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  • Mariposa Coaching

So what is cognitive behavioural coaching?

Updated: Mar 26, 2021

Life coaching aims to make us more personally effective in everyday life. So what is a cognitive behavioural approach to coaching?

Philosophers were some of the first humans to consider how we think. The way we think about situations in our life influences what we feel and in turn what we do. Take the quote from Epictetus first century philosopher ‘people are not disturbed by things, but by the views which they take of them’.

This is good news. This means we can work on changing our thinking to change how we feel and respond to a situation. In CBC (cognitive behavioural coaching) we encourage the client to be aware of irrational thinking and beliefs and challenge them for a more realistic view point.

We can challenge perfectionist beliefs, change thinking by using positive self talk, increase self-efficacy (beliefs in our capability) and modify thinking to build on strengths. CBC can be used to reduce the gap between desired and actual performance, we can reduce irrational thinking and performance anxiety.

So where did it come from?

Cognitive psychology has it roots in rationalist philosophers of the 17 and 18th centuries where the mind was thought to have organising powers to perceive the world. Wundt in the late 1800s studied sensation and perception and looked at pain perceptors and depth perception. Memory was studied too by early psychologists and the emergence of psychology was at first a cognitive one.

Behaviourism was founded by John. B. Watson who collected data on how an organism acted which could be viewed by others. Watson was concerned with the effects of the environment, rather than ideas and instinct, and he saw human behaviour as entirely dervived from learning. He was concerned with theories of conditioning (Pavlov) and felt that this could explain learning by humans. The terms 'stimulus', 'response' and 'reinforcement' were developed.

Cognitive development continued with Piaget who studied children's learning and problem solving ability from early life stages and looked at areas such as attention, perception, memory, problem solving and how information was coded within the nervous system. In behaviourism Bandura developed 'social learning theory' and the importance of learning from others in our development.

There are so many therapists that I could mention but it is worth mentioning Ellis who founded rational-emotive therapy, Kelly with personal construct theory and Beck who developed cognitive therapy to increase understanding of disturbed behaviour and emotional states.

There were key principles in the 70s which were taken from both cognitive and behavourial research. Eventually there developed a cognitive - behavioural approach. Behaviourism brought the role of learning from the environment, breaking behaviour change down into manageable steps and examining the maintenance of change. The cognitive approach brought the importance of 'inner speech' and the understanding of how we use self regulation and self perception.

We started to recognise that the relationship between thoughts, feelings and behaviour was key. One of the cognitive behavioural tools in my mariposa coaching work is the cognitive triangle - see below - we can see the behaviour but thoughts and feelings are unseen and rest on a bedrock of beliefs.

There are many cognitive behavioural theories and I started learning and applying cognitive behavioural approaches in my rehabilitation work within the criminal justice sector from 2000. What is so helpful with cognitive behavioural approaches is that they give us such a variety of ways to be flexible in coaching and provide the coachee with increased awareness of ways to make changes and a range of new strategies to help with this process.

CBC can help us to have more positive realistic thinking which in turns impacts on what we do and the other way around. Some of the tools that I use include helping the coachee to recognise and change performance interfering thoughts to performance enhancing thoughts, challenge thinking errors such as 'I should', 'I must' and 'I ought', and use of socratic questions to challenge logic, usefulness and effectiveness of unhelpful thinking. CBC is also about helping clients to find and build on their strengths.

We can use CBC to help us understand how our thoughts can be both automatic and controlled. We tend to work on automatic pilot. Think back, for example, to the last time that you drove to your work or a friends house, how much of the journey and how you drove the car can you remember? We become so used to living in the automatic world using 'automatic processing', such as brushing our teeth, getting dressed. If we have to make new decisions or solve problems then rather than using automatic processing we need to bring in 'controlled processing'. We can tune into these skills to help us to work on self regulation and effective problem solving.

In my coaching work I draw heavily from motivational interviewing, introduced by Miller (83) where he shared the importance of motivation in individuals, which has the strategic goals of increasing self esteem, increasing self efficacy and increasing dissonance to bring about change.

The cognitive behavioural also incorporates the ability to help with personal and behavioural change. The cycle of change model (Prochaska and DiClemente 94) is concerned with motivational states of individuals as they enter a 'revolving wheel' of change. It provides a tool for making sense of change processes and I have used this for many years with individuals making relationship, substance, and life changes.

If we are aware of our thinking then we can also start to understand more about how our thinking is driven by beliefs and that we all have our own set of complex cognitive patterns that are 'narratives'.

These narratives help us to make sense of our lives. I help my coachees to recognise 'constructive narratives' and understand them which is the first step to help with personal change, if we have stories we tell ourselves then we can change these stories to have a different result. This includes turning problems into opportunities by changing the story we tell ourselves, adapting to and resolving issues.

To sum up CBC is evidence based, has it's roots in psychology and is goal orientated.

Outcomes from coaching include immediate results with the ability to be your own self coach in future:

-increased performance, resilience and resourcefulness,

-better sense of personal direction, work life balance and wellbeing

-improved interpersonal and family relationships

-reduced stress, improved confidence and increased self efficacy

-relapse prevention with addictions

-reducing fears, phobias and anxiety

-feeling more in control


-improved self care, relaxation and sleep

-increased emotional mangement and self regulation

If you are interested in finding out more contact me, I offer a free 20 mins chat about how coaching can work for you, your teams, your family.

Sarah Clark at Mariposa Coaching -

Click on my workshops page for information on assertiveness, relationships, parenting, stress management, time management, influencing skills and confidence and performance workshops. I also run events/coaching for business and couples coaching.

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