How to Coach a Client when they Distort the Facts: A Simple 3 Step Framework

Client and Coach Discussing Cognitive Distortion at Desk

Does your client keep distorting the facts? Do they focus on the negative and ignore the positive? Are they determined to blame others or themselves or keep jumping to conclusions? Do they keep themselves small with limiting beliefs?

They may be using a Cognitive Distortion!

People come to coaching to learn about themselves, to set goals and create a more meaningful life.

So when your client uses a Cognitive Distortion, it's a great opportunity to raise your client's awareness, reduce unnecessary mental suffering—and open up new possibilities for them. 

Simply put a Cognitive Distortion is where people distort the facts, words or their own experience, usually in a negative way. And this can get in the way of our clients moving forwards.

Here's a simple 3-step framework for when you notice a Cognitive Distortion

When we coach clients around a cognitive distortion, the focus is to 1) raise their awareness and 2) challenge the underlying (usually negative) assumptions.

  1. First clarify what they're saying: So, you're saying that the time you spent writing that article is completely wasted because you didn't get it finished in time to submit it?
  2. Secondly, challenge the distortion.
    • Hmmmmm. I wonder. Was that time completely wasted?
    • What other ways are there of looking at the situation?
  3. Thirdly, open up some options for a different way to look at things.
    • Where else could you submit the article?
    • What else could you do with the incomplete article
    • How was the experience of writing the article?
    • What other criteria could you use to measure how successfully your time is spent?
    • What did you learn from this experience?


It's important NOT to try and show up the distortion as being "right" or "wrong" as this may activate their critic or a knee-jerk response.

Instead, help your client see that there are other ways of seeing things that may serve them better.

Wrap up

In deciding how to proceed, the question to ask yourself as a coach is:

  • Is this distortion opening up possibilities for my client—or closing them down?

You may also like our:

  • Free Coaching Tool: a handy reference list of the 10 Most Common Cognitive Distortions to use in session or give out to clients, complete with helpful descriptions and examples of how they are used!
Emma-Louise Elsey Headshot

Contributing Author:

Emma-Louise Elsey has been coaching since 2003 and is the Founder of The Coaching Tools Company and Fierce She's passionate about coaching and personal development. Originally a project and relationship manager for Fortune 500 companies she combined her love of coaching, creativity and systems to create over 100 brandable coaching tools, forms and exercises including 30+ completely free coaching tools. She now serves coaches and the coaching world through her exclusive newsletter for coaches, Coaches Helping Coaches Facebook Group and many other great tools for coaches, plus resources and ideas for your coaching toolbox. The Coaching Tools Company is an official ICF Business Solutions Partner.

Learn more about Emma-Louise & see all their articles here >>

Image of Coach and Client Considering Cognitive Distortion at Desk by Michal Kowalski via Shutterstock


  1. Mary Livy

    Fantastic value.Thank you so much for sharing this huge amount of knowledge and information.It's amazing.

  2. zory

    Thanks for these wonderful set of tools to be used in coaching. Appreciated them.


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