may reveal new priorities, which means that the steps of the CBC model are repeated to set new goals and maintain the forward momentum.
As is evident, the CBC model is a dynamic, multifaceted process that is regularly reviewed and refreshed to reflect the client’s current circumstances and preferences. The process develops and manages cognitive aspects such as emotion regulation and negative beliefs while moderating behavioral factors including stressors and urges in parallel.
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