This paper discusses cognitive behavioural coaching (CBC) in the workplace as an approach to managing performance and dealing with cognitive and emotional barriers to goal attainment.

Through research by Dobson and Dozois (2001), Ducharme (2004) identifies that cognitive behavioural treatments can be placed into one of three categories: coping skills and therapies, problem solving therapies and cognitive restructuring therapies. This will review a model under the “problem solving category” which is effective in providing employees with the ability to identify cognitive and emotional barriers in a structured manner with one output being improved performance.

Research into workplace and executive coaching by Grant (2017) led him to believe that “as a result of professional workplace coaching, employee’s experience a greater sense of personal confidence, job satisfaction and well-being as well as being better equipped to dealing with change and workplace stress.” In addition, Grant (2009) outlines that coaching is effective in at least three cognitive and behavioural mechanisms; firstly, it provides a supporting and confidential relationship and aids the reduction of stress, secondly, it supports the process of setting and attaining goals and thirdly the engagement in ongoing coaching supports the client in dealing with setbacks and as such build’s resilience.

Coaching models.

This section reviews the ABCDE model which support clients in dealing with cognitive and emotional barriers, in addition the “model of self-regulation” will also be discussed as a framework for clients to re-enforce CBC outside the formal coaching sessions to monitor, review and modify performance ensuring that goals are attained.

The ABCDE Model – Created by Dryden & Neenan (2004); and Ellis and MacLaren (1998) this model provides a framework for the coach and client to identify, understand and manage psychological blocks caused by existing beliefs. An important part of the process is to help the client “catch” automatic thoughts and behaviours, then to identify if they are driven by one of Beck’s ten cognitive distortions. Neenan (2009), identifies that when teaching the model, it is important for the coach to explain “that A (events – past present or future) does not cause C (but contributes to it) and that B (beliefs) largely determine C (consequences)”.

Figure 1 – The A-B-C-D-E Model

A – the Activating situation (Trigger)

B – Beliefs or thoughts around the event

C – Consequences of the beliefs (includes emotions and behaviours)

D – Disputing or Distortions (challenge irrational thoughts and beliefs)

E – Effects of looking at the situation differently.

The model enables the client to identify triggers, emotional thoughts, behaviours, and associated distortions. The coach works with their client to help them track events and situations that trigger certain emotions, and automatic thoughts, by identifying the distortions the client can introduce new behaviours and thoughts creating a more positive outcome.  The “thought behaviour record form”, figure 2, is an effective way to track this process, during and after sessions, and for the client to introduce a level of “scaling” to measure their emotions.

Figure 2 – Thought / Behaviour Record Form

Source – Good, Yeganeh & Yeganeh (2010)

Once the client understands the ABCDE framework working with the “thought behaviour record form”, tracking triggers, identifying distortions, and replacing automatic thoughts with new more productive thoughts, this becomes a simple tool to manage their thoughts and behaviours, resulting in improved performance.

The model of Self-Regulation – Although not a model that focuses on dealing with cognitive and emotional barriers it is an essential part of CBC in that it provides the client with a process to evaluate, progress and improve. Grant (2003) identifies that “the coaching sessions should be underpinned by a cognitive behavioural solution-based framework”, ensuring that the focus is on the development of strengths rather than problems.

Figure 3 – Generic Model of Self-Regulation

Source – Green & Grant (2003)

In coaching sessions, I introduce the model of self-regulation, figure 3, to clients helping them start to self-coach by moving through the cycle, developing action plans, monitoring, evaluating their progress, the feedback has been extremely positive. Reflecting on this, I believe that by incorporating this model into coaching helps clients understand the coaching process and enables them to progress or self-coach in-between sessions.

For more information contact


Ducharme, M. (2004). The Cognitive-Behavioural Approach to Executive Coaching. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 56(4), 2014-224.

Grant, A. (2017). Solution-focused cognitive-behavioural coaching for sustainable high performance and circumventing stress, fatigue, and burnout. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 69(2), 98-111.

Grant, A., Curtayne, L., & Burton, G. (2009). Executive coaching enhances goal attainment, resilience, and workplace well-being: a randomised controlled study. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 4(5), 396-407.

Passmore, J. (2016). Excellence in Coaching (3rd ed., pp. 131-144,226-241). London: Kogan