What is cognitive behavioral coaching?
By Rebecca Smith

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In 2010, when I made the transition from counselor to coach, I had no idea I was going to be able to blend these two disciplines. My first certificate program in coaching took a year to complete and taught me the basics of coaching — what the International Coaches Federation calls the "core competencies." This program also added the dimension of how to coach clients with substance abuse disorders and called it recovery coaching (the name originated here nine years ago).


Have you used cognitive behavioral coaching to assist employees?
  • 1. Yes
  • 2. No

My second certificate program, a graduate level, took nine months to complete and is called evidence-based coaching. This is where I first learned about cognitive behavioral coaching (CBC) and how similar it is to what I have done as a counselor using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). It was an eye-opener.

As you may know, CBT works to understand the relationship between thoughts, feelings and behaviors. It is based on Arnold Beck's work that thoughts create feelings causing behaviors to happen. "Change your thoughts, change your life," could be the mantra.

Both CBT and CBC are collaborative in nature, and time-limited — a great approach for the classic EAP model. Other similarities: both are focused, outcome-oriented, structured, skills-based and educational. Where the difference lies is in the basic models, coaching versus therapy.

Coaching focuses on the present as a way to change the future. Coaches do not work by looking at dysfunction or by delving into the client's past. Coaches are not focused on healing emotions (however, that may occur). Coaches do not explore pathology to understand the client's presenting problems. Coaches partner with the client and are solution-oriented.

As a coach I look at the individual holistically in the "here and now." I may even use a tool to help the client explore major domains of his or her life. I work with the client to establish a positive relationship as a partner. We set up a system of self-accountability that establishes progress toward meeting goals the client wants to achieve. I don't impose what I think might improve the situation the client brings in to be coached on.

For example, if a client comes up with a goal of "getting along better with her boss," I don't delve into how her boss might remind her of a parent or how she may have problems with authority figures. No! I discover what outcome she wants to achieve, then help her explore what she might do to achieve that outcome, perhaps steps to an internal shift. Then we set up a self-identified system of accountability to track those steps, perhaps using me, the coach, as her accountability partner.

Coaches use what we call "powerful questioning," a technique based on listening intuitively to the client and following what I like to call the "thread." The powerful questions follow the thread and, coupled with reflective listening, support the self-discovery necessary for the client to take ownership of her own solution.

Coaches also bring a beginner's mind to the coaching session. This means I don't have a preconceived idea about how this client is going to meet her goal. The discovery and learning is as much on the coach's part as on the client's.

It's an interesting and exciting process. The coaching model is positive, intuitive and solution-focused. As a coach, I leave the session energized and interested to hear from my client about how the accountability is going. Sometimes a client will email me between sessions and tell me. It's all great stuff.

Some possible applications of cognitive behavioral coaching are: depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD, insomnia, substance abuse disorders, codependency (enabling), work or school challenges, anger management, grief and loss or relationship issues.

Rebecca Smith, M.Ed., is a certified professional coach, with specialities in executive, personal development and behavioral health coaching. In 2009, she left Washington state after 14 years with Olalla Recovery Centers as their marketing director, intervention specialist and yoga therapist. Rebecca works out of a Tucson, Ariz., office and by telephone and Skype all over the U.S. She may be reached at 800.522.5382 or Intervention Recovery Coaching.