How to Help Your Life Coaching Clients Recognize Unhealthy Thought Patterns


When working with clients in your Christian life coaching practice, one of the biggest roadblocks your clients face is … themselves! Consider the following premise: Beliefs control thoughts, thoughts control feelings, and feelings determine actions and reactions.


Contrary to what your client—and you as a coach—believes, the truth is we do not live according to our logic, but according to our experiences.


For example, let’s say a client is extremely intelligent, successful, and in a great marriage. However, this individual comes to you looking for help to overcome a self-defeating behavior they have struggled with throughout their life. Now, it makes no sense on a logical basis that such a person would have any self-defeating behaviors. However, the self-defeating behavior is based on what the client believes to be true about themselves, i.e. “I am worthless” or “I am inadequate.” Proverbs 23:7a states this truth plainly: “For as he [a man or woman] thinketh in his heart, so is he [she].” 


A Deeper Look


One of the most effective coaching techniques you can apply in your Christian life coaching practice is helping your clients understand their belief systems and their effect on their lives. Let’s take a look at three unhealthy thought patterns a client might have and how you can help him or her take steps to correct them.


1. A Victim Mentality


To address this unhealthy thought pattern, let’s look at the cognitive “attentional bias,” or the tendency of perception to be affected by recurring thoughts. This means that our lives are a direct result of our beliefs, which control our thinking—not the events that happen to us.


Think about the following: Your perception is your reality, but reality is not necessarily your perception.  


Let’s say your client has a victim mentality and wants to move past this and create a better life. She must get in touch with her inner thoughts or self-talk. By identifying thought patterns, your client can then recognize what she believes to be true about herself—even if it isn’t logically true.


2. Thoughts Can Always be Trusted


Our brain has two functions: conserve energy and keep us alive. Our mind has two functions: to interpret life and navigate life.


The “confirmation bias” tells us that our minds cannot be trusted. Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, focus on, and remember information in a way that confirms one's preconceptions.


Let’s say that your client feels he is unlovable. The proof: Every relationship he’s been involved in ends up in a disaster. In the situation your “unlovable” client is in, he will inherently search for information, clues, and signs in a relationship that proves his unhealthy belief. In other words, your client will do anything and everything to prove he is not wrong about himself.


3. I Always, I’ll Never


How many times have you told yourself, “I’m so stupid, I always do ____________” or “I’m an idiot for _____________and I’ll never do that again!” A Christian life coach might recognize this as an inner vow. A secular life coach might call this a self-fulfilling vow. Extreme statements stem from our tendency towards the cognitive bias called “focus event.” This bias is the tendency to place too much importance on one aspect of an event. Perhaps your client says, “I’m just a doormat; I’m always giving in to what other people want.” You recognize that she is caught up in an “I’m worthless” belief and thought pattern.   


Your Role


What is your role as a life coach?


For the client with a victim mentality, you can present the premise that perceptions determine actions and decisions, which directly affect our lives. Thus, the negative thought pattern, “I’m a victim in life,” leads to having a negative and helpless perception of life. Next, you can help your client explore her thoughts and corresponding beliefs to see how these are played out in everyday life. Through asking insightful questions, you can also help your client identify external negative stimuli, such as people in her life, conversations she has, books she reads, and TV shows she watches.


After your client identifies negative thoughts and influences, you can help your client identify ways to control what she is exposed to and what she is thinking about the circumstances she’s in. When your client has control of her life, she can choose to think differently, and make decisions that have a positive impact.


For the client with a “conformation bias” you can help him identify beliefs and thoughts that are guiding him towards a specific outcome. A great way to combat this bias is to help your client “tell himself the truth.” This means you help him challenge the validity of what he thinks and believes in the light of reality.  


For the client who speaks inner vows or self-fulfilling vows about themselves, you can help her identify the negative thought patterns that lead into a particular circumstance or situation. You can ask questions such as, “Is this really always true?” “Do you really believe that you’ll never do that again?” You can also help your client identify scenarios that trigger a particular belief.


This will help her become self-aware of what she is saying or doing that leads to the negative outcome.


Drs. Simon and Trish Presland are assistant pastors at Evangel Christian Church. They are ACC, CPC life coaches and founders of the Aim Higher Life Coach Certification Training,