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Cognitive Behavioural coaching



A number of different approaches to coaching exist (e.g. Fournies, 2000; Whitmore, 1996). Our favoured form of coaching is derived from the principles and practice of cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) (Beck, 1976; Ellis, 1994). Cognitive behavioural approaches emphasize that how we react to events is largely determined by our views of them, not by the events themselves. Neenan, M. and Palmer, S. (2001). Cognitive Behavioural Coaching. Stress News, 13, 3, 15-18.
By Michael Neenan and Stephen Palmer
The 'coaching culture' appears to be expanding rapidly in business and industry (Becket,
2000; Daily Telegraph, 2001; Smith, 2000). Coaching can be defined as 'the art of
facilitating the performance, learning and development of another' (Downey, 1999: 15).
Coaching can focus on any aspect of a person's life in assisting personal growth.
A number of different approaches to coaching exist (e.g. Fournies, 2000; Whitmore,
1996). Our favoured form of coaching is derived from the principles and practice of
cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) (Beck, 1976; Ellis, 1994). Cognitive behavioural
approaches emphasize that how we react to events is largely determined by our views of
them, not by the events themselves. Through examining and re- evaluating some of our
less helpful views we can develop and try out alternative viewpoints and behaviours that
may be more effective in aiding problem-solving (some individuals may object to the
word 'problem' and, instead, see events in terms of challenges, issues, fine-tuning, etc.).
We call CBT when used with non-clinical groups cognitive behavioural coaching (CBC).
CBC 'does not offer any quick fixes to achieve personal change or ''magic away'' personal
difficulties; it does emphasize that sustained effort and commitment are required for a
successful outcome to your life challenges' (Neenan and Dryden, in press.)
CBC does not seek to give people the answers to their problems or difficulties, but
through a collaborative process called guided discovery helps them to reach their own
conclusions and solutions (in other words, whenever possible, we let people's brains take
the strain of problem-solving). Guided discovery is based on Socratic questioning
whereby the coach asks the person a series of questions in order to bring information into
her awareness: 'therefore, Socratic questions are designed to promote insight and better
rational decision making. Questions should be phrased in such a way that they stimulate
thought and increase awareness, rather than requiring a correct answer' (Beck et al., 1993:
103). Previously, what may have been a closed or constricted system of thinking in
relation to tackling a particular difficulty is now transformed into an open or flexible
system of identifying a number of problem-solving strategies.
CBC is time-limited, goal-directed and focused on the here and now (historical material,
if used, is examined to provide valuable lessons to help guide current behaviour and
decision-making). Though the primary aim of coaching is to help individuals develop
action plans for change, it also encourages them 'to increase self-awareness of thinking,
moods and emotions' (Becket, 2000). For example, if an individual is procrastinating over
making a career change, it is likely that anxiety is fuelling her procrastination (e.g. 'I must
1 First published in Stress News, July 2001, Vol.13 No3.
be absolutely sure that I've made the right move. If my decision backfires, my life will be
in ruins'). In this case, an action plan would also include tackling the person's anxious
The ultimate goal of CBC is for individuals to become their own coaches, though
intermittent booster sessions can be arranged once the coaching programme has ended.
(In industry, we have found that a few key personnel who have undergone coaching
programmes can then deliver cascade coaching to others within the organization;
teaching others is an excellent way of maintaining one's own coaching skills.) The
number and length of sessions depends on the person's requirements: for example, one
hour weekly sessions to tackle an ongoing problem or a marathon three hour session to
deal with performance anxiety regarding an imminent public speaking engagement. With
regard to performance anxiety, we help people to distinguish between performance
interfering thoughts (PITS) and performance enhancing thoughts (PETS) - we have a
variety of rhyming acronyms for specific problem areas! Coaching can be conducted
face-to-face, by telephone or e-mail (particularly if clients are in other parts of the world).
A model of problem-solving
Presenting individuals with a problem-solving model to follow may seem at first glance
to stifle their creativity but thinking things through in a structured and systematic way
actually encourages it. Wasik (1984) has proposed a seven-step problem-solving
sequence and accompanying questions that people can ask themselves at each step:
Steps Questions/Actions
1. Problem identification What is the concern?
2. Goal selection What do I want?
3. Generation of alternatives What can I do?
4. Consideration of consequences What might happen?
5. Decision making What is my decision?
6. Implementation
ow do it!
7. Evaluation Did it work?
This seven step model will now be demonstrated by using an example from our coaching
Step 1: Problem identification
Brian (not his real name) was presenting an important paper at a conference in a few
weeks' time and was feeling anxious about it. The 'it' needed to be explored in order to
make the problem clear and precise:
Coach: What exactly is the 'it': presenting the paper or something else?
Brian: It's the shaking. The audience will see my hands shaking and think I'm a nervous
wreck. I won't be able to control the shaking.
Coach: You state the problem as if there is nothing you can do about the shaking. How
could you restate the problem in ways that suggest change is possible?
Brian: Presently, I find it difficult to control my shaking when speaking to audiences.
Step 2: Goal selection
Coach: What would you like to achieve with regard to your shaking?
Brian: To control it so my hands shake less or not at all.
Coach: And if neither of those goals could be achieved by the time of the conference?
Brian: To accept the shaking without getting too worried about it.
Step 3: Generation of alternatives
Brian was encouraged to come up with as many solutions as possible to his problem no
matter how stupid or ludicrous they initially sounded; in other words, to brainstorm. The
coach can suggest some solutions if the person has difficulty generating them. The
solutions proposed by Brian were:
a. 'Keep my hands in my pocket the whole time if possible.'
b. 'Not present the paper. Pretend I'm ill.'
c. 'Mention my nervousness to the audience to justify the shaking just before I give my
paper. Get it out of the way.'
d. 'Take tranquillisers.'
e. 'Accept that my hands shake. So what?'
f. 'Make a joke every time my hands shake.'
g. 'Give the paper and see what happens rather than automatically assuming the
conference will turn out badly for me.'
Step 4: Consideration of consequences.
This involved Brian considering the advantages and disadvantages of each solution
generated from the brainstorming session. Brian rated the plausibility of each possible
solution on a 0-10 scale (0 = least plausible to 10 = most plausible).
a. 'I would look pretty stiff and awkward if I did that. I can't avoid using my hands while
presenting the paper.' 2
b. 'That sounds good initially but that would be running away and make it much harder to
go before an audience at a later date. A non- starter.' 0
c. 'That might release some tension but it might also suggest I'm asking for their
sympathy. A double-edged sword.' 3
d. 'I don't want the chemical way out. I might come across as somewhat dulled.' 4
e. 'I like the sound of this one very much and can see the benefits I would reap.' 9
f. 'This might bring too much unwanted attention to my shaking.' 3
g. 'This is a reasonable way to approach the conference.' 7
Step 5: Decision-making
Brian chose steps e and g though he said if these steps were unsuccessful he might choose
the tranquillisers (step d) as a last resort. How, he enquired, was he supposed to learn to
accept the fact that his hands shook when he usually demanded 'they must not shake'?
Coach: What happens when you say that to yourself?
Brian: It just continually reminds me that I can't control the shaking, I get worried and
then my hands shake even more.
Coach: So in order to gain control over your shaking, what do you need to give up?
Brian: Stop demanding that my hands must not shake. Just let it happen and don't get
alarmed about it.
Coach: Exactly. What happens when you try to hide it from others?
Brian: I feel awkward and self-conscious. So try and be natural around others. My
shaking is part of me, that sort of thing. But what happens if people smirk at me or think
I'm a nervous wreck.? How do I control that?
Coach: Well, what can you control and what can you not? Brian: I can't control their
smirking or what they might think about me but I can control or choose how I respond to
it and how I think about myself.
Coach: That's it in a nutshell.
Brian: Let's get going then.
Step 6: Implementation
In the next few weeks, Brian said he no longer tried to hide or control his hands shaking
and explained to others that he got nervous in front of audiences both large and small -
'My first step towards accepting the problem and myself for having it'. He said he would
like to have a 'rehearsal' before the actual conference. The coach arranged with his
colleagues for Brian to present a paper to them. Feedback was given regarding his
performance such as not gripping the lectern too tightly and having more sips of water to
avoid his voice cracking. A video of the rehearsal was made so Brian could see both his
strengths and weaknesses and also re-evaluate more accurately his overall performance:
'Not as bad as I thought. It's hard to be objective about yourself when you're actually
doing the talk and thinking you are coming across as a nervous wreck', he concluded.
Step 7: Evaluation
Brian said that the strategies of 'giving up demands for control in order to gain control
and striving for self-acceptance had worked a treat' (he never did resort to tranquillisers).
While he had been nervous and his hands did shake at times, his major focus had been on
presenting the paper rather than his own discomfort. On the lectern was a message
encapsulating his new outlook: 'If I shake, so what?' (PET).
If the proposed solution has been successful, then the person can select another problem
he wishes to tackle and follow steps 1-6 again. It is important to tackle methodically one
major problem at a time rather than several problems simultaneously. As Butler and Hope
(1996: 69) point out, 'Remember the 80:20 rule: 80% of difficulties are due to 20% of
problems. If you tackle, one by one, the few most important problems, you will be
overcoming a disproportionately large number of problems' (original authors' italics).
Once the person becomes adept at using the seven-step model, he may want to use a
shorter model to quicken the problem-solving process. For example, STIR and PIE:
Select problem Problem definition
Target a solution Implement a solution
Implement a solution Evaluate outcome
Review outcome
These shorter models of problem-solving are usually used for rapid processing of a
problem in order to deal with a crisis or make a quick decision. With these shorter
models, deliberation is exchanged for speed, so a less satisfactory outcome may be
experienced by the person.
Excessive emotional interference
Sometimes during the coaching process, the person may become so emotionally upset
that she 'gives up' on the model or her ability to focus on it is significantly impaired. If
this emotional interference occurs, the coach can employ the ABCDE sequence of
emotional management (Neenan and Dryden, 2000):
A = activating event - stops working on the solution chosen at step 5
B = distress-producing beliefs - 'Sorting things out shouldn't be this bloody difficult!
Nothing seems to be working. Why the hell bother? It's all a waste of time.'
C = consequences: emotion - anger and despair behaviour - agitation and withdrawal
D = self-disputing - 'If I don't sort things out, I'll end up with more problems, not less.
Now get back on track and give up these silly ideas that change should be quick and easy.
If it's taking longer and harder than expected, too damn bad!'
E = effective reduction in anger and despair which enables the person to return to
persisting with her proposed solution at step 5
When the person's emotional distress has ameliorated, then she can resume following the
problem-solving model; it is pointless to try and follow the model when the client is
emotionally upset (if there is no amelioration in her emotional state, then a referral to a
clinical specialist is indicated).
CBC is based on a collaborative relationship that helps individuals to focus on problem-
solving in a structured and systematic way. Using a Socratic approach encourages
individuals to 'pull out' from themselves problem-solving strategies rather than have them
handed over by the coach. Drawing on and adding to their existing skills helps
individuals to build greater self-reliance and confidence in managing change in their
lives. Previously, some difficulties may have seemed formidable, even insuperable, but
now they can be managed or resolved within the problem-solving frameworks described
in this article.
Beck, A. T. (1976) Cognitive Therapy and the Emotional Disorders. New York: New
American Library.
Beck, A. T., Wright, F. D., Newman, C. F. & Liese, B. S. (1993) Cognitive Therapy of
Substance Abuse. New York: Guilford.
Becket, M. (2000) 'Coach class, top class', Daily Telegraph, 19th October.
Butler, G. & Hope, T. (1996) Manage Your Mind. Oxford University Press. Daily
Telegraph (2001) 'A coach to change your life', 25th January.
Downey, M. (1999) Effective Coaching. London: Orion Business Books.
Ellis, A. (1994) Reason and Emotion in Psychotherapy, revised and updated. New York:
Birch Lane Press.
Fournies, F. F. (2000) Coaching for Improved Work Performance. New York: McGraw-
Neenan, M. & Dryden, W. (2000) Essential Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy.
London: Whurr.
Neenan, M. and Dryden, W. (2002) Life Coaching: A Cognitive Behavioural Approach.
London: Brunner-Routledge.
Smith, J. (2000) 'Coaching and mentoring', Stress News, the Journal of the International
Stress Management Association (UK), 12 (2), 12-14.
Wasik, B. (1984) Teaching Parents Effective Problem-Solving: A Handbook for
Professionals. Unpublished manuscript. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina.
Whitmore, J. (1996) Coaching for Performance. London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
Address for correspondence:
Centre for Coaching
156 Westcombe Hill
London, SE3 7DH
Michael Neenan is Honorary Vice President of the Association for Coaching and a
Director of the Association for Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy. He is Associate
Director of the Centre for Coaching, London, UK. His books include Life Coaching: A
Cognitive Behavioural Approach.
Professor Stephen Palmer PhD is Honorary President and Fellow of the Association for
Coaching and Director of the Centre for Coaching, London, UK. He is Vice President
and Fellow of both the Institute of Health Promotion & Education, and the International
Stress Management Association (UK). He has written and edited 25 books including his
recent self-coaching book, Creating a Balance: Managing Stress. He was featured in the
Independent on Sunday Top Brass article on the 10 leading coaches.
Coaching is rapidly advancing in medical education as a relational process of facilitating sustainable change and growth. Coaching can support learners in emergency medicine at any stage by improving self‐reflection, motivation, psychological capital, and goal creation and attainment. Different from the traditional models of advising and mentoring, coaching may be a new model for many educators. An introduction to key coaching concepts and ways they may be implemented in emergency medicine is provided. Experienced coaches employ a diverse array of models and techniques that may be new to novice coaches. This article summarizes a variety of coaching models, theories, and content areas that can be adapted to a coachee's needs and the situational context—be it the fast‐paced emergency department or the faculty member's office.
This paper aims to describe a model for cognitive behavioural team coaching (CBTC), derived from existing cognitive behavioural theories and individual coaching models. In an organisational context coaching a team to increase well‐being, instead of separate individuals, would appear on face value to be more effective. However, it is appropriate to explore what the existing literature can tell us about team coaching, well‐being and stress as well as the possible relationships between these areas. There also seems to be a need for clarification of the term ‘team coaching’, so it can be differentiated from other team activities and this is a theme that will be explored in this paper. A proposed pilot study is also described, aiming to investigate if CBTC can increase well‐being and lessen strain among team members in an organisational setting by using an individual CBC model adapted to team conditions.
The PRACTICE model of coaching has been developing over time and adapted to the presenting issues arising during the initial stage of coaching. This paper will briefly highlight the options available.
This article focuses on the Deserted Island technique which can be used in cognitive behavioural and rational coaching to teach the B‐C connection and demonstrate the advantages of challenging and modifying musturbatory beliefs and subsequently how to develop preferential beliefs
This paper introduces ‘SPACE’, a comprehensive psychological model that can be used within cognitive behavioural coaching, therapy and stress management to aid assessment, explain the cognitive model to the client, and assist in the development of a coaching, therapeutic or training programme. Other models, coaching processes and acronyms will be briefly covered to put ‘SPACE’ into a coaching context. For illustrative purposes this paper will focus on coaching.
Rational Coaching is based on the Rational Emotive Behavioural Approach developed by Albert Ellis. It is suitable for personal/life, performance, executive and health coaching This paper covers the basic theory and practice of Rational Coaching and includes the ABCDEF coaching framework for assessment and intervention.
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The article analyzes the problem of coaching effectiveness in the framework of coaching psychology, which is the young developing discipline that focuses on the psychological mechanisms of coaching. Coaching as a helping practice has been actively developing during recent years, but its effectiveness is still under debate. The article analyzes various theoretical approaches to coaching and concludes that cognitive-behavioral coaching (CBC) has the most developed evidence-based methodology. The methods and approaches for assessing the coaching effectiveness both in organizations and in individual work are analyzed. A multilevel model for assessing the effectiveness of coaching “a clock tower model” is also described. It includes both objective and subjective methods of assessment, as well as “process oriented” and “result oriented” methodologies for assessing coaching. The conclusion about the need to increase the share of quantitative and objective methods for assessing the effectiveness of coaching is made.
The author raises the question of the possibility of using one of the coaching methods, which is cognitive-behavioural coaching, within the education system. The first part presents an analysis of the very concept of coaching, including research on its effectiveness in solving selected problems or improving selected areas / problems of the education system. In the further part, the author approaches and defines one of the types of coaching, that is cognitive behavioural-coaching. He cites the research on the effectiveness of this method, indicating the potential areas of its application in the education system. In order to demonstrate the potential usefulness of the cognitive-behavioural coaching method, the author refers to examples of techniques of working with a client (student, parent) derived from cognitive-behavioural therapy, which, in the author's opinion, can be successfully transferred to the ground of cognitive-behavioural coaching. The article is exploratory in nature. The author raises the question of the application of cognitive-behavioural coaching in educational institutions, at the same time attracting attention to the need for in-depth empirical research in this area.
This paper reviews the coaching relationship from a Cognitive Behavioural Coaching (CBC) perspective. Using empathy as one example of a key relationship component it identifies how building, establishing and maintaining an optimal coaching alliance for the specific coachee, through an explicit process of negotiation and renegotiation epitomises ‘the collaborative relationship’ a central tenet of the Cognitive Behavioural framework. It also highlights how extending to the relationship itself an emphasis on the cognitive-behavioural dynamics of the coachee and the coach, individually and in interaction can potentially assist in fostering, maintaining, and where necessary managing disruptions in, the coaching alliance. Power dynamics and time constraints are highlighted as themes possibly differentiating the coaching alliance from the therapeutic alliance. The broader-based explicit stance of the coach resulting in a reciprocal requirement for greater adaptability to the coachee’s needs are tentatively proposed as further differentiators of the coaching alliance from a CBC perspective. Keywords: Cognitive Behavioural Coaching (CBC), coaching relationship, coaching alliance, collaborative relationship, empathy, coach stance. Citation: O’Broin, A. & Palmer, S. (2009). Co-creating an optimal coaching alliance: A Cognitive Behavioural Coaching perspective, International Coaching Psychology Review, 4, 2, 184-194.
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The field of positive psychology (PP) research and practice is now 20 years old, and it has experienced significant growth since its formal launch in 1998 (Seligman, 1998; Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). It is generally acknowledged that PP is an “umbrella term” and that it covers many different topics from a diverse range of disciplines. A review of the literature by Rusk & Waters (2013) found that the most densely concentrated PP topics are life satisfaction/happiness, motivation/achievement, optimism, and organisational citizenship/fairness. In a similar vein, the field of coaching psychology (CP) has experienced significant growth in research and practice. There are now three meta-analytic studies (Theeboom, Beersma, & van Vianen, 2014; Jones, Woods, & Guillaume, 2015; Sonesh, Coultas, Lacerenza, Marlow, Benishek, & Salas, 2015) and one systematic review (Lai & McDowall, 2014) which highlight that coaching is effective, although the field could benefit from more randomised controlled trials (for example Spence & Grant, 2005).
Traces the development of the cognitive approach to psychopathology and psy hotherapy from common-sense observations and folk wisdom, to a more sophisticated understanding of the emotional disorders, and finally to the application of rational techniques to correct the misconceptions and conceptual distortions that form the matrix of the neuroses. The importance of engaging the patient in exploration of his inner world and of obtaining a sharp delineation of specific thoughts and underlying assumptions is emphasized. (91/4 p ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
The theories and practices of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) have been heavily revised, expanded, corrected and updated since its inception in 1955. This book takes into consideration those REB therapists who criticise the constant dissection of the therapy, claiming that these innovations make it too complicated for most clients and even for some therapists. This book, written in an easy-to-read style, strips away the sophistication and focuses on the essential elements of REBT. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
"Cognitive Therapy of Substance Abuse" was written in response to the ever-growing need to formulate and test cost-effective treatments for substance abuse disorders. Representing a major advance for meeting this pressing need, cognitive therapy offers a well-documented and demonstrably efficacious psychosocial treatment model. Emanating from the research and practical experience of Aaron T. Beck and his colleagues, this book demonstrates how cognitive therapy can be easily replicated by therapists and counselors alike. This volume concentrates on clinical procedures in a way that is both teachable and testable. An ideal treatment manual that can be utilized independently, or in conjunction with psychopharmacological or 12-step programs, [this book] will be valued by all mental health practitioners who work with substance abusers, regardless of their orientation or the extent of their previous experience with either cognitive therapy or substance abuse. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Coach class, top class', Daily Telegraph
  • M Becket
Becket, M. (2000) 'Coach class, top class', Daily Telegraph, 19th October.
A coach to change your life
  • G Butler
  • T Hope
Butler, G. & Hope, T. (1996) Manage Your Mind. Oxford University Press. Daily Telegraph (2001) 'A coach to change your life', 25th January.
Reason and Emotion in Psychotherapy, revised and updated
  • A Ellis
Ellis, A. (1994) Reason and Emotion in Psychotherapy, revised and updated. New York: Birch Lane Press.
Coaching for Improved Work Performance
  • F F Fournies
Fournies, F. F. (2000) Coaching for Improved Work Performance. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Coaching and mentoring
  • J Smith
Smith, J. (2000) 'Coaching and mentoring', Stress News, the Journal of the International Stress Management Association (UK), 12 (2), 12-14.
Teaching Parents Effective Problem-Solving: A Handbook for Professionals. Unpublished manuscript
  • B Wasik
Wasik, B. (1984) Teaching Parents Effective Problem-Solving: A Handbook for Professionals. Unpublished manuscript. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina.