What is cognitive behavioural coaching for health and wellbeing?

Cognitive Behavioural Coaching: a person-centred approach to wellbeing

Cognitive behavioural health and wellbeing coaching is based on the understanding that our individual values, beliefs and resulting thought patterns can influence our feelings about change, which in turn affect our behaviour and our ability to achieve our goals. It is fully centred on the individual and supports a process of self-examination and self-discovery. The result is a new level of insight which can empower individuals to achieve their health and wellbeing goals.

In the past, society’s approach to health and wellbeing was a predominantly one-dimensional medical approach, focused on achieving symptom improvement through medication; health (or not) in a bottle. Today we are developing a better understanding of the various causes and maintaining factors of ill-health and poor wellbeing, and are starting to recognise the benefits of taking a more active role in addressing our own wellbeing needs. Cognitive behavioural coaching suits this new approach very well. It is holistic, presupposes that nobody is completely unmotivated and empowers the individual in self-management through a method of communication called Motivational Interviewing.

Motivational Interviewing

Based on the work of William Miller and Stephen Rollnick, Motivational Interviewing is a collaborative, respectful form of interaction which activates the motivation for change. It encourages dialogue, places a strong emphasis on listening, validates the individual’s position as expert in their own life, builds confidence and is based on the belief that the way we talk to a person about their health can directly influence ambivalence about change and/or their motivation. Importantly, it is also non-directive,enabling the individual to be fully in control of identifying and setting their own goals.

Addressing barriers to change through a cognitive behavioural approach

A cognitive behavioural approach helps raise awareness of thought processes which may be preventing us from identifying our true goals or inhibiting our potential for change. Developing self-awareness in this way can be truly liberating and is particularly important in relation to goal setting for health and wellbeing where it is common to view goals in negative or obligatory terms. For example, terminology used to set health and wellbeing goals often suggests giving up or turning away from something: “I must stop eating sugary foods.” Such a phrase can lead to a host of negative feelings including guilt, fear about consequences of continued action, low self-esteem and shame – all of which can reduce or prevent feelings of motivation. With greater awareness of own thought patterns, the individual can be enabled to frame their goal in a more motivating way: “I would like to eat more healthy meals.”

With the individual fully in control of the process and increasingly able to understand their own personal barriers to change, motivation increases alongside clarity of thought. This has tremendous benefits for those living with a serious, chronic health condition, such as diabetes or heart problems, where recommended lifestyle changes, such as dietary or non-smoking advice, can be disheartening and difficult to follow. It is also very useful for supporting more general wellbeing goals such as reducing stress, taking more exercise or learning to live more easily with challenging health.

Cognitive behavioural coaching for health and wellbeing is growing in popularity. It offers us the ability to understand and accept what can and can’t be changed, while empowering us to move forward in our lives in a way which is congruent with who we truly are. Lasting change comes when the desire and motivation resonates within us – coaching for wellbeing can help us uncover our true aspirations and summon the inner resources for change.

© Michelle Drapeau, 2015

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