In attending the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) teleclasses at ICA, I wanted to know more about the origins/history, research and the theoretical concepts of CBT and how it can be used in the coaching process with clients. I believe that everything starts with cognition and affects our perceptions, thoughts, feelings and our behaviors, thus our outcomes. CBT has shown to be very useful in psychotherapy and is considered one of the most effective approaches in client treatment. Since coaching deals with many of the same aspects in dealing with cognition and behavior, I wanted to also explore how CBT is being integrated into the coaching industry to help clients.
How Is Cognitive Behavior Therapy Relevant To Coaching
In knowing the basics of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), it lead me to think that CBT fits well with the aim of coaching as it integrates aspects of how clients think, perceive and how that impacts their actions and thus, their life outcomes. In looking at clients beliefs and their perceptions it is very important that coaches understand their clients in order to know how to be a helpful and an effective coach. After all, the thoughts we engage in, our core beliefs and how we put those beliefs into action is what leads to many choices that that ultimately serve as a foundation to create our lives. In order to understand how to apply CBT as a coach, I feel it’s important to understand its origins, what the theory entails and how we can best use it for applications with clients as coaches. When we encounter clients that have distorted or fault perceptions that lead to negative outcomes, we as coaches need to know how to apply CBT to help guide clients to explore their ideas and help them to determine how their beliefs help or harm them. On the other hand, if clients are highly motivated and believe they can succeed, coaches can also use this as a powerful tool to help clients achieve their goals. In any situation, I find that CBT can be highly useful and whether coaches realize or not, a good coach should already be using some of the elements of CBT when working with clients. We will first look at the origins of CBT, its fundamental concepts and how it plays a role in coaching today.
Pioneers of Cognitive Behavior Therapy
Albert Ellis, Aaron Beck and Albert Bandura were major contributors to CBT. Ellis developed Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy and Beck followed Ellis’s influence in 1960’s (Berger 2005). CBT was a different approach to psychotherapy from the classic psychoanalysis that was very popular at the time. It took more of a more humanistic approach and addressed what was in the conscious mind and less on the unconscious mind (which clients had a harder time accessing). CBT focused more on the “here and now” and current beliefs, rather than past, unconscious beliefs. The theory integrates how cognition, emotion and behavior all work together. Bandura was influenced by B. F. Skinner’s concept of behaviorism, while incorporating cognitive thinking into the concept. It is said that Bandura’s social learning concept was also influenced by Skinner and Robert Sears. Sears attempted to integrate psychoanalysis and stimulus-response to his learning theory to explain human behavior Grusec (1992).
Bandura took Sears’s idea of social learning and formulated his own theory by using Skinner’s idea of modeling along with cognitive and information-processing theory. As Bandura became more increasingly interested in self-regulative capacities and selfefficacy he strayed away from behaviorlism, which ignored any cognitive aspects. In 1986, Bandura decided to re-label his concept of social learning to social cognitive theory (p. 2). Corcoran (1991) defines Bandura’s concept of self-efficacy as “people’s beliefs about their capabilities to exercise control over events that affect their lives” and “self efficacy beliefs determine their level of motivation as reflected in how much effort they will exert in an endeavor and how long they will persevere in the face of obstacles” (p.4). Bandura’s concepts are very important to the coaching process as it is vital clients believe that they can influence and most times, have direct influence over their life situations. If clients feel that they have no control in the outcomes of their lives, it is important for coaches to help clients explore why they feel this way and help guide clients to deconstruct all distorted thinking. Coaches can also help clients reframe perspectives.
Additionally, this aids clients to empower themselves and not give their power to other people. Empowering clients this also helps establish accountability and responsibility with them. Beliefs and the messages clients tell themselves is key to understanding the client, reasons they might be in their current situation and what beliefs can help them move forward. It also gives coaches insight to assess the confidence level clients have in their abilities and what motivates them.
The Importance of Self-Efficacy and Social Influence
In 1977, Bandura was quoted to say that self-efficacy expectations are
the conviction that one can successfully execute the behavior required to produce certain outcomes (p.5).
Berry (189) expanding on Bandura’s idea of self-efficacy. According to Berry this is our sense of our self worth and importantly our belief that we hold about ourselves. We hold personal beliefs about our abilities to achieve what we want in life.
It often determines how we will deal with our problems and life situations. This concept is key to the ideals of cognitive behavior therapy. Our beliefs of ourselves and our selfesteem determines our cognitive thoughts and in turn affects our behavior. Many people that are depressed suffer from low self-efficacy in which they feel that they feel that they may lack the ability to control their personal situations. Research has shown that people who have high self-efficacy may be more successful in their careers, education and personal relationships. They also tend to have better physical and mental health.
I believe that this idea of self-efficacy is fundamental in the coaching model. If clients do not have a certain amount of conviction that they can be successful, coaching can become hindered or ineffective. Clients meeting their goals and/or making changes is mostly based on their motivation and belief that they can make changes they desire.
Bandura believed that one’s reactions were a product of personal beliefs about ourselves, what we learn from others, social expectations, and other general influences of our environment. He believed that behavior was also reinforced by rewards and punishment, which was part of his behaviorist training. We also learn to behave in certain ways by observing others. This concept is called vicarious reinforcement or modeling. Bandura suggested that we take on a social learning approach by forming or modifying our behaviors that are acceptable in social situations. While, I believe there is value in people learning from society and others, I also feel that this can be un-useful at times. Clients can be influenced to follow other people’s opinions and wishes instead of looking inside themselves to make authentic choices that are right for them. It is important for coaches to encourage clients that they think, act and behave from a space of self- truth by honoring and acting in alignment to their own purpose and goals.
Coaches that use CBT in coaching have re-coined it as Cognitive Behavioral Coaching (CBC). Practicing Coaches Michael Neenan and Stephanie Palmer (2011) describes Cognitive Behavioral Coaching (CBC) as the following:
CBC is aimed a non clinical population. Broadly, coaching is about helping individuals to work towards achieving and functioning at their best. Essentially it is about assisting people in identifying their hidden skills and resources and realizing these to their full potential in order that whatever they desire in life may be possible to attain to.
Practicing coach CBC coach Gladenna McMahon says the aim of CBC is to develop ways of thinking and behaving that are more productive and more likely to help in reaching desired goals. It also addresses the root of the issues that might be preventing someone from embracing their full potential to go after what they desire. Neenan and Palmer (2008), stress the fundamental concept of CBT is that no event has meaning in itself, we give events the meaning. This implies that the client, not the outside world has control over their perceptions. They encourage clients to re-evaluate and examine views that don’t serve them well and also explore alternative solutions. CBT is also used to highlight to the client that they need to take responsibility and have the commitment that is needed in order to be successful in their desired goals, changes, etc. and client own their solutions and CBC coaches help in this process. They also encourage flexible, open thinking versus restricted, narrow thinking when approaching problems.
How CBT Can Positively Influence Negative Thinking
In the present day today Bandura concept’s influenced Beck’s Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). CBT was developed in the 1960’s and are based on the premise of negative interpretation of internal or external events to can contribute to distress. According to Wells & Karin (2003) people can maintain negative thinking and negative behavior in addition to dysfunctional beliefs. Many therapy’s deal with a number of problems in which CBT has proven to be effect. This includes depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, drug and drinking addictions, health anxiety, and medically unexplained symptoms.
Depression is the idea that depression is maintained by negative thoughts about oneself, the world and the future (p.56). Hopelessness is usually prevalent and is a major contributor to suicide. These negative thinking patterns are seen as cognitive distortions or thinking errors which lead to negative appraisals, beliefs, and mood. Depression can reduced behavior activity, and interferes with effective problems solving along with a low mood all affect behavior and thought. CBT teaches people to identify self defeating behaviors patterns and identify errors in logical thinking. Thinking errors include arbitrary inference where individuals draw conclusion without supporting evidence. Personalization is the tendency to relate external events to one self unnecessarily. Selective abstraction is focusing on a detail of a situation and taking it out of content. Overgeneralization is generalizing rules or conclusions based on isolated incidents.
Dichotomous thinking is the tendency to view experience in all or nothing terms. Magnification/minimization is over evaluating or under evaluating significance or importance in an event. They are a variety of methods used to challenge individuals and help them in the process, when these distorted perceptions occur. Many of these thinking errors are found not only in depression, but also, anxiety disorders (generalized, social, etc.), panic disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder and phobias. Many studies have found CBT to be more effective against antidepressants, other psychological treatments, and placebo treatments.
Integration of CBT & Coaching
I have also found that the HealthCare industry is starting to integrate CBT therapy and coaching together to address low moods, managing stress, coping skills and assertiveness just to name a few topics. Northumbria HealthCare offers such integrated coaching services and states that
a Cognitive Behavior Therapy Coach can help identify a person’s main difficulties through an assessment and discuss how they can be managed. CBT Coaches can help to develop and strengthen ways of coping with problems and in turn ‘help people to help themselves (Northumbria HealthCare website).
Springman (2012), an Empowerment Coach, states that can help clients to improve their self esteem by helping clients with their self talk, limiting beliefs, which help to move clients forward to reach their goals.
Anxiety & How CBC Help
The basis of Bandura’s theory was that if people learn abnormal behaviors from others that they can use behavior modification to alter their socially unacceptable behaviors. Cognitive Behavior therapy is widely used with people who experience anxiety or panic disorders. In this type of therapy people are asked to think through the logic of their anxiety. For example, if a person experiences an anxiety attack the therapist may ask what their fear is. If the person response that they are afraid that they will pass out and die when their heart beats fast the therapist may ask the following questions. Have you passed out before? What happened? Did you die any of the times you passed out? Next he may have the client run in place to speed their heart rate up.
This is done to help the client realize that they will indeed not pass out as they feared and if they do they will not in fact die. Over a series of these kinds of exercises they may realize that their fears are not justified and irrational. They learn how to modify their thought process which in turns modified their behavior. While it is stressed that coaching is not therapy, I believe that clients who have anxiety that does not necessarily warrant therapy can be helped by this CBT approach. Neenan & Palmer use CBT approaches to address non-clinical levels of anxiety in which CBC can be used to help people with anxieties about public speaking. They address questions such as, what are their fears and explore, what is the plan if the “worst case scenario” did happen or alternative to help solve the problem (if my hands shake during a speech I can put them in my pockets).
The idea of having clients present evidence to fears can be powerful in re-assessing their fears when there is a lack of evidence to support their ideas. This can provide a good framework for coaches to help client reframe their anxiety, fears, doubts, etc.
In conclusion, I believe that CBT has been well developed. It’s a tested and proven effective therapy approach in psychotherapy to treat clients. Coaching paradigms borrow from the field of psychology so coaches should be open to using CBT/CBC, since it’s been proven to be effective in therapy and coaching. Though coaches should be aware of when to suggest therapy for clients we can see that CBC can still be used in a coaching context to address lesser forms of anxiety, lack of self-confidence, self esteem, etc. It is my belief that to be human we all encounter these types of feelings at times and maybe it is not enough of a long term issue that calls for therapy (i.e. maybe it’s situational vs. a persistent mental illness) and that is when coaching can be a right fit for clients.
We can also see that psychotherapist and the psychology field is also starting to integrate coaching into their therapeutic practice. I believe that as time evolves we will see a growing trend by therapist to use coaching as well and vice versa. The client will benefit greatly by the traditional approach to therapy (looking at the past) and benefit with coaching methods (looking at the present and future). As Neenan & Palmer describes CBC is a systematic process in which the client and coach work together that have the client problem solve vs. the coach handing over solutions. This leads to greater independence, self reliance, and confidence in managing their own lives and reaching goals. And that I believe this concept is the fundamental aim in serving clients as an effective coach.
Bandura, A. (2001). Self-efficacy beliefs as shapers of children’s aspirations and career trajectories. Child Development, 189, 190-198
Bandura, A. (2001). Social cognitive theory in cultural context Applied Psychology, 269-270
Berger, V (2005). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Psychologist Anywhere Anytime.
Retrieved March 2, 2014 from http://www.psychologistanywhereanytime.com
Corcoran, K.J (1991). Efficacy, skills, reinforcement and choice behavior. American Psychologist, 4-9
Fireman, C. (2002). The effects on self-observation on child’s problem solving. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 2-4
Grusec, J.E (1992). Social learning theory and development psychology, the legacies of Robert Sears and Albert Bandura. Development Psychology, 1-8
McMahon, G. Retrieved on March 6, 2014 from http://www.cognitivebehaviouralcoachingworks.com/
Neenan, M. & Palmer, S. (2012) Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Coaching. Retrieved on February 2, 2014 from
Northumbria HealthCare (2011). Retrieved on March 4, 2014 from http://www.northtynesidebrighterminds.com
Ozer, M. & Bandura, A. (1990). Mechanisms governing empowerment effects; a self efficacy analysis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1, 3-5
Springmann, K. (2012). Cognitive-Behavioral to Improve Self Esteem for Coaching
Clients. Retrieved on February 25, 2014 from https://coachcampus.com
Wells, A. & Carter, K. (2003). Cognitive behavior therapy, developments is CBT. Journal of Psychology, 1, 3-6