Case conceptualization in action as coach and coachee have a one on one session

What Role Does Psychology Play in Coaching?

June 14, 2023

Posted by BOLDLY

Coaching psychology serves as a crucial mechanism for augmenting the performance and well-being of individuals and organizations. By merging positive psychology coaching methodologies and evidence-based techniques, clients are able to unlock their maximum potential, overcome obstacles, and attain personal and professional triumph.

Positive psychology coaching techniques have materialised as a potent instrument to expedite personal and professional development. These techniques concentrate on cultivating clients' strengths, nurturing a growth mindset, and fortifying resilience against adversity. By incorporating these methods into practice, coaches can assist clients in achieving heightened satisfaction, well-being, and success in their personal and professional endeavours.

Supplementary strategies permit coaches to deliver targeted interventions that cater to the distinct requirements of their clients. As corporations progressively acknowledge the merit of investing in human capital, the demand for psychology-driven coaching services escalates within the market.

Here are more positive psychology coaching techniques worth looking into.

Strengths-Based Approach

What it is: 

The strengths-based approach is a positive psychology coaching technique focusing on identifying and leveraging an individual's strengths rather than solely addressing their weaknesses or problems. This method encourages clients to build upon their existing abilities and resources, fostering a sense of empowerment and self-confidence.

How it applies to coaching: 

Coaches utilizing a strengths-based approach work with clients to identify their core strengths, values, and talents. Together, they develop strategies for using these strengths to overcome challenges and achieve personal and professional goals. By emphasizing what clients excel at, coaches create a supportive environment that fosters growth and resilience, ultimately helping clients to thrive even in the face of adversity.

Growth Mindset Coaching

What it is: 

Growth mindset coaching is rooted in the belief that an individual's abilities and intelligence can be developed through dedication, effort, and persistence. This perspective contrasts with a fixed mindset, which assumes talent and intelligence are innate and unchangeable traits.

How it applies to coaching: 

Coaches employing a growth mindset approach help clients recognize and challenge limiting beliefs, encouraging them to adopt a more flexible view of their abilities. They promote the idea that setbacks and failures are opportunities for learning and growth rather than indicators of inherent limitations.

two colleagues having a coaching session

Cognitive Behavioural Coaching

What it is: 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a therapeutic approach that focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviours. While it is primarily used in clinical settings by mental health professionals, some elements of CBT can be applied in coaching as well.

How it applies to coaching:

Here are a few ways CBT principles may be incorporated into coaching:

  1. Identifying and challenging limiting beliefs: Coaches can help individuals recognize and question their negative beliefs or self-defeating thoughts that may be holding them back. By challenging these beliefs and replacing them with more positive and empowering ones, clients can develop a more constructive mindset.
  2. Setting and achieving goals: CBT emphasizes the importance of setting specific and realistic goals. Coaches can assist individuals in clarifying their objectives and breaking them down into smaller, manageable steps. By addressing any cognitive obstacles or self-sabotaging behaviours along the way, clients can enhance their chances of success.
  3. Monitoring thoughts and emotions: Coaches can encourage clients to become more aware of their thoughts, emotions, and the connection between them. By recognizing unhelpful thinking patterns, such as catastrophizing or all-or-nothing thinking, individuals can learn to challenge and reframe their thoughts, leading to more positive emotions and behaviours.
  4. Behaviour modification techniques: Coaches can utilize behaviour modification techniques from CBT, such as behavioural experiments, to help clients test and challenge their assumptions or fears. These experiments involve gradually exposing clients to situations they perceive as challenging, allowing them to gather evidence that contradicts their negative beliefs and promotes change.
  5. Developing coping strategies: Coaches can help clients develop effective coping strategies for managing stress, anxiety, or other emotional challenges. This may involve teaching relaxation techniques, problem-solving skills, or encouraging the use of positive affirmations to counteract negative thinking.

It's important to note that while some aspects of CBT can be useful in coaching, coaches should be aware of their professional boundaries and limitations, and buyers of coaching should ensure this conversation about boundaries is had between the coach and coachee up front. Coaches are not necessarily trained mental health professionals, and if a client requires more intensive therapeutic intervention, they should be referred to a qualified therapist, psychologist or counselor.

Case Conceptualization

What it is: 

Case conceptualization is a process used by coaches, therapists, and other mental health professionals to develop a comprehensive understanding of a client's unique situation, challenges, and strengths. This process involves gathering information about the client's background, experiences, beliefs, and current circumstances and then organizing this information into a coherent framework that informs the coaching or therapeutic intervention.

How it applies to coaching: 

In the context of coaching, case conceptualization enables coaches to tailor their approach to the specific needs and goals of each client. By developing a thorough understanding of a client's presenting concerns, motivations, and resources, coaches can design targeted interventions that effectively address the client's unique challenges and capitalize on their strengths.

It's important to note that case conceptualization is not inherently better or worse than other techniques mentioned above, such as strengths-based approach, growth mindset coaching, or solution-focused coaching. Rather, case conceptualization is a complementary process that enhances the effectiveness of these coaching techniques by providing a comprehensive understanding of the client's unique situation. But today, we’ll focus on this technique and discuss it in more detail below.

Case Conceptualization in Focus

A case conceptualization or case formulation is a common practice across the psychology profession - including clinical, counselling, forensic psychology and psychotherapy. It is a science-based approach to documenting the themes of a therapy or treatment session, enabling the practitioner to make notes concerning the research basis for their treatment, and to reflect on their emerging understanding of the client, and their own learning about the dynamics of the therapeutic relationship.

As Lane and Corrie (2009) point out: “Its purpose is to provide a descriptive and explanatory narrative that the client and practitioner can use to plan interventions. The case conceptualization also provides useful documentation and a reflective resource to be utilized between a practitioner and their supervisor, in a confidential relationship where the goal is to support the therapist in their role for the client.

The case conceptualization has been popularized in coaching as the coaching psychology field has matured. No longer is it acceptable for a coach to do a3-day course and hang a shingle - they need to qualify by professional standards, abide by a code of ethics, take on training with a foundation preferably in psychology, and demonstrate their use of best-practice techniques and processes ongoing.

This is especially the case for executive coaching, however itis becoming the quality benchmark requirement for coaching at all levels. After all - coaches work in a close relationship with their clients, and are there to work through not only key life and career decisions, but also critical work relationships and mental health. A coach must know where the boundaries of their skill and practice are in helping their clients, and this is where a case conceptualization comes into play. Not only does it enable the coach to crystallizethe themes and concepts of the coaching engagement, acting as a tool for reflection and insight, it also aims to ensure that the coach knows when they’ve ‘reached their limit’ in assisting a client.

Notebook page that says new mindset new results as proof of effective coaching

Does the coach share the case conceptualization with the client?

The coach should have a private version of the case conceptualization, where they can explore their true thoughts and reflect on the themes emerging from coaching. The client should select a coach based on their chemistry, and this means the coach may sometimes surface hard feedback or limiting themes for the coachee. The coach needs their own private space in the case conceptualization to work through their understanding to be of the highest service to the coaches.

However, there will be elements of the case conceptualization that will be co-created with the coachee, and that the coach will share or bring to coaching sessions. The act of appropriate sharing of a case conceptualization can bring both parties to a higher level of understanding about the performance, relationship, wellness or identity themes the coachee is experiencing, for example. By sharing elements of the case conceptualization, the client may see patterns, such as triggering thoughts or limiting beliefs. In this way, a case conceptualization can have huge impact and utility in terms of driving greater self-awareness and insight for the coachee.

If you’re a buyer of coaching, should you expect a case conceptualization?

As a buyer, whether you’re HR, a business leader, or buying coaching for yourself, you can certainly ask your coach if they keep a case conceptualization record for their engagements. If you have a junior engagement (eg, MBA career coaching) it’s unlikely that the coach will have a formulation (although they should have a clear note-taking process and secure record keeping!). However, as you get into executive coaching, they should certainly be practicing case formulation. If you’re an HR or business leader, you should not expect to see the case conceptualization, as the case is confidential to the coachee. However, you can ask the coach about their process.

Although coaching has become a challenge especially as people started recovering from the pandemic, it’s comforting to know that several coaching bodies were able to find a workaround through remote coaching. Despite the loosening restrictions, there are still difficulties in holding face-to-face sessions; thankfully, with the help of technology, coaches are bridging the learning gap between them and their clients.

Here are more resources on the topic of case conceptualisations:

​​Case Formulation and the Coaching Psychologist, September 2009, Educational Psychology Review 4:1750-2764, Project: Supervision in Psychological Professions - building a personalised model. Authors: David Lane