July 18, 2020

Could Very Brief Cognitive Behavioural Coaching (VBCBC) help you?

By Paul Laughlin

As a break from our recent focus on a technology poll, let me share the benefit of Very Brief Cognitive Behavioural Coaching (VBCBC). Specifically the value of a book on this subject from leading academic and experienced coach, Windy Dryden.

Regular readers will recall that from time to time I share posts on coaching practice, the coaching community and books that can help. As a practising leadership coach, I share these partly because of my own interest. But I also hope they inspire both fellow coaches & potential coachees.

There are a wealth of different approaches to effective coaching and over the years I’ve seen the value of listening to each. Previous posts have shared on Narrative Coaching, the Integrated Leadership Model & the Thinking Environment. In this post, I turn my attention to the benefits of Cognitive Behavioural Coaching within a very limited time period.

My coaching supervisor recommended this book and I’m glad that they did. “Very Brief Cognitive Behavioural Coaching (VBCBC)” by Windy Dryden is a hugely practical book. He passes on lessons for better practice as a coach that are of relevance far beyond just using his VBCBC method.

Being under 160 pages and broken into short chapters with bite sized sections and a clear structure – this is very accessible. In fact Windy’s approach to presenting his material works both for ease of reading and ease of later reference. Let me walk you through the key content.

Definitions, understanding VBCBC

In the first 2 parts (4 chapters), Windy walks the reader briefly through definitions. Defining coaching, cognitive behavioural coaching (CBC) and very brief cognitive behavioural coaching (VBCBC). The latter is really just effective CBC coaching in only 1 to 3 sessions. Windy uses a couple of definitions as a basis for explaining several aspects of this method. I prefer the shorter one:

“A collaborative, goal-directed endeavour using multimodal learning methods to help individuals develop their capabilities and remove any psychological blocks that interfere with this process”.

Neenan & Palmer (2012)

From my experience, the key aspect of that is recognising that this is work together to remove blockages/barries. What Nancy Kline likes to call “limiting assumptions“.

These first four chapters do a great job at helping you quickly recognise when a VBCBC approach might be appropriate. When it might suit both you as a coach and the needs of your coachee. His chapter on the ‘coaching alliance‘ is well worth reading for all coaches. Recognising what you both need to bring to this collaboration is perhaps a better way to think about contracting.

Ensuring the inputs are right

Much research exists to evidence that one of the biggest predictors of coaching success is the client (or coachee). However, this can sometimes be presented as something the coach just has to hope for. That a client will positively engage. You can be left feeling you just have to be really selective in picking clients.

These two chapters help coaches think about this in more detail. Chapter 5 lists indications (and counter-evidence) that VBCBC might be a suitable approach for a client.

The next chapter goes on to help you think through the skills and characteristics needed. Those that are helpful if a VBCBC way of working is to be effective. He lists both what the coach and coachee can bring. This is a helpful way to think about a potential relationship.

Walking through the VBCBC process

In part 4, the majority of this short book, Windy walks the reader through the process to follow. This is my favourite part of the book. As well as the brevity and structure that help throughout, here there are so many useful examples.

In many ways this is Windy walking his own talk. Within a limited number of pages, by managing to have a consistent structure & approach he conveys so much & sparks your own thinking. What this part adds in addition, are regular examples. These are both questions that might help & transcripts from genuine sessions (anonymised). These really bring this approach to life.

The process that Windy proposes is:

  1. Getting the fit right: a revisiting in practical detail of selecting appropriate clients & contracting well.
  2. Laying the foundations: wise advice for more preparatory work with a client including things to discover before your first session.
  3. Setting a development-based objective or problem-based goal: steps to follow and questions to ask to help the client reach clarity & prioritise. Identifying the ‘adversity‘, ‘behaviour‘ & consequences‘ (in the ABC model).
  4. Devising and implementing the action plan: useful guidance when you have a development-based objective, enabling accountability.
  5. Addressing the problem & implementing a solution: this is the crux of the method (and the only part where I would have liked more detail), identifying how more helpful thinking could be put into action.
  6. Identifying and dealing with obstacles: helpful prompts to identify with the coachee what might hinder them in future & to prepare.
  7. Ending & Follow-Up: Windy’s advice not just on concluding well to set a client up for success, but also following-up later inspired me. Too often as coaches, we can fail to learn from longer-term results.

Having now had a number of opportunities to put Windy’s method into practice, I can attest to how useful this material proved to be. It is not easy. As a coach, there is more to remember, whilst also giving the coachee quality attention. However, I have also found Windy’s structure and potential questions to be a really useful map for those journeys.

I mentioned before that this book has wider application for coaches than just applying there VBCBC method. Two that have stayed with me are the bookends of this approach:

  • Put more effort into preparation. Ask more questions of the client prior to first session. Learn how to tailor your approach to their personality and resources.
  • Follow-up more consistently. Ensuring the client has thought through how to sustain success in longer-term. Following-up to learn from their experience 6 months to 1 year later.

Closing in a helpfully human way

As well as encouraging words in the epilogue and lessons from his experience throughout, I love the way this book closes.

In the first appendix you have a complete transcript of a VBCBC session. Remarkably it is only 12 minutes 2 seconds long. But, even in that short time, this case study brings to life how the process works in real life.

Akin to the way I was so encouraged by Erik de Haan’s peek behind the closed doors of executive coaching, this insight helps pull back the curtain.

If you are a coach seeking to develop your repertoire or a leader seeking effective coaching in a limited time period, I recommend this book. I will continue to keep my eyes & ears open to when this approach will help my clients. I’ve also adopted this model for my free offer to help business leaders facing difficult decisions right now. I hope it helps you too.