Tag Archives: coaching

“Coaching has given me the tools to support wellbeing and help people find happiness in their work”

Sarah Wissing graduated from the MSc Career Management and Coaching in 2020. She shares her #BBKStory.

Sarah Wissing wearing black, leaning against a wall.I’ve always been drawn to supporting people and their welfare – on a night out, I’m that person who makes sure everybody gets home safe! In my role in HR, I’m interested in helping people develop and giving them the tools to flourish at work.

I’d known about Birkbeck’s MSc Career Coaching for a few years and finally decided to take the plunge after going along to an open day and meeting the Programme Director Janet Sheath, who was really lovely.

Studying for a Master’s part-time whilst working full-time was quite intense – there was a lot less going out to the pub! Luckily, my work was very supportive and the temporary sacrifice to my personal life was definitely worth it.

My undergraduate degree was in English and French and I’d done a Master’s in English ten years before starting the MSc, but this course was completely different. I remember totally freaking out in my first term when I failed my first essay, but Janet was really great and Birkbeck’s study support tutors were so helpful and I ended up graduating with a merit.

During our coaching weekends there’d be about ten of us and our two tutors – we did practical sessions where we coached each other and received real time feedback. We really got to know each other and it was a very supportive environment.

I also completed a placement in Birkbeck’s Careers Service, where I was assigned students to coach and given supervisions to talk about any challenges I was facing in that role.

The coaching skills I’ve gained on the course and the insight through my research project on Dyslexia in the workplace has really supported me at work: I love helping people to work at their best and am particularly excited about supporting neurodivergent individuals. Alongside my current role, I also operate as a freelance coach.

Studying coaching has made me an all-round better human – it’s about being an ethical person, in and out of work, and making people feel at ease. It equips you with the tools to support wellbeing and help people find happiness in their work and personal lives in an evidence-based way.

I never really have a five-year plan and the Master’s was the same, it just felt like the right thing to do at the time, and I’ve really enjoyed the process of studying and being at university again – nothing bad can come from a bit of education!

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“We were really challenged to think for ourselves.” 

Pierre-Yves Rahari is a Partner at AlgoMe Consulting and alumnus of the Postgraduate Certificate in Coaching. This is his Birkbeck story.

Pierre-Yves smiling against a white background.

Why did you apply for the Postgraduate Certificate in Coaching Psychology? 

I started my career in Finance, working for investment managers, and was looking for a way to bridge working in a corporate setting to becoming a consultant and executive coach. I did this at work by taking on mentoring and leadership development assignments and decided that the best way to complement my training would be to study psychology. 

After completing a foundation course in psychotherapy, I began to look for an executive coaching course, but the typical format you see of learning then following a single methodology didn’t resonate with me. Birkbeck’s programme appealed as it seemed to be looking to go more in depth with students, plus the course leaders were from a psychodynamic background and active coaches themselves. 

Birkbeck’s London location was ideal for me and I liked the format of weekly classes, which meant we were fully immersed in the course for the duration of the year. 

What have been some of the highlights of the programme? 

During the course, we were really challenged to think for ourselves. The team didn’t give out a manual or tell us how to do it, but they had a magical way of getting us to think about our practice and by the end of the course we had a real understanding of what it meant to have a contract with a coaching client. I don’t think it’s an overnight thing, but gradually you find yourself listening differently when you speak to people. The framework that I use in coaching now is an extension of what we did in the course. It has prepared me well for running my own business and surviving during the pandemic. 

As a French person, I also really enjoyed being on an Anglo-Saxon style campus, surrounded by other university campuses and with coffee and book stores all around. My experience at Birkbeck was very nurturing and I look back on my time there very fondly. 

Can you tell us more about what you do now? 

I run a management consulting company called AlgoMe Consulting, which specialises in asset management. We aim to influence strategic and sustainable change in the investment management industry by helping executive boards and boards of directors strategise and successfully implement transformational projects in their firms, while improving transparency, integrity, inclusion and engagement. A lot of the work we do is with leaders and change management and people are fundamental to this process, both at an individual and team level.

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“The insight I now have about myself has changed my outlook on life.”

Karen Bowden-Brown is an HR leader and coach. She shares her transformative experience on Birkbeck’s Postgraduate Certificate in Coaching Psychology.

Karen sitting outside, smiling.My career to date has been in HR and I considered coaching to be a vital part of my role as an HR leader and an area I wanted to develop further. I considered various learning routes but many of them seemed be very generic, the Birkbeck course was exactly what I was looking for.

We covered such a breadth of topics and theories from psychology and philosophy when considering the coaching approach.  We viewed coaching approaches through various lenses – normative, interpretative and postmodern, which provided a different insight. The latest academic thinking was shared and discussed and we had assignments drawing on these resources.

I particularly enjoyed the presentations from experienced practicing coaches who were invited to provide demonstrations of different styles of coaching approaches.

The course leadership is excellent and Andreas, Susan and Raul who led the Programme at that time have years of experience both academically and practically as Executive Coaches. They also provided great mentorship to our cohort and were always there to provide friendly challenge to stretch our learning.

I have made some excellent friendships during my time on the course and I remain in regular contact with my small work group.

The Postgraduate Certificate in Coaching Psychology gave me the confidence to provide internal leadership coaching as I had all the necessary tools. The course has taught me to approach conversations differently as a thought partner and a consultant – from a place of curiosity and open questioning.

The course has also been of benefit recently when I was reviewing the organisational approach to performance management – coaching by managers is now a core element to support all employee development.

I would go as far as to describe the course as life-changing, as the insight I now have about myself has changed my outlook on life. Additionally, the life skills I have developed on communication have been invaluable to me not just at work but with my family – especially with my children.

If you are considering this course, I would encourage you to invest in yourself! You won’t regret it.

Further Information:


The Coach on the Couch

This post was contributed by Dr Andreas Liefooghe, Reader in Organizational Psychology and Programme Director for the Postgraduate Certificate in Coaching, launched this week. 

The rise of executive and other forms of coaching is arguably one of the most significant changes in the work context so far this century. Prior to 2000, professional helping relationships were clearly linked to the tasks and operations of the organization, mainly in the guise of consultants. Care of the personal kind, when it happened, had a whiff of failure – no-one would admit to seeing a counselor, far less a psychotherapist or psychiatrist. So the idea that conversations in a specific professional relational context can help someone has finally shifted from Viennese couches to executive boardrooms.


Of course, the name helps.  Coaching, derived from sport, has a much more macho feel than the more feeble counseling. Primarily, the focus is on ‘reaching your full potential’, ‘increasing your performance’, ‘finding solutions’. Coaching carries no stigma, unlike counseling with its progression from madness to neurosis to ordinary unhappiness.

Once the sole preserve of the executive classes, coaching has now been democratized and is accessible to most levels in organizations. The focus has shifted for coaches, too. Largely gone is the soul-searching about whether coaches deliver coaching or therapy. It has been replaced by angst about which accrediting professional body will legitimize their actions.

There is still, of course, the niggling doubt as to why coaching should be necessary in organizations. Is there not enough help already? Why does this helping relationship need to be outsourced, and in such numbers?

Helping others

We believe the answer to this might be found in social psychology. Rather glumly, experiments from the sixties and seventies provide evidence that when we would expect people to help, they actually don’t. The famous Good Samaritan experiment demonstrated that, ultimately, we see ourselves as more important than others, particularly when pressed for time. As Darley and Batson (1973) put it, morals are a luxury when the speed of life increases. In today’s fast-paced organizational cultures, helping others may not be efficient.

Instead of a more positive picture, Organizational Citizenship Behaviour (OCB) research sets out why investing more time cultivating OCBs makes commercial sense. Also referred to as contextual performance, this field of study maps the extent to which altruism, civic virtue, sportsmanship, courtesy and conscientiousness are manifested at work. One important predictor of OCB is leadership – if there is a good relationship between the leadership and the employees, more examples of helping behaviours will be found, and higher performance levels (Motowidlo, 2011). And it is perhaps here that an executive coach can make a difference.

Coaching – a menace or a miracle?

Neither. Coaching can promote understanding, facilitate change, and develop potential, amongst others – but it would be wrong to claim it is a silver bullet to organizational helping and performance. Coaching is not a unified approach, and many different things manifest themselves under this moniker.

Edward Wray-Bliss (2013) writes of the deification/demonification of CEOs, and how they become the absolute Good and Evil. These attributions, while flawed, help organizational members make sense of a complex environment. Executive coaching in this context is no exception. Loh and Kay (2003) warned of the coaching menace, where coaching was seen as the silver bullet, and delivered by individuals with dubious credentials to people who didn’t need this macho sports-metaphor at the company’s expense. On the contrary, others see the miracle of executive coaching as further evidence of the well-deserved, god-like status, imbued with machismo, of the Glorious Leader. Indeed, in the late nineties one of the first CEOs I coached mentioned that I came third only to the private jet and his chauffeur…

The Post-Graduate Certificate in Coaching

Given that coaching is perhaps one of the most important organizational developments in the last decade, we decided it was important to spend more time reflecting on its impact. This one-year programme is designed for both established coaches who want more structure to their work, and to help those new to the field build a strong grounding. As you would expect from the Department, we emphasise rigorous academic theory and practice, combined with skills development and reflexive practice.