Coaching – Cognitive Behaviour Style

If the general principal is accepted that coaching is the art of enabling the learning and development of the client, then CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) as developed by Beck and Ellis has proven to add a lot to the coaching process. When the therapy aspect of CB is added to coaching it is known as Cognitive Behaviour Coaching (CBC).

The key idea behind Cognitive (thought processes) Behaviour (responses give), is that our thoughts pretty much shape our behaviour; that is, our belief(s) which influence our thoughts impact on our behaviours and therefore the results we experience. This is described as the ABC Model:

A - Activating event (something happens), which results in our

B - Beliefs and thoughts being applied to the event and a response is given which results in

C - Consequences, the outcomes, which for those suffering emotional distress normally report as having a ‘negative’ impact on their lives.

Take, for example, a manager seeking to request an action from a difficult employee (this is the activating event - A). They may have a set of beliefs (B) that follow a line of thought that ‘the other person is too difficult’ or ‘they will say "No", or be rude, so I will look foolish and be embarrassed’. The consequences (C) are both emotional (anxiety) and behavioural (withdrawal from asking), and as a result the manager has become disempowered. Of course, this type of ABC thinking can impact on a variety levels in a variety of different ways to all of us, not just managers.

This is because CBC uses a questioning, sometimes challenging, (but always collaborative) approach to help the coachee make sense out of their beliefs and thinking style, and to develop more effective, positive ways of responding. Neenan and Dryden call this ‘Guided Discovery’ whereby the guide (the coach) adopts a questioning style that encourages insight and as a result better, more rational decision making.

By being with the client in this question mode and by focusing on the moment of what the client is experiencing, the coach is able to help the client understand more in depth and with greater clarity the part that they play in “the system”.

This system, considering the executive or senior manager (but is applicable to all of us) is considered at three levels, or spheres of influence, depending on how close the manger (or person) is to the influence on their lives:

  • The closest is the managers/persons own goals, motives and tasks.
  • Then comes the impact of their staff, peers, seniors, customers, suppliers and families,
  • Followed by the furthest sphere, the wider environment including; the economy, geo political and the natural environments.

Whilst the guide may they need to navigate with the coachee in and out of these three spheres, the inter system and inter personal focus begins to help the break down (in CBT terms ‘deconstruct’) the influences on their situation and the responses that they inspire in them. Breaking things down invariably makes them smaller, easier to understand and to influence back in return!

In these key ways CBC, which is normally time limited and solutions focused on the present, encourages greater degree of self awareness, effective management of moods and responses and therefore a better quality of decision making. It also leads to a personal action plan for (forgive the buzzword) ‘continuous change’ (but why should executives/individuals be any different to the world they are faced with?). As an example, somebody may be procrastinating over a potential career move, and may feel anxious and therefore stuck in procrastination for fear of failure. Becoming aware of that anxiety, deconstructing the build up to it and developing ‘risk management strategies’ will form part of the decision making process and then the action plan. Invariably this leads to an increased chance to be successful.

The ultimate goal of CBC is to support the client in becoming their own coach, which is why during the coaching the process there will be some teaching and sharing of different models and strategies. This also means they become more able to coach others too. Empowerment is shared.

Neenan and Dryden are clear that CBC ‘does not offer quick fixes’ to personal and management style change, but that it does ‘emphasise sustained effort and commitment for a successful outcome to your life challenges.’


Beck, A. T. (1976) Cognitive Therapy and the Emotional Disorders. New York: New American Library.

Ellis, A. (1994) Reason and Emotion in Psychotherapy, revised and updated. New York: Birch Lane Press.

Neenan, M. and Dryden, W. (2002) Life Coaching: A Cognitive Behavioural Approach. London: Brunner-Routledge.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

Share this article with a friend
London EC2M & Stevenage SG1
Written by Just Clarity, Keith Abrahams - Life & Executive Stress Consultant
London EC2M & Stevenage SG1

As a life and executive stress management consultant, the most common reasons clients seek help from me are related to stress, anxiety, depression, anger, relationship, and work-related issues. This might be related financial stress, promotional issues or challenging life, business, and career choic...

Show comments

Find a coach dealing with Career coaching

All coaches are verified professionals

All coaches are verified professionals