Short Characterization of the CDF-Based Coaching Methodology

This short article describes what makes CDF-based coaching unique and makes it different from other coaching approaches.

The CDF-based coach training method enriches approaches based on theories of adult learning by insights and practices derived from theories of adult development over the lifespan (1975-1995). CDF further enriches theories of adult development by insights derived from Critical Theory elaborated at the Frankfurt School between 1945 and 1975. Researchers of adult learning and development have only just begun to talk to each other, so that a synthesis of the two lies in the more or less distant future.

The main result of including in coaching techniques of Critical Theory (Adorno) is that the emphasis of CDF-training is on the coach, not the client, in particular the coach as a “critical, deep thinker” who can guide the client’s adult development, fully aware of the client’s present developmental profile.

Learning and development are seen in CDF as entirely different. “Learning” is accumulation of knowledge and experience over time (measured by horizontal snapshots at a particular time point), while “development” is a discontinuous deepening of meaning making and thinking across individuals’ entire lifespan (measured longitudinally, across time, through structured interview).

Whereas adult learning approaches are focused on behavior, adult development approaches are focused on what structurally precedes behavior which is referred to as FRAME OF REFERENCE.

In CDF, frame of reference is twofold: social-emotional and cognitive. Frame of reference becomes manifest in language and can be accurately assessed through interview. The difference made between the social-emotional and the cognitive dimensions is meant to facilitate linking emotion and thinking, not keeping them apart (as they now mostly still are).

In most general terms, CDF sees behavior as an epiphenomenon, in the sense that Frame of Reference precedes and determines behavior, not the other way around. This leads to a different concept of “experience”, namely the view that individuals at different developmental levels “see” entirely different worlds and act on the world in predictable idiosyncratic ways, with equally predictable limitations relative to their slumbering developmental resources.

It is the goal of developmental coaching to overcome these limitations following the known social-emotional and cognitive trajectories over the individual life span yielded by research. The more psychological knowledge a coach can muster, the easier it becomes for him/her to integrate the psychological, social-emotional, and cognitive facets of the client’s personality and capability.

Constructivism: CDF shares other approaches’ constructivist viewpoint, that individuals “create their own world” but infuses this viewpoint with empirical evidence regarding precise meaning-making differences between individuals, as well as by a type of thinking developed by the Frankfurt School, called “dialectical” or “deep” thinking. Deep thinking has its own discernible thought form structure manifest in language, requires high levels of self-reflection and, based on it, deep listening to clients and oneself as coach.

This double infusion into conventional constructivism changes the way in which “mind”, “language”, and “programming” (sequences of actions) are seen. Nevertheless, insights into language use derived from NLP hypotheses form a bridge to how language is structurally viewed and listened to in CDF.

In practical terms, the infusion of developmental and dialectical insights into constructivism puts the emphasis of coach training on the capacity to deal with complexity, both inner, social-emotional and cognitive, complexity and complexity of the real world as experienced by individuals.

In coaching practice, this entails aiming for high levels of self-reflection of the coach in terms of his/her relationship to clients. This relationship is seen as determined by the maturity differential between coach and client which changes from case to case and can theoretically be precisely assessed through CDF.

In CDF, the coach is expected to be more highly developed than the client. Where this is not the case, harm is done to clients. In actual practice, however, coach and client are seen as peers both of whom are adults-under-development, and thus subject to the same adult-developmental constraints.

In CDF-coaching, the coach-client relationship is more highly reflected than usual since the coach is conscious of his/her own developmental level relative to that of the client and can assess clients’ level of development in evidence-based terms.

Author: Otto Laske

I am the founder and director of IDM, the Interdevelopmental Institute. My background is in philosophy, psychology, consulting, and coaching based on developmental theory to which I have mightily contributed myself. See the blogs at