If one accepts that coaching is a psychotherapeutic intervention, then it might be helpful to look at what constitutes a key measure for efficacy in the expressly psychotherapeutic domain – Meta cognition.

Meta cognition is a term first coined it would seem in the 1990’s ((Main & Goldwyn, 1990)).

Meta cognition has been identified as a fundamental aspect of human cognition ((Philippi, C. L., & Koenigs, M. (2014)). Whilst there are a number of definitions that may be applied to the construct of metacognition ((Newbury – Helps, J. (2011)), perhaps the most elegant definition I have encountered for myself in researching this area is that of Allen et al. They describe meta cognition as:

“Thinking and feeling, about thinking and feeling”. - Allen, J. G., Fonagy, P., & Bateman, A. (2008).
Practitioners from Menninger discussing the role of meta cognition in human function

Meta cognition has also been variously defined as the capacity to ‘mentalise’ ((Brown, 1977)) (I propose to use the terms “meta cognition” “mentalisation” and “reflective self function” interchangeably in this section).

De Haan ((B) de Haan, E. (2012). Back to basics II)) cites a wide variety of empirical data to support his assertion that there is a clear connection between attachment and meta cognition, including the meta study carried out by Van Izendoorm ((Van Isendoorm. (1995)). This study predicted with significant statistical accuracy a link between the adult attachment interview of the caregiver ((Main, M. and Solomon, J. (1986)), and the Stranger Situation response of the child ((Ainsworh, Mary, D. (1978)) – in other words, the early attachment style which the research subject experiences through her own caregiver is predictive of how that research subject copes in later life. This strongly mirrors the findings of Bouchard et al in relation to former psychiatric patients ((Bouchard, M. A., Target, M., Lecours, S., Fonagy, P., Tremblay, L. M., Schachter, A., & Stein, H. (2008)).

This link was made patent in ground breaking work by Fonagy ((Bouchard, M.A., Target, M., Lecours,S., Fonagy. P., Tremblay, L.M., Schachter, A and Stein. H, (2008)), on the link between meta cognition and attachment. In seeking to predict the responses to nearly 100 subjects to the Adult Attachment Interview ((Ainsworth, M.D.S., Blehar, M.C., Waters, E. & Wall, S. (1978)), Fonagy was absolutely clear.

"Reflective function (meta cognition) was the only predictor of attachment status."

De Haan makes explicit what he sees as the link between attachment theory and meta cognition in relation to coaching outcomes:

"Mentalisation, or the idea that infants become independent subjects only if they are recognised as such... is first and foremost a new and empirically quantifiable way of expressing that a client might get better when listened to and understood by a thoughtful other."

((de Haan et al,. 2012 (B)).

The Lambert and Barley (2001) meta study in to efficacy in psychotherapy, predicts relationship as the largest single factor in outcome, mirroring the work of van Izendoorm meta study (cited above), highlighting once again, the value of relationship in (client) outcomes. In this way, the data from psychotherapy correlates strongly with field studies on effective executive coaching.

The research indicates that meta cognition regulates emotion, and emotion experienced in relationship impacts meta cognition, and this supports the common observations de Haan makes from the psychosocial perspective about the link between (a) attachment and meta cognition, (b) the data from field studies of executive coaching, and (c) the realm of psychotherapy, insofar as it relates in each case to the role of relationship and the effectiveness of the coaching interaction ((B) de Haan, E. (2012)).

Ochsner, et al,. (2002), using images to evoke positive and negative affect in research subjects under MRI, were able to show that the same research subjects were able to change their limbic (emotional) responses to negative affect, through self - reflection (increased cortical activity).

Daniel Lieberman was similarly able to show that through research subjects self – reflecting under task, they:

"produced an unintentional side effect – their amygdala (emotional) response to the negative expression was also inhibited."

Liebermann, M.D. (2009).

This process of self regulation, which Liebermann in his paper calls “the brains braking system”, lead to further research in the field of metacognition (See (Eisenberger, N. I., & Cole, S.W. (2012), (Fleming, S.M. and Dolan, R.J., 2012.)).

What is apparent from neuroscience is that areas of the Brain associated with those identified by Jack et al in their research as being engaged during PEA coaching, or Boyzatis during resonant leadership, Are also those engaged during meta cognition.

We can learn how to develop this attribute.

And meta cognition is measurable.

To get copies of the research papers cited above, email: julian@downthecorridor.com