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Dr Richard Oxtoby

18 March 1939 to 4 January 2017

Photograph of Richard Oxtoby

The life and work of Dr Richard Oxtoby (South Africa), including details of his available books.

Who am I?

A Clinical and Industrial Psychologist who for much of my professional life has run a dual career in Psychology and Music. I spent three years as a Junior Lecturer in the Faculty of Music and just over thirty years as a full-time member of staff of the Department of Psychology at the University of Cape Town.

I took early retirement at the end of 1999 to spend more time writing, giving concerts and working as a Management Development Consultant and Executive Coach in the corporate world. For fuller details see my Life History below.

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Book publications

A summary of each of the available books is given below.

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The Psychology of Business Excellence

book cover of The Psychology of Business Excellence by Dr Richard Oxtoby

Available from Colleen Oxtoby at R180 per copy.

When I started writing The Psychology of Business Excellence what I had in mind was to produce a very short and easily readable book which I could use as support material in my corporate consulting and Executive Coaching work. However, it soon became clear to me that much of what I was writing about applied no less strongly to our domestic and personal lives than to our business life. After all, we are all involved in the business of living. The result has been a book which I hope will make a significant impact in the business world, but which any reader will find has been helpful in their search for happiness in every area of their lives.

As a former academic I have spent most of my professional life disseminating a knowledge of psychological principles to the world at large. In the process I have come more and more firmly to the conclusion that Richard Webster's assessment of the merits of Psychoanalysis (expressed in his brilliant Why Freud was wrong: Sin, Science and Psychoanalysis) applies to the whole field of Psychology in general. He wrote, 'Their work contains, amidst much intellectual poverty and worthless intellectual bric-a-brac, a small quantity of the gold of true psychological insight'. In The Psychology of Business Excellence I have tried to bring a selection of what I regard as the most important of these nuggets of 'true psychological insight' to the attention of as wide an audience as possible.

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The Trouble with Christianity: A Psychological Perspective

book cover of The Trouble with Christianity: A Psychological Perspective by Dr Richard Oxtoby

This book is available from regular bookshops and online booksellers such as, Barnes and Noble, Waterstones, and (particularly in South Africa) It is also published as an e-book, available at greatly reduced prices from online booksellers such as

Published by John Hunt London, under their Christian Alternative imprint, The Trouble with Christianity is a companion volume to The Two Faces of Christianity, which focusses very much on a Psychological analysis of the concept of God, the most fundamental concept in any religion.

In my examination of this topic I follow A. N. Whitehead in arguing that God is not any sort of invisible superman who has control of the universe, but is rather a property of the universe of which he/she/it is a part. It has been described by Rev. Peter Fox, Presbyterian Minister and leading Cape Town Grief Counsellor, as, “ amazing document, and an important one. I need to read it again carefully, but it drew me in and I wondered why it hasn’t been written before – such an honest and real critique and so helpful.”

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The Two Faces of Christianity: A Psychological Analysis

Book cover of The Two Faces of Christianity: A Psychological Analysis by Dr Richard Oxtoby

This book is available from regular bookshops and online booksellers such as, Barnes and Noble, Waterstones, and (particularly in South Africa) It is also published as an e-book, available at greatly reduced prices from online booksellers such as

"This is a book that every Christian, post-Christian, and anti-Christian should read. It leads all sorts of readers to see the New Testament with new eyes. It shows how the Gospels and the letters of Paul shape people today, for better or for worse. It makes a case for the teaching of Jesus as psychologically healthy, as well as deeply spiritual. It also argues that Paul was a flawed human being, whose teachings can be dangerous if readers do not reflect on them critically."

Professor Adela Collins, Buckingham Professor of New Testament Criticism and Interpretation at Yale University Divinity School.

"The world is full of authoritarian versions of religion, including Christianity. In this lucid work Richard Oxtoby argues for a non-authoritarian version of the Christian faith, open and liberal-minded. All the churches would benefit from hearing what he has to say."

Professor John Barton, Oriel and Laing Professor of the Interpretation of Holy Scripture, Oxford University.

"This book is a valuable guide to authentic Christianity and to where it has gone wrong. Clear, courageous and challenging, it rests on thorough research, rich psychological insight and deep spiritual experience. It deserves to be widely read and above all, heeded."

Martin Prozesky, Emeritus Professor of Comparative and Applied Ethics at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

"Dr Oxtoby provides a valuable opportunity for the reader to reflect anew on the teachings of Jesus rather than the teachings about him. 'Separating the wheat from the chaff', scripturally speaking (Matthew 3:12), the author enables a more focussed fluency of faith on the part of those  seeking to understand the core teachings of Jesus. Dr Oxtoby has done the cause of Christianity a world of good in writing this book."

Reverend Gordon Oliver, Minister-Emeritus, Unitarian Church, Cape Town, and Mayor of Cape Town 1989 - 1991.

"All people know Christianity can be a tool for good or for ill. But psychologist Richard Oxtoby tells us how to tell the difference between bad religion and good. A must-read for anyone who cares about Christianity's future, wants to end cruelties inflicted in its name, and longs to turn such 'psychopathological' leanings to good."

Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore, E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of Religion, Psychology, and Culture, The Divinity School and Graduate Department of Religion, Vanderbilt University.

"In a world where there are so many broken people – broken in body, broken in mind, broken in spirit – it is more than refreshing to encounter a person such as Dr Richard Oxtoby whose integrity as a clinical and industrial psychologist of many years standing has led him to the point of challenging institutionalised Christianity to turn its face afresh to that of the Healer who through his life, teachings and deeds has through the past twenty centuries captivated more people than it would be possible to number – Jesus.

"In an increasingly impersonal world, and in a world where many, through sad negative experience, have felt either rejection from, or have excluded themselves from the Christian Church, Dr Oxtoby has written challenging words for today’s Christian leadership to reassess its portrayal of Jesus as the core of its attractiveness, especially for the broken and suffering souls in our communities.

"This book serves as a timely reminder that there are those in the different fields of medicine who realise and value the importance of the spiritual dimension of life, and that the spirit of the individual can play an important role in the healing process of those suffering from any form of physical, mental, or spiritual disease or disorder. I pray that Dr Oxtoby’s book will find an avid and wide readership."

Reverend Harry Wiggett – retired priest of the Anglican Church in the Diocese of Cape Town where he served in parishes over a period of forty years, and now exercises an ongoing ministry to recovering alcoholics and drug addicts at rehabilitation units in Cape Town.

"In this provocative and very readable book, Richard Oxtoby challenges modern day Christians to recover the multifaceted historical roots of Christianity. He discerns two main strands that have nurtured the rise of Christianity, one 'humanistic' and the other 'authoritarian'. The book offers alternative interpretations of often-neglected passages in the New Testament writings through social-scientific perspectives, and its result unveils the humanistic face of Christianity that lives on in parishes and mission fields.

"The Two Faces of Christianity sheds valuable light on the dilemma of those deep-thinking souls who find some aspects of Christianity repugnant and destructive, and yet are reluctant to write the religion off completely as a resource to make the world a better place."

Dr Jin H. Han, Professor of Biblical Studies, New York Theological Seminary.

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The Authoritarian Corruption of Christianity

Book cover of The Authoritarian Corruption of Christianity by Dr Richard Oxtoby

Available from Colleen Oxtoby at R200 per copy.

This book is an expanded form of two lectures I gave at the 30th International Congress of Psychology held in Cape Town in July 2012. In those lectures, and in this book, I take a friendly, but critical look from a psychological perspective at some of the religious beliefs that have become entrenched in many parts of the Christian Church.

I explore how the spiritual insights at the heart of the religion have in many areas been overlaid by psychopathologies inherent in authoritarian thinking, and urge a re-examination of the validity of those beliefs in the light of the insights of modern psychological thinking.

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Deep Structure Executive Coaching

Book cover of Deep Structure Executive Coaching by Dr Richard Oxtoby

Available from Colleen Oxtoby at R200 per copy.

This is a book which 'Puts the Psychology back into Business Coaching.' It outlines some of the deep fundamental psychological issues facing many business executives, and without an awarenss of which it is unlikely the business coach will be able to facilitate profound change in the personal development and business success of their clients. The book is built around a new model of the different roles a coach plays in their encounters with a client.

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Achieving our Full Potential: Towards more Effective Living

Book cover of Achieving our Full Potential: Towards more Effective Living by Dr Richard Oxtoby

Available from Colleen Oxtoby at R280 per copy.

'Compared to what we ought to be, we are only half awake. We are making use of only a small part of our physical and mental resources. The human individual possesses powers of various sorts, which (s)he habitually fails to use.' Many people would enthusiastically agree with those thought-provoking words of the great 19th Century American psychologist, William James, and there is a powerful urge within all of us to exploit the massive store of our unrealised potential in order to increase our effectiveness and happiness in both our business and our personal lives.

Written in an easy to read, jargon-free style, this book provides a mix of psychological theory and practical exercises to help readers unlock their hidden resources, and to experience the profound pleasures of getting ever closer to Achieving their Full Potential.

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Releasing the Energy of the Organization: Engaging Body, Mind, and Spirit in the World of Work

Book cover of Releasing the Energy of the Organization: Engaging Body, Mind, and Spirit in the World of Work by Dr Richard Oxtoby

Available from Colleen Oxtoby at R200 per copy.

One of the most troublesome problems facing many managers is how to motivate their teams to produce outstanding results, and to maintain that motivation over time. In this book I explain the powerful effects which different styles of communication have on the motivation and enthusiasm for the achievement of outstanding results of members of an organization, and what can be done by adopting a few simple communication habits to Release the full Energy of any Organization.

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Life History

Born in Durban, the son of well-known South African composer and broadcaster Charles Oxtoby, I grew up in a richly stimulating and encouraging environment in which my musical development was very much inspired and shaped by my father. At the age of 12 I conducted the first performance of my Christmas Suite for Clarinet and Strings at one of the concerts which formed part of the International Arts League of Youth Festival in Durban in 1951, and a few months later played the solo Clarinet part in the same work with the Durban Symphony Orchestra conducted by Edward Dunn.

I continued my musical studies part-time while at the University of Natal, studying Physics, Mathematics and Psychology. Eventually deciding on a career as an academic psychologist, I completed my B.Sc (Hons) in Psychology (cum laude) but nevertheless took 5 years off before completing my Masters degree to work as a professional musician. I spent three of those years as a junior lecturer at the UCT College of Music, teaching Harmony, Counterpoint and Keyboard Harmony, but focussing mainly on the performance of Baroque and Renaissance music. During this time I toured extensively with the Cape Performing Arts Council, and amongst other things gave concerts in every town in the Cape Province which had a high school.

Returning to professional psychology, I completed my M.Sc (cum laude) and joined the permanent staff of the Department of Psychology at UCT.

After completing my Ph.D in the Psychology of Religion (with a thesis entitled A Psychological Investigation of Some Aspects of Religious Belief), I worked for a time with Prof Bob Boland (Founder and Director of the UCT Graduate School of Business) and obtained registration with the S.A Medical and Dental Council as an Industrial Psychologist.  During two sabbatical years spent in Oxford I worked in the Oxfordshire branch of the National Health Service and completed a qualification as a Clinical Psychologist.

Back in Cape Town, my work in a small private practice as a Clinical and Industrial Psychologist (in addition to my academic commitments) led to my being asked to run Management Development Workshops for all the Pick 'n Pay stores in the Western Cape, an extremely exciting experience which led to my decision to take early retirement from the full-time staff of UCT  in 1999 to launch a second career as a Management Development Consultant and Executive Coach.  A secondary aim in leaving the full-time world of academia was to devote more time to my work as Director of the Society for the Promotion of Early Music, a project which brings me particular pleasure.

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What work do I do?

My primary focus is on my work as an Executive Coach and Human Relations Consultant in the corporate world, in which role I have worked with some of South Africa's major companies such as Avis, BP (Africa), Cambridge University Press, Independent Newspapers, Martin and East, Old Mutual, Oxford University Press, Pick 'n Pay, The Reinsurance Group of America, The Road Accident Fund of South Africa, Sanlam Investment Management, The South African Department of Justice, Stewart Scott International, The Western Cape Treasury, Tullow Oil, and Woolworths.

One of the particularly exciting and satisfying aspects of my life in recent years, however, has been the coming together of some of the most important strands in it (many of which once seemed to bear little relationship to each other) into an increasingly unified focus. These strands are my work as a Psychologist, as a Musician, as a Teacher, and as someone who has always had a vivid awareness of those spiritual realities and aspirations embedded within all the world's great religions, albeit sadly very often deeply buried beneath the layers of human psychopathology which all institutional religion seems to attract to itself.

The practical outcome of all this is that my activities lie within seven fields of endeavour, details about which are given below:

  1. Executive coaching
  2. Corporate and NGO team building and conflict resolution
  3. Giving concerts, mostly of Western European music from the Renaissance and Baroque periods.
  4. Teaching
  5. Giving talks and lectures
  6. Running workshops
  7. Writing books

Each of these activities serves as just one point of entry into what I hope will be the achievement of my overarching goal in life – to make the world a better place through helping as many of us as possible to understand ourselves better, and to become more skilled in interacting with each other in mutually satisfying ways which enhance the quality of life and levels of achievement of all of us. A passionate belief in the Power of the Positive and in the possibility of finding Win–Win solutions to all forms of human conflict informs my work in all these fields.

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Executive Coaching

In the most broad terms, I see my role as an executive coach as a three-pronged one, to assist my client:

  • To come to as realistic an appraisal as possible of, on the one hand, his or her strengths and, on the other, of those areas where they need to develop further skills. To facilitate this process, 360° feedback from colleagues together with the results of any psychometric testing or leadership development data that is available) is closely examined, and pointers to areas of developmental need provided by that feedback are agreed upon. However, equally importantly, areas where the executive disagrees with the feedback received are carefully looked at, a process which often generates powerful insights for the executive as to the way they are presenting themselves to the world.
  • To celebrate with unreserved joy their strengths as revealed in their past achievements and current areas of excellence. This often requires the exploration and discarding of self-limiting beliefs and inappropriately self-punitive attitudes.
  • To view those aspects of their abilities and professional skills which are not as highly developed as the rest of their lives, without guilt, as presenting an exciting challenge for further growth and development, to work with them to formulate realistic plans for attaining their goals in this respect, and to support them in the practical implementation of those plans.

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Corporate and NGO team building and conflict resolution

One of the areas where I feel I have something special to offer organisations is in resolving conflicts and redirecting negative energies into positive constructive channels to promote harmonious team working. These interventions are always tailor-made to the specific needs of the client organisation.

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Giving concerts

These are mostly of Western European music from the Renaissance and Baroque periods, using as far as possible, authentic copies of the (sometimes now obsolete) instruments of the period.  Apart from the now reasonably well-known Recorder and Harpsichord, these instruments include Viols, Krumhorns, Ranketts and Shawms.

As Director of Musica Antiqua and of the Society for the Promotion of Early Music I play an active role in putting on concerts of Western European music from the 16th to the 18th centuries.

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After more than thirty five years spent teaching in a University environment one of my particular pleasures in life is running the Cape Town Coaching Circle in which I teach and supervise a group of professional coaches in my Deep Structure approach to Coaching.

The essence of Deep Structure Coaching is that the coach, being aware of important psychological principles which operate in their own lives and in those of their clients, is able to see patterns of behaviour, ways of acting in and dealing with situations, which either help the client to achieve their goals or get in the way of that process.

Defence mechanisms, an intrusive Shadow, self-fulfilling prophecies and an overactive inner critic are just some of the manifestations of psychological principles the presence of which Deep Structure coaches have explored in themselves, and are particularly alert to in their clients. New introductory groups are formed from time to time and anyone wishing to join the Cape Town Circle is most welcome to contact me to discuss that possibility.

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Giving talks and lectures

Apart from continuing to teach as a guest lecturer in the U.C.T. Department of Psychology on various Clinical and Health Psychological topics, and being a frequent contributor to the UCT Summer School programme (on subjects as diverse as Childbirth and Infancy, Hypnosis, Relationships, and Music) I have given talks and lectures recently to a variety of organisations on the following topics:

  1. Releasing the Energy of the Organisation
  2. Achieving our Full Potential – Towards More Effective Living
  3. Conflict Management
  4. Anger Management
  5. Self-discovery through Dream Analysis
  6. Psychology, Music and Spirituality – Exploring the Deeper Mysteries
  7. Music as a Window into the Collective Unconscious
  8. Left-brain / Right-brain Religion
  9. Science and Religion – Friends or Foes?
  10. The Two Faces of Christianity
  11. The Authoritarian Corruption of Christianity

I am always happy to prepare new material on topics that fall within my areas of expertise but which are focussed in a way which meets the unique needs of the client organisation. 

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Running workshops

Apart from giving talks and lectures on the topics listed above I do from time to time run workshops using an expanded form of the material presented in the lectures. Again I am very happy to structure my workshops to meet specific requirements. Recent workshop topics have been:

  1. Releasing the Energy of the Organisation
  2. Building High Performance Teams
  3. Gaining Competitive Advantage - Self-hypnosis for Business Persons
  4. Dealing Constructively with Conflict
  5. Anger Management
  6. Achieving our Full Potential – Living Joyfully
  7. Self-discovery through Dream Analysis
  8. Introduction to Business Coaching
  9. Psychological Empowerment
  10. Psychology, Music and Spirituality – Exploring the Deeper Mysteries
  11. Music as a Window into the Collective Unconscious
  12. Learning to Read and Understand Music

Underlying all my thinking and work in all these roles is, on the one hand an awareness of the importance, power and beauty of the spiritual realm, but on the other, a keen sense of how the world's religions, despite their good intentions, too often serve to separate us from those spiritual realities in which we "live and move and have our being".

This awareness is a powerful motivator of all my professional work, one important aim of which is to help us all to be able to relax into a way of living which is grounded in a belief in the overwhelming Power of the Positive, that "Good is stronger than evil", that "Love is stronger than hate", that (in Shakespeare's words) "There's a Divinity that shapes our ends, Rough-hew them how we will" and (to modify St Paul's words) "All things work together for good for those who align themselves with the forces of goodness in the universe".

Such a way of being, if supported by a deep knowledge of at least the most important of those psychological principles which govern all human behaviour and experience is, I believe, the key to living a successful life of outstanding achievement in which we are a joy not only to ourselves but to all we come into contact with.

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Contact details

Colleen Oxtoby
Tel:  (South Africa)


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