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The MPhil in Leadership Coaching: Teaching me the importance and value of doing inner work

  • Caroline Dale
  • Sep 25 2018


I believe that my journey in psychology, which started as a hobby in 2002, culminated in my desire to work as a professional in the field of human behaviour.

So, in 2014, after completing my honours degree in psychology and in an attempt to improve my chances for admittance into a master’s degree in clinical psychology, I applied to Stellenbosch University for their Postgraduate Diploma in Addiction Care (PGDip). I was grateful to be accepted and began the programme. During 2015, as part of my master plan, I applied to three Western Cape universities for admittance into a master’s degree in clinical psychology.

All three applications were turned down and this left me feeling disappointed and rejected. However, as it turns out, this became a turning point for me on my life’s journey.

This was as a result of some critical reflection when I realised that perhaps a profession in clinical psychology was not for me since it stems from a diagnosis of pathology in a client, which naturally implies the “need to be fixed”.  Hence, my aspiration to work with healthy individuals (those with a desire to improve their performance) rather than work with individuals with pathology was validated.

This insight directed me towards coaching as an alternative vocation within the behavioural sciences.  I began researching the different offerings of professional qualifications for coaching.  My decision to apply for the MPhil in Leadership Coaching at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) was based on my yearning to further my qualifications and to learn enough to begin working in the field.  In addition, I had a fundamental aspiration for a professional qualification rather than a certificate, and the desire to be associated with a world-class institution.

Intuitively, I felt that my past experiences and qualifications were all coming together.

Key takeaway from the programme

The first key theme that emerged for me during the programme, which will stay with me forever, is the importance and value of doing inner work.

Prior to the programme, I did not regularly practice personal reflection.  In fact, I had no real idea of what “true” reflection actually entailed.  However, since I began practicing daily self-reflection and mindfulness, I have recognised their power and am now more able to understand what triggers certain of my behaviours.  For example, over-reacting verbally and becoming defensive (emotional knee-jerk reaction) when someone tries to undermine my statements or thoughts.  Through reflection, I have learnt that I can choose to change this behaviour by being conscious of these triggers.

“Since I began practicing daily self-reflection and mindfulness, I have recognised their power and am now more able to understand what triggers certain of my behaviours.”

During these practices, I have taken the time to do important work on myself.  I have come to appreciate my own strengths and acknowledge my vulnerabilities and have managed to come out from hiding behind my own values and beliefs.  I have begun to read my own life in a more reflective way: underlying motives, repetitive patterns, and old agendas.

The second key theme that emerged for me is to watch out for and take ownership of the psychological blocks that stand in my way of getting my work done.  For example: fear of failure, procrastination, obsessive perfectionism, and others.

These key themes have not only proved to be helpful in the construction of my own coaching identity, but have also proved helpful in teaching me coaching competencies.  In other words, these personal insights highlight the importance of sharing these themes with my clients by encouraging them to incorporate them into their lives and also to be sympathetic when I experience them in my client.

Challenges I had to face during the programme

The main challenge for me was academic writing.  Sometimes I cried tears of sheer frustration at feeling unable to put my thoughts into coherent words or logical structure on the paper.  At these times, I felt hopeless, alone and unable to discuss my struggles with anyone who would understand.

I made the mistake of not paying enough attention to the rubrics’ that were provided as a means to navigate the essays.  This cost me unnecessary marks and it was challenging for me, as somewhat of a perfectionist, to swallow the disappointment that arose as a result of poorer marks.

Despite being a firm believer in de-cluttering: a tidy home is synonymous with a tidy mind, I found that sometimes this became an excuse for me to procrastinate. Because I found it so challenging to write the essays, a kind of fear set in that seemed to prevent me from getting on with it.  This behaviour taught me a good life lesson that even though de-cluttering is a good practice, I need to be more cognizant of it interfering with work that is more urgent.

Finally, I sometimes felt demotivated and wondered why on earth I was putting myself through all this pain. These days or moments were very challenging at the time, but taking a break and re-focusing on where I was headed helped me to get back on track.

“The MPhil in Leadership Coaching programme was a breakthrough experience for me and is without a doubt one of the best experiences I have had in my life to date.”

What advice do I have for someone starting the programme?

First and foremost, I highly recommend that you don’t start the programme with any preconceived ideas.  Let the programme unfold naturally and cherish each moment of it.  It is highly likely that at numerous times during the year your panic monster will rear its ugly head.  In other words, it may dawn on you that you’ve signed up for a commitment that, apart from being extremely demanding on you, also has repercussions for your family, work, hobbies and friends. This may expose you to an extended period of unwarranted stress.  Here are some simple steps you can take before this happens:

  1. Contract with yourself on the sacrifices you are and are not willing to make during the programme and list them.
  2. Identify all the support systems in your life and communicate, either verbally or in writing, your intentions for the year.
  3. Secure the services you are going to need as soon as possible.
  4. Identify any potential nasty success blockers that could hamper your progress: for example, finances, employment opportunities and psychological constraints such as procrastination, perfectionism, or fear of failure.
  5. Start a timeline to highlight dates for your specific deliverables.

*Caroline started her own company, The Thesis Coach (TTC), after completing her studies. To find out more, please visit her website at

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