When Michaela Chloë Moodley graduated on Monday, 5 December, it was the culmination of eight years of hard work, during which she faced numerous tough challenges, especially regarding her mental health.
“It’s been a long and difficult journey for me, but it’s also been an exceptionally rewarding experience which has now paid off,” said Michaela, who was capped with an MA Psychology (cum laude). She is the first person in her immediate family to obtain a degree.
Michaela, who was born in Durban, currently lectures developmental psychology and counselling theories at the South African College of Applied Psychology (SACAP).
Her masters dissertation looked at emotional closeness between fathers and adolescent daughters of two low-income communities in South Africa, and, for the past four years, she has been involved in research on fatherhood in South Africa.
Michaela, who celebrated her achievement with her family and friends, said she felt relieved to have come this far in her academic journey. She grew up in Johannesburg, and then returned to Durban to complete high school, before starting at Stellenbosch University in 2014.
In 2017, she graduated with a BA Humanities (psychology and theatre) and, in 2018, she completed her BA (Hons) in Psychology. She started her research in paternal parenting during her honours year and continued this work during her masters.
In a frank interview, Michaela said she has always struggled with mental health issues, which manifested in extreme anxiety during her honours year. “I’d sometimes struggle to breathe and had to try and calm myself down. The anxiety sometimes became debilitating, especially when I was in social settings,” she said.
“People would say I am a very sociable person, but I became isolated and even developed a stutter when I spoke to other people,” she added.
“It became a lot worse during my master’s studies, which is a constant process of working on your thesis and perfecting the work. My mental health deteriorated and I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. It’s a struggle managing these dysfunctional core beliefs while working on a degree that constantly challenges you to do better.
“My supervisor was so kind and patient, but still gently pushed me to produce the excellent work that I was capable of, which I am so grateful for.”
Michaela sought psychological help and started using medication. With the help of a strong support system, she persevered and finished her studies.
She ascribes much of her success and recovery to her faith in Jesus, and her supportive Christian community. “If it hadn’t been for my friends and family constantly praying for me, and encouraging me, I wouldn’t have made it,” Michaela said.
She added: “I ascribe my success to, firstly, Jesus and the Christian community which built me up and helped me believe in myself; secondly, to hard work and perseverance; and, thirdly, to my incredible supervisor whose expertise and commitment to excellence helped me achieve this degree with the mark that I did.
“I do the same with my students: I care for them deeply, whilst also pushing them to strive for excellence where they can.”
Regarding her future plans, Michaela said she will continue lecturing, as she feels a personal responsibility to help shape the next generation of psychologists. She also hopes to further research and practice family psychology in South Africa.
Michaela, who loves hosting dinner parties and embarking on “spontaneous adventures”, said she’s proud to have graduated with her masters.
“It’s a blessing and l am so glad I pushed through.”