The real work begins with cognitive based coaching. What often blocks the way in moving the client forward are self-limiting/defeating thoughts and beliefs (I can’t afford to make any mistakes), counterproductive behaviors (indecisiveness) and troublesome emotions (prolonged anxiety). CBC helps clients to identify, examine and change such thoughts and beliefs, develop productive behaviors and become more skilled at emotional management. The focus is on the client’s current concerns. The ultimate goal of CBC is for the client to become her own coach to tackle present and future challenges (Neenan, 2008).
CBC is a two fold approach to goal attainment – psychological and the practical. The psychological is to remove the stumbling blocks to change such things as procrastination, self-doubt, self-limiting beliefs and inability to take action. The practical steps are to help clients develop clear goals with actionable steps. At the end of each session, it’s helpful to have the client establish three “take aways” or action items to would work on before the next session.
THE ‘ABCDE’ MODEL
Bachkirova and Cox suggest that it would be useful if we as coaches were proficient in the use of the methods of at least one counseling approaches as it could enrich the repertoire of our skills when dealing with the clients underlying issues and blocks. A CBT framework for understanding and dealing with psychological blocks in coaching is the ABCDE model (Dryden and Neenan 2004; Ellis and MacLaren 1998) and is explained as follows:
Situational A (activating event) = client’s objective description of the situation -‘Not presenting or voicing her opinion at meetings about changing the meeting length from three hours to one hour’
Critical A (activating event) = client’s subjective account of the most troubling aspect of the situation—‘My ideas might be viewed as worthless and I’ll look like a fool’
B = self-limiting/defeating beliefs triggered by the critical A—’my ideas must not be disregarded at the meeting. If they are, this will prove I’m a fool’
C = consequences: emotional – intense anxiety at every meeting, behavioral – keeps quiet, looks down to avoid eye contact, physical – continual tension, headaches, interpersonal – keeps distance from colleagues, makes excuses for keeping quiet, cognitive – catastrophic thoughts and images about the aftermath of being exposed as a ‘fool’
D = disputing or examining these self-defeating beliefs: Is this belief rigid or flexible? Does it allow for outcomes other than the one demanded which is that her ideas not be ignored or disregarded? Is it excessive for the person to call herself a ‘fool’ because her ideas might be criticized or rejected? Does this belief make sense? Because she wants an outcome not to occur (her ideas not being disregarded) does it follow logically that this outcome must not occur? Is this belief realistic? Is she able to control her colleagues’ thoughts? Is keeping this belief helpful or are the costs greater than the benefits?
E = new and effective outlook (adaptive, compassionate, balanced self- and performance-enhancing): ‘I now realize that my belief is rigid, unrealistic and keeps me stuck. The only way I’m going to find out about the quality of my ideas is by presenting them. If they are rejected, it is important for me to distinguish between my ideas being rejected and me rejecting myself because my ideas have been. If someone does think I’m a fool I certainly don’t have to agree with them. The foolish thing I’m doing is keeping quiet and thereby not developing myself as a leader and possibly jeopardizing my position (Neenan, 2008).
ABCDE Model In summary:
A – ACTIVATING EVENT
B – BELIEFS THAT ARE TRIGGERED
C – CONSEQUENCES
D – DISPUTING BELIEFS
E – EFFECTIVE NEW OUTLOOK
Through discussion, reflection, and cognitive restructuring (belief change) the client is able to see poor assumptions and unreasonable key beliefs. Stepping away from the belief and allowing space for a new belief to form is vital for change to happen. This is the most empowering view of how change occurs because it allows for other beliefs to be developed. D leads to E (about A) and modifies our reaction to C. A – Events or other people don’t cause C (but contributes to it); B (beliefs) determines C (consequences). If A caused C we would be at the mercy of events or others, but we aren’t. We have the power to change how we view the event based on our old patterns and belief systems. Clients are more likely to modify their beliefs when change is gradual and stays within their value system (Dowd, 1996).
COMMON COGNITIVE TWISTED THINKING
It’s helpful to get the client to recognize and become aware of their own twisted thinking, such as:
- All or nothing thinking – viewing events in either/or terms, ‘Either you’re for me or against me.’
- Over generalization – drawing sweeping conclusions on the basis of a single incident or insufficient evidence, ‘Since I didn’t speak well at the last event, I’ll never speak well again.’
- Mental filter – only the negative aspects of a situation are noticed, ‘Look at all the things that have gone wrong today.’
- Catastrophizing – assuming the worst and, if it occurs, the inability to deal with it, ‘It will be terrible if I don’t put up with these long meetings. I’ll be stuck forever if I make a change or make a bad decision.’
- Musts and should – rigid rules imposed on self and others, ‘I must never show any weaknesses to my colleagues’; ‘Everyone should work as long and as hard as I do.’
- Fallacy of fairness – believing in a just world, ‘Bad things won’t happen to me if I’m a good, hard working, honest person.’
- Perfectionism – striving for standards that are beyond reach or reason, ‘I must do everything perfectly or else I’m no good. A competent performance equals failure’ (Neenan, 2008).
By having the client experiment and test the soundness of their beliefs or “predictions” allowed for an opening of new possibilities and behaviors. Self-acceptance is about rating one’s abilities but not judging the performance in a definitive way that labels or limits oneself. The client can then realize that she needs to acknowledge all her positive qualities as well as her weaknesses that she want to change by learning from her mistakes so that she could make less and less of them.
Neenan reminds us, “Self-condemnation adds nothing of value or clarity to problem-solving. If clients doubt this, they can spend a week, for example, noting how much time they waste on self-condemnation and feeling frustrated when things go wrong instead of focusing on immediate problem solving. Self-acceptance can be difficult to learn but its practical effects can be seen and felt through higher levels of performance and motivation.”
He goes on to remind us of three key insights, “These can act as an aide-memoir for present and future problem-solving;”
1) How you feel and behave is mainly determined by the way you think (‘mainly’ because you are influenced, but not controlled, by other factors). You can control your emotional destiny to an extent you may never have realized by paying attention to how you think when you get upset.
2) No matter how you acquired your unhelpful beliefs, you still choose to adhere to them today (‘I didn’t get a degree so I have to keep proving I’m not stupid’) and acting in ways that strengthen these beliefs such as trying to impress graduates you work with how smart you are.
3) The way to get rid of or weaken these beliefs is to continually and firmly think and act against them by adopting more helpful and realistic beliefs, ‘I am an intelligent person because I now look at a wide range of factors connected to intelligence instead of the very narrow one of either a degree or stupidity’, and the person stops trying to impress others and lets them make up their own mind about who they really are.
CBC INQUIRY QUESTIONS
Below are some inquiry questions to help the client reflect:
- What thoughts are going through your mind in that situation?
- What stops you from (following a particular course of action)?
- What are the short and long-term costs and benefits of change?
- What is the clear and specific goal you want to achieve?
- What’s the problem with making mistakes or experiencing failure?
- What advice would you give to someone else struggling with the same issue?
- What would be the first concrete steps towards reaching your goal?
- How will you know you are making progress towards your goals?
- What would make this easy?
- What are the most valuable ideas and techniques you have received from coaching?
- Acting as a self-coach, how will you maintain and strengthen your gains from coaching?
Bachkirova, T., & Cox, E. (2005). A bridge over troubled water: bringing together coaching and counselling. Counselling at Work, 48, 2–9.
Dowd, E.T. (1996) Resistance and reactance in Cognitive therapy. International Cognitive Therapy Newsletter, 10(3), 3-5.
Neenan, Michael (2008) From Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) to Cognitive Behaviour Coaching (CBC), Springer Science + Business Media, LLC, Published online.