Study area_

Coaching Psychology Unit

Teaching and research in coaching psychology
Located in the School of Psychology at the University of Sydney, we are the world's first university-based Coaching Psychology Unit.


The Coaching Psychology Unit seeks to enhance the performance, productivity and quality of life of individuals, organisations and the broader community through excellence in education, research and the practice of coaching psychology.

Coaching Psychology involves the application of the research, theory and practice of the behavioural science of psychology to the enhancement of life experience, work performance and personal growth of normal (i.e., non-clinical) populations.

Our teaching

We teach the coaching psychology postgraduate program. 

Our research

Understanding the “psycho-mechanics” of the coaching processes by exploring the relationships between coaching different types of self-refection and the role of self-insight. Self-insight (the clarity of one’s understanding of one’s thoughts, feelings and behaviours) has been found to be strongly related to well-being and self-regulation. It is also amenable to change during the coaching process. The Self-reflection and Insight Scale developed at the Coaching Psychology Unit has now been translated into eight languages and has been used in over 80 international publications

Example publication/s: Grant, A. M., Franklin, J., & Langford, P. (2002). The self-reflection and insight scale: A new measure of private self-consciousness. Social Behavior and Personality, 30(8), 821-836. doi: 10.2224/sbp.2002.30.8.821

Coaching typically aims to foster the articulation of potential solutions and the attainment of goals. This stream of our research has used comparisons between different types of coaching questions (solution-focused, problem-focused questions) and a range of other coaching methodologies including positive affect induction. It would appear from this continuing stream of research that solution-focused coaching questions are indeed an effective change methodology.

Example publication/s: Grant, A. M., & O'Connor, S. A. (2018). Broadening and building solution-focused coaching: Feeling good is not enough. Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice. doi: 10.1080/17521882.2018.1489868

Positive psychology has much to offer society in terms of developing psychological insights in how to create conditions in which human beings can flourish and develop. Some of our research has looked at how the built environment can impact on people’s sense of autonomy, relatedness and competence.  We call this the “Positive Built Workplace Environment” and we have developed models and scales to use in this kind of research.

Example publication/s: Grant, A. M., O’Connor, S. A., & Studholme, I. (in press). Towards a positive psychology of buildings and workplace community: The positive built workplace environment. International Journal of Applied Positive Psychology.

This stream of research examines coaching in organizations from issues related to the effectiveness of coaching in organisational settings, to research into how to best implement organisational and workplace coaching. We have implemented the world’s first randomized studies of executive coaching conducted by professional coaches as well as numerous other research studies in this area.  

Example publication/s: O’Connor, S. A., Studholme, I., & Grant, A. M. (2017). Group coaching in a large complex organization: Lessons learnt from experience International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching & Mentoring, 15(2), 1-16.

We have conducted a large number of studies into the psychology of coaching including work that delineates the nature of evidence-based coaching; models and frameworks for conduction coaching practice, and research into coaching supervision.

Example publication/s: Grant, A. M. (2016). What can Sydney tell us about coaching? Research with implications for practice from down under. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 68(2), 105-117. doi: 10.1037/cpb0000047

This area of our research looks at models of adult development and leadership development. In an ever-more complex “big data” world, replete with uncertainty, leaders need more sophisticated ways of thinking and acting so that they are better equipped to help lead others in time of turbulent change.

Example publication/s: Cavanagh, M. J. (2016). The coaching engagement in the twenty-first century: New paradigms for complex times. In S. David, D. Clutterbuck & D. Megginson (Eds.), Beyond Goals (pp. 183-216). London: Routledge.

We all live and work as part of a system. The dynamics of such systems have a significant impact on ourselves in our work and personal lives. This area of our research explores the dynamics of such systems; research that can have profound implications for how we understand ourselves and the world in which we live and work.

Example publication/s: O'Connor, S. A., & Cavanagh, M. J. (2013). The coaching ripple effect: The effects of developmental coaching on wellbeing across organisational networks. Psychology of Well-Being: Theory, Research and Practice, 3(2), 1-23. doi: 10.1186/2211-1522-3-2

Our people

The staff in the Coaching Psychology Unit come from a wide range of academic and business backgrounds.

The core staff are:

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