Distinctions and boundaries between cognitive behavioural therapy and cognitive behavioural coaching

Distinctions and boundaries between cognitive behavioural therapy and cognitive behavioural coaching

by Professor Stephen Palmer, PhD, City University London, UK.

Evidence based cognitive behavioural therapy and cognitive behavioural coaching are underpinned by similar cognitive theories, models and frameworks. Yet, their application to their client groups may differ depending upon the training, background and knowledge of the practitioner. In addition, cognitive behavioural coaching has been influenced by the positive psychology paradigm with the focus on strengths as opposed to weaknesses. Paradoxically Palmer believes that his practice of cognitive behavioural therapy has been improved by reflecting on his ‘cut to the chase’ cognitive behavioural coaching practice! This paper will consider some of the main similarities and differences in the application of cognitive behavioural therapy and cognitive behavioural coaching and asks what the world of therapy could learn from the practice of coaching, if anything.

Literature informing the paper

Curwen, B., Palmer, S. & Ruddell. P. (2000). Brief Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. London: Sage.

de Freitas, S. B., Habib, L.R., Sardinha, A., King, A.L.S., Barbosa, G.,  Coutinho, F.C.,  Martiny-Costa, C., de Carvalho, M.R., Palmer, S., Nardi, A.E. & Dias, G.P.  (2014). Cognitive-behavioural therapy and cognitive-behavioural coaching: differences and similarities between the two approaches. Revista Brasileira de Terapias Cognitivas, 10, 1.

Gyllensten, G., Palm Beskow, A. & Palmer, S. (2011). Psykologisk Coaching. Stockholm: Natur & Kultur.

Neenan, M. & Palmer, S. (2001). Cognitive Behavioural Coaching. Stress News, 13, 3, 15-18.

Neenan, M. & Palmer, S. (2012). Cognitive Behavioural Coaching in Practice: An Evidence Based Approach. Hove: Routledge.

O'Connell, B., Palmer, S. & Williams, H. (2012). Solution Focused Coaching in Practice. Hove: Routledge.

Palmer, S. (Ed) (2015). The Beginner’s Guide to Counselling and Psychotherapy. London: Sage.

Palmer, S., Cooper, C. & Thomas, K. (2003) Creating a Balance: Managing Stress. London: British Library.

Palmer, S. & McDowall, A. (2010). The Coaching Relationship: Putting People First. Hove: Routledge.

Palmer, S. & Whybrow, A. (2007). Handbook of Coaching Psychology: A guide for practitioners. Hove: Routledge.

Szymanska, K. & Palmer, S. (2012). Understanding CBT: Develop Your Own Toolkit to Reduce Stress and Increase Well-being. London: Kogan Page.


Professor Stephen Palmer PhD is Founder Director of the Centre for Coaching, Centre for Stress Management, and the International Academy for Professional Development, London, UK. In 2001 he became the UK’s first Visiting Professor of Work Based Learning and Stress Management at the Institute for Work Based Learning, Middlesex University. In 2016 he became an Adjunct Professor of Coaching Psychology at the Coaching Psychology Research Unit, Aalborg University, Denmark. He is Honorary Consultant Director of the Coaching Psychology Unit at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Founder Director and Fellow of the Society for Dialectical Behaviour Therapy. He is Founder Co-Chair of the BABCP London Branch and Co-Chair of the BABCP Compassion Special Interest Group.

He is a Chartered Psychologist, Chartered Scientist, Chartered Biologist, an Association for Professional Executive Coaches & Supervisors (APECS) Accredited Executive Coach and APECS Accredited Executive Coach Supervisor, an International Society for Coaching Psychology Accredited Coaching Psychologist and Supervisor, an International Academy of Behavioral Medicine, Counseling & Psychotherapy Diplomate in Professional Coaching and counselling, an Albert Ellis Institute Certified Supervisor of Rational Emotional Behaviour Therapy, an AREBT Accredited Supervisor, Therapist, Coach & Trainer, and BABCP Accredited Therapist. He holds the European Certificate of Counsellor Accreditation and European Certificate in Psychology (clinical and health). He is on the BPS SGCP Register of Coaching Psychologists. His PhD thesis was titled, Stress: Theoretical and Applied Perspectives.

He is Honorary President of the International Society for Coaching Psychology, Honorary Fellow and Honorary President of the International Stress Management Association (UK), Honorary Fellow and Vice President of the Institute of Health Promotion and Education and a Director and Vice Chair of the Association for Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy. He was the first Honorary President of the Association for Coaching and is now an Honorary Life Fellow. He was the first Chair of the British Psychological Society Special Group in Coaching Psychology and was Past Chair of the original Coaching Psychology Forum. He is former Chair of the Scientific Awards Committee of the British Psychological Society’s Division of Counselling Psychology. In 2001 he was chair of the BACP Online Counselling Working Party. He is Fellow of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, the Royal Society of Public Health, Association of International Accountants, the Royal Society of Arts and a Member of the Chartered Management Institute. In addition to his academic work, he has run his own group of companies for 40 years and he is the publisher at Coaching at Work magazine. He is an Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society and the Albert Ellis Institute for Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy in New York.  In addition to his lecturing he is a trainer and a consultant to industry, retail trade, banks, manufacturing, trade unions and the police force. He was on the Advisory Panel for the CIPD 2004 publication Coaching and Buying Coaching Services: A Guide. He was an Academic Consultant for the Surrey Police Deepcut Investigation Final Report and was a Specialist Advisor to the House of Commons Defence Select Committee on the Duty of Care Inquiry 2004-2005. He appears on national and local television and radio and writes for national newspapers. In his 2004 BBC 1 television series, The Stress Test, he demonstrated cognitive therapy and cognitive coaching.

He is Co-Editor of the International Coaching Psychology Review, founding Executive Editor of Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice, Consultant Editor of the International Journal of Health Promotion and Education, Consultant Editor of The Coaching Psychologist, and Co-editor of the Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapist, and former Editor of Counselling Psychology Review and Stress News. He is on the editorial boards of a number of journals. He has written over 225 articles and authored or edited 47 books including Dealing with People Problems at Work (with Burton, McGraw-Hill, 1996), Client Assessment (with McMahon, Sage, 1997), Stress Counselling: A Rational Emotive Behaviour Approach (with Ellis, Gordon and Neenan, Cassell, 1997; Springer, 1997), Handbook of Counselling (with McMahon, Routledge, 1997), Integrative Stress Counselling (with Milner, Cassell, 1998), Conquer Your Stress (with Cooper, IPD, 2000), Counselling: The BACP Counselling Reader Vol 2 (with Milner, Sage, 2001), Multicultural Counselling (Sage, 2002), Creating a Balance: Managing Stress (with Cooper and Thomas, British Library, 2003), Achieving Excellence in Your Coaching Practice: How to run a Highly Successful Coaching Business (with McMahon and Wilding, Routledge, 2005), Moody to Mellow (with Wilding, Hodder, 2006), Suicide: Strategies and Interventions for Reduction and Prevention (Routledge, 2007), the Handbook of Coaching Psychology (with Whybrow, Routledge, 2007), The Practitioner’s Handbook (with Bor, Sage, 2008), The Coaching Relationship: Putting People First (with McDowall, 2010), Beat self-esteem with CBT (with Wilding, 2010), Developmental Coaching: Life Transitions & Generational Perspectives (with Panchal, 2011) and Cognitive Behavioural Coaching: An evidence based approach (with Neenan, 2012), The Beginner’s Guide to Counselling and Psychotherapy (Sage, 2015), Psychological Stress, Vols 1,2,3, (with Gyllensten, Sage. 2015), and Psychological Resilience and Wellbeing Vols 1,2,3, (with Gyllensten, Sage. 2015). He edits a number of book series including Coaching Psychology (Routledge), Stress Counselling (Sage), Essential Coaching Skills and Knowledge Series (Routledge), and Brief Therapies (Sage). 

Palmer received from the British Psychological Society, Division of Counselling Psychology, the Annual Counselling Psychology Award for 'Outstanding professional and scientific contribution to Counselling Psychology in Britain for 2000'. The Institute of Health Promotion and Education awarded him an Honorary Fellowship for his 'Outstanding contribution to the theory and practice of health promotion and health education'. In 2004 he received an Achievement Award from the Association for Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy. In 2008 the British Psychological Society, Special Group in Coaching Psychology gave him the 'Lifetime Achievement Award in Recognition of  Distinguished contribution to coaching psychology', awarded at the 1st European Coaching Psychology Conference, 2008.  His pastimes include jazz, astronomy, travel, coastal walking, writing and art.