Catherine van Heerden is a psychologist, coach, speaker, facilitator and author. She has been instrumental for the last 21 years in facilitating change and has been highly responsive to her passion and drive to make a difference in corporates as well as in people’s personal lives.

She started her business, Thinking Dynamics, at a very tender age where her goal was – and still is – to provide transformational coaching and impart meaningful knowledge and experience through learning and development sessions. She was very fortunate to be registered as one of Dr Edward de Bono’s facilitators in South Africa. Dr De Bono is a physician, psychologist, author, inventor and consultant psychologist. He originated the term lateral thinking, and wrote the book Six Thinking Hats …among many others.

Catherine became very inspired by what it means to learn how to think and how to strategise. Her passion has driven her to make meaningful contributions to a large variety of organisations across South Africa, working as a facilitator of change and transformation. She attests to be keenly interested and fascinated with the interdisciplinary dynamics of human relationships and how this impacts on business performance and organisational culture.

She furthermore became very interested in the intricacies of high performance leadership and teamwork and saw a great opportunity in adding value to these worlds. She has worked extensively with various corporate clients in closing the gap between how business results are accomplished through best practices in human resource management and engagement.

In a nutshell, what is ‘transformational coaching’?

The word ‘transformation’ means that there is a variation or a change in shape or form or that there’s an alteration in something. When we say that something or someone goes through a transformation process, it means that they have shifted or changed from a current or existing form into a more desired or ideal form. Going through a transformational process is experienced in different ways by different people and much depend on factors such as past experience, confidence levels, clarity of intentions or goals as well as personality types.

My role is to guide individuals or teams through effectively influencing them on a:

• Cognitive level (understanding, insight, knowledge)
• Emotional level (feelings, intuition, subjective views and perspectives)
• Behavioural level (decisions, actions, accountability)

Since all three these levels are highly interconnected, I ensure that matters concerning the mind, the heart and actions are included throughout our change journey. My biggest drive is probably to get the person’s eyes to shine because when their eyes shine, you know that they have awakened within themselves and that they start to ‘see’.

How did you manage to successfully merge business and life coaching, and why decide to go that direction?

Business coaching is about what a business requires from you as an employee or a contractor. I always say that you have to be faithful to your decisions. If you decide to work for a certain organisation, you have to be faithful to that organisation. If you have committed to perform certain tasks or fulfil a certain role, you need to understand fully what the expectations are and how you can optimise your input so that your company can produce the best results possible. That applies to how you think about the business, what you say about the business, and what actions you take toward the business. Suffice to say, this is true about your behaviour toward your colleagues and your customers.

People’s actions and what I call ‘coffee-room talk’ can influence and violate the performance of the organisation. Business coaching is aimed at making sure you can deal with matters at hand and empowering you to show up every single day as the best version of yourself, play the role that you are supposed to play – whether you feel like it or not – and when you go home, that you can be confident that you have added value to the organisation.

Life coaching is about your personal story. Business and life coaching are definitely interlinked because the emotional state and stories of people’s lives influence their ability to respond to the stressors of every day work. Sometimes people are angry in the workplace because of abuse they’ve suffered or people are agitated and frustrated because certain things as a child didn’t work out for them, or they’ve been horribly neglected. Life coaching is thus more about what’s the story of your life, where are you coming from and then guiding people to wholeness – so that they can fully function in their various roles. This is of course, provided that the situation allows for progressive improvement through coaching, conversations and insights. In more severe cases, a person may need additional psychological assistance or even medication to cope with realities.

My own journey as an influencer started when I realised I had a very definite purpose. I sat down one day and asked myself ‘what is my purpose or mission in life?’ and I wrote down ‘To inspire greatness and to influence thinking behaviour’. I like to identify what paradigms people fall into that victimise or violate their own greatness or that may inhibit them toward reaching the next level in their lives.

What have been some of the most significant changes you’ve seen in people/companies AFTER your coaching sessions?

I have seen so many people connecting more with themselves. I’ve had my own journey of suffering and difficulty, and because of that I’ve learned the power of honesty and authenticity. My experience enables me to step into the presence of other people and guide them toward their own truth.

People are often accused of ‘wearing masks’, in other words that they ‘pretend’ or that they are not real. I believe that it is important to manage your emotions or your realities in relation to where you find yourself in a given moment. I call it ‘environmental or situational intelligence’. Surely, you can’t always simply express what you feel, think or want every moment or toward just anyone. The real problem is not to wear masks. The problem is that people are not always brave enough to admit things to themselves or to face their true feelings. Often, this would have implications and that is why people choose to make use of coping strategies or simply to avoid or deny what is happening inside of them. There is no problem to put the ‘masks’ on whenever you need to manage yourself or your situation, as long as you are true to yourself and understand the implications of the decisions you make in your life.

I’ve seen significant transformation taking place. I have seen people awaken to themselves, people forgiving themselves or others and people aspiring to become greater. I’ve worked with people who have gone through real and honest change and have had honest conversations with themselves regarding their marriages, their roles as parents or friends and their roles in business.

One example that stands out is having worked with a person who was appointed as a Managing Director. There were many problems in the business and people on directorship level were very unhappy. After in-depth interviews, I made a diagnosis that the MD was not the right person for the role and, after a deep conversation with him, he acknowledged that he did not want to develop leadership skills or that he had no appetite to be patient with people. Realising this, kept him awake at night. He admitted that he was of no long-term value for the business and preferred to work as a specialist instead of a leader. The move made a huge difference in the business and the staff was relieved. He was brave to come forth with an honest assessment of himself and the business – him included – were in a better position.

I have coached people toward successful weight-loss, dealing with substantial changes, dealing with fears, overcoming communication barriers, deal with deeply engrained perceptions and beliefs, confront hurts and disappointments and many other situations like that. If people are willing to alter from one state of being to a more ideal one, coaching is a great way to make it happen.

You have been instrumental in helping women who have struggled to lose weight – you call this ‘emotional weight loss’. Can you tell us more about what this entails?

You need to ask the question: why do so many people re-gain the weight that they have lost? And why does it happen over and over again? I believe there’s so much value in the concept of emotional weight loss. I’ve partnered with a number of women to help them identify any psychological reasons for their weight problems. Through this journey I’ve discovered that there’s so much going on in the hearts and minds of these women. When women are willing to open up and share their pain or insecurities, they can have a real and hard look at them and start their very difficult process toward becoming free.

It really annoys me when people think that others are overweight just because they can’t stop eating. In very few cases, I do believe people simply love food and have developed an addiction of food or certain tastes, but in most cases, people eat because they have an inner cleft in their soul that no amount of food can solve but they are trying. Realities such as rape, abuse, abortions, memories of destructive patterns, fear, anxieties, feelings of unworthiness or self-doubt, anger and neglect can create deep scars and wounds. I’m not saying every person who has weight problems necessarily have psychological problems, but I have found that there’s definitely a link between the two.

What’s at the root of all of this? Often times I’ve found that the root is rejection, fear and pain of the past. What I’ve found on walking this journey out with women is that they would want to gain weight because then society will reject them. And this may be the only thing they know, the only thing they are actually comfortable with. They would much rather deal with rejection than with acceptance, because rejection has become a huge part of their identity.

Stunning women that I’ve worked with have awakened to themselves – standing in front of the mirror saying to themselves, ‘I am beautiful. I am marvellously made’ and meeting with themselves for the first time.

So when I talk about ‘emotional weight loss’ it’s about going back and understanding what created this burden of emotion. If people have gained weight as a result of this emotional burden, then the ‘emotional fatness’ will start to transpire and will start manifesting into physical fatness.

We will always bring the inside to the outside. If you have hurt inside, you’ll hurt your outside world. If you have chaos inside, you’ll create chaos outside. If you have peace inside of you, you’ll bring peace around you.

We have to take care of the inside. If you want to be healthy, well, and fully functioning, then it has to first start from the inside. That in essence is what emotional weight loss is.

Women empowerment is a topic close to your heart. Why is it so important in the South African context?

One of the most wonderful things in South Africa is certainly all of the transformation that is taking place. I’ve worked in the corporate space for 21 years and as you can imagine, two decades ago the corporate spaces looked much different than today. My client base has mostly been white males and leadership consisted predominantly of white males. Over the past couple of years, I have witnessed significant changes in leadership structure, and more women have been appointed in leadership positions. Today there’s a variety of intelligence in boardrooms. You listen to people with different perspectives, and there’s a great wealth of knowledge. The more diverse a team is, the greater the wealth of knowledge – making it a very wealthy team.

Women empowerment is close to my heart, firstly because I am a woman and secondly because I’ve noticed that we take certain qualities and skills and we assign them a gender. Qualities like assertiveness and decisiveness are often regarded as ‘male’, whereas compassion and care and sensitivity are labelled as ‘female’. It seems in some instances in the corporate space this is still coined this way.

I am passionate about women in business because women have come in and they’ve shown that they too can be assertive, decisive and strong. We can make tough decisions and take organisations to higher levels of performance. It’s wonderful for me to see women stepping up and making their voices heard.

What message of inspiration do you have for women out there?

Be true to yourself – take some time out and be awakened. In that process, meet with the gifting that you have. Some of the biggest issues with women I’ve worked with are issues of rejection, insecurity, and feelings of unworthiness. No matter how much we try and cover it up by looking pretty, if the inside is fragile, insecure and dark, then somewhere you’re going to find yourself lost in that space. Somewhere in your life when you get confronted with that moment of darkness, if you don’t have anything that grounds you and anchors you, then somewhere you’re going to get lost – and that’s a sad loss. So in essence my message would be, ‘be awakened’, understand what it is that holds you together.

Know what you want and figure out what the legacy is that you want to leave. For me personally, I’m not just raising my two boys – I am raising generations. My words, teachings and influence will forever live on. That is why I have to be very mindful as to what I say, how I treat them, because that will live on forever.
I think if all of us operate in such a way that we’re mindful of the power that we have when we step into the presence of other people, we will add value to our environments and all build toward a better and stronger nation.

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