The Science of Behaviour Change : How Contextual Behavioural Coaching Drives Results
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In an increasingly complex and fast-paced world, people seek coaches to help them overcome obstacles, unlock potential, and lead more vital lives. But with so many approaches, how can coaches empower fundamental transformation?
Contextual behavioural coaching integrates robust, empirical research on human psychology to foster positive behaviour change. This evidence-based framework creates a customisable path to help clients thrive.
Understanding Contextual Behavioral Coaching
Contextual behavioural coaching is grounded in a field known as contextual behavioural science (CBS). This analyses behaviours in light of their context to predict better and influence outcomes (Hayes, Barnes-Holmes & Wilson, 2012).
CBS builds on behavioural psychology principles but further explains complex human language, cognition, and behaviour. Concepts like relational frame theory provide a modern behavioural account of how humans derive meaning and form rules that govern actions (Hayes, 2001).
With precise, flexible principles backed by fundamental research, CBS offers coaches a robust framework for facilitating change. Contextual behavioural coaching applies this science to coaching in a pragmatic way.
A key focus is psychological flexibility – a client’s capacity to take values-driven action despite complex thoughts, feelings or experiences that arise (Hayes et al., 2006). Techniques like metaphor and mindfulness help clients alter their relationship with unhelpful thoughts and move toward what matters (Foody et al., 2014).
Why Contextual Behavioral Coaching Works
There are good reasons why contextual behavioural coaching helps drive transformation:
1. Targets Experiential Avoidance
Many clients struggle to make changes because complex thoughts, emotions, or memories show up. Out of aversion, they refrain from taking values-aligned action. CBS provides tools like acceptance and cognitive defusion to reduce this experiential avoidance so clients can move forward (Hayes et al., 1996).
2. Focuses on Values
Values create a compass to guide committed action. Clarifying what matters for a client provides purpose and motivation to tackle obstacles (Wilson et al., 2010). Progress flows from meaningful qualities of living, not just symptom reduction.
3. Promotes Psychological Flexibility
Clients learn to act on values even amidst challenging inner experiences. This psychological flexibility is key for adapting to situations and constraints (Kashdan & Rottenberg, 2010). Coaches guide clients to dance with difficulties through metaphor, mindfulness, and experiential exercises.
4. Provides Flexible, Precise Principles
CBS offers a customisable framework based on functional processes, not predefined techniques (Hayes et al., 2012). Coaches combine methods to match each client's needs and objectives.
5. Supports Measurement
Tools like the Valued Living Questionnaire assess psychological flexibility and values progress (Wilson et al., 2010). This allows coaches to track effectiveness and guide intervention.
6. Offers an Extensive Toolset
With over 125 trials across clinical and nonclinical populations, CBS has a vast toolbox to address diverse behavioural challenges (Levin et al., 2012). Coaches tailor each approach.
7. Aligns With Coaching Mindsets
Unlike therapy treatment packages, CBS focuses on goals, awareness, and the coaching relationship to support growth. This integrative perspective fits well with coaching.
Research on Contextual Behavioral Coaching
A growing body of research confirms why contextually behavioural coaching delivers results:
- Multiple meta-analyses show CBS interventions like ACT reduce anxiety, depression, addictions, stress, and more, with effects equal to other empirically-supported treatments (A-Tjak et al., 2015; Ost, 2014).
- CBS methods help clients across life domains, from mental health to weight loss to occupational stress (Lillis et al., 2009; Forman et al., 2013).
- Psychological flexibility strongly predicts vital outcomes like work engagement, performance, learning, and well-being (Bond & Bunce, 2003).
- An ACT-based workplace intervention reduced employee absenteeism among those at risk for disability (Dahl et al., 2004).
- Coaching focused on values and committed action improved career satisfaction and performance more than traditional coaching (Spence & Grant, 2007).
- Even brief ACT coaching boosts outcomes like exercise enjoyment and fitness (Ivanova et al., 2015).
With a vast evidence base supporting CBS principles, contextual behavioural coaching is a proven path to help clients thrive.
5 Key Takeaways on Contextual Behavioral Coaching
For coaches looking to enable impactful change, here are five key takeaways on contextual behavioural coaching:
1. Assess Psychological Flexibility
Measure clients’ ability to act on values when facing unpleasant internal experiences. This offers a focus for coaching.
2. Clarify Values
Uncover what matters to clients to motivate behaviour change. Link actions to chosen life directions.
3. Use Acceptance Strategies
Apply defusion, mindfulness, and metaphor to handle complex thoughts, feelings, and memories when they arise.
4. Build Committed Action
Support clients to keep taking small steps toward values even when challenging. Momentum builds willingness.
5. Customise the Approach
Combine CBS tools and tailor them to each client’s needs and context based on the function of their behaviour.
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