The cognitive behavioural approach is based on the notion that a link exists between our thoughts, emotions and behaviours. Emotions are triggered by reactions to thoughts that we may or may not be consciously aware of.

We may act on the basis of these emotions, without thought of their origin or consideration for the possibility that the thoughts triggering the emotion may, in fact, be distorted or incorrect.

In the process of cognitive behavioural coaching, the aim is to examine client thinking and teach strategies to identify and change distorted thinking, emotions and beliefs as well as skills and strategy training to modify behaviours.

Main Concepts

Core beliefs: Long held, often rigid, beliefs that individuals hold about themselves, other people and the world. These beliefs may be so fundamental, a person does not recognise them as beliefs at all, but rather, as the way things are. (Example core beliefs: I am unworthy; I am lovable; I am important; I am insignificant.)

Automatic Thoughts: Words or images that go through a person’s mind without conscious effort. Automatic thoughts occur naturally and often go unnoticed by the thinker.

Behaviours: Actions carried out by an individual in response to thoughts or emotions. Behaviours are usually the only observable aspect of the Cognitive Behavioural model.

Emotions: The subjective feeling response of an individual as a result of a thought or pattern of thinking.

Consider the following scenario:

Three different people have the same experience. They all attend the same life coaching group to improve their communication skills. At one of the sessions, the coach gets them all to stand up and make a speech.

Person 1
Core Belief: Person one has a core belief that she is unlovable.
Automatic Thought: Oh no, no-one liked my speech.
Emotion: Feels rejected
Behaviour: Goes home and sulks about the task

Person 2

Core Belief: Person two has a core belief that she is important and significant.
Automatic Thought: I think I did well; I can’t wait to get my results.
Emotion: Confidence that she has done a good job and everyone liked her.
Behaviour: Stays back to speak to the teacher about how well she did.

Person 3

Belief: Person three has a core belief that she is an inadequate person.
Automatic Thought: I know I haven’t done a good job because I never do.
Emotion: Feels inadequate and stupid.
Behaviour: This person is stressed about getting results.


A part of working with clients within the CBT realm involves the identification and modification of automatic thoughts and core beliefs. Before identifying the automatic thoughts and core beliefs, the following describes a number of common thinking error categories:

All-or-nothing thinking: You see things in black and white categories. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.
Overgeneralisation: You see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.
Mental filter: You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that discolours the entire beaker of water.
Disqualifying the positive: You reject positive experiences by insisting they “don’t count” for some reason or other. You maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday experiences.
Jumping to conclusions: You make a negative interpretation even though there are no definite facts that convincingly support your conclusion.
Mind reading: You arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you and don’t bother to check it out.
The Fortune Teller Error: You anticipate that things will turn out badly and feel convinced that your prediction is an already-established fact.
Magnification (catastrophising) or minimisation: You exaggerate the importance of things (such as your goof-up or someone else’s achievement), or inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny (your own desirable qualities or the other fellow’s imperfections). This is also called the “binocular trick.”
Emotional reasoning: You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: “I feel it, therefore it must be true.”
Should statements: You try to motivate yourself with shoulds and shouldn’ts, as if you had to be whipped and punished before you could be expected to do anything. “Musts” and “oughts” are also offenders. The emotional consequence is guilt. When you direct should statements toward others, you feel anger, frustration, and resentment.
Labelling and mislabelling: This is an extreme form of overgeneralisation. Instead of describing your error, you attach a negative label to yourself: “I’m a loser.” When someone else’s behaviour rubs you the wrong way, you attach a negative label to him, “He’s a damn louse.” Mislabelling involves describing an event with language that is highly coloured and emotionally loaded.
Personalisation: You see yourself as the cause of some negative external event for which, in fact, you were not primarily responsible.

This post will continue on Part 2…

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