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Reflecting on Psychology


Reflecting on Psychology is the master programme of the expertise group Theory and  History of Psychology. We study the relations between Psychology (and related disciplines), the subjects they study, and the society and culture that they are part of. We draw our inspiration from History and Philosophy of Science and from Science and Technology Studies.

Theory and History of Psychology, expertise group of the Heymans Institute for Psychological Research

Staff members:

Douwe Draaisma's main interests are history of psychology, neurology and psychiatry, history of time measurement in psychology, the purported relation between autism and delinquency, and autobiographical memory. His latest project deals with revision of memories and its consequences for forensic-psychiatric investigations. Also see his webpage:

Maarten Derksen has written about the relation between psychology and common sense, about the history of clinical psychology, and about evolutionary psychology. In general he is interested in differences and boundaries in and around psychology. His current research concerns the history of the engineering ideal in psychology and social science: the dream of effective and efficient control over human behaviour.

Jeremy Trevelyan Burman's main interest is in the popularization of Piaget, and thus how ideas about development have been understood (and also what has been missed). But he is interested more generally in the movement of scientific meaning: over time, across disciplines, between languages, and internationally. Burman’s most popular piece, in this connection, is a historical critique of the popularization of “memes” that was published by Perspectives on Science in 2012. More recently, he has also been pushing for the advancement of methods drawn from the Digital Humanities as a way to formalize discussions of meaning change in the History of Psychology.

Markus Eronen studies conceptual and theoretical issues arising from psychological research, mainly from the perspective of philosophy of science. He has worked on topics such as reductionism, levels of explanation, consciousness, mechanistic explanation and the nature of mental disorders. His current research is focused on the limits and possibilities of finding causal explanations in psychology

  • Testimonial van

    Master Reflection on Psychology

    What might you be reflecting on in the field of Psychology?

  • Testimonial van

    This programme addresses many of the aspects of the science of psychology

    I come from Greece, but my mother is Dutch and I have fond memories of visiting the Netherlands in the summer. That's why I decided to study in the Netherlands. When I started the programme, back in 2009, the University of Groningen was the only Dutch university to offer English-taught Psychology programmes, so Groningen it was.

    Groningen is a beautiful city! I like that it's small: you can walk almost everywhere and it has an intimate feel to it. And as there are so many students it almost feels like you're living in one big university. All in all it's a very pleasant place to live and study.

    The Master's programme in Reflecting on Psychology is interesting because it's so broad and varied, and addresses many of the aspects of the science of psychology that I really like to get stuck into, both historical and theoretical. You are also given the freedom to focus on those aspects that interest you. It's a great programme in terms of learning to think critically, and it really improves your writing skills.

    There are only four people in our class, but we have a great connection. We enjoy each other's company and get along really well with each other. Plus we get the personal attention we need from our lecturers.

    I hope to find a PhD position after I'm done with my Master's. I would like to look at psychology and psychotherapy from the public's point of view: how do people perceive therapists and counselling, how do they form opinions about them and how have these opinions changed in recent years? I'm not sure where I'll be able to do my research, but I would love to do it here at the University of Groningen!

  • Testimonial van

    Manager of the Applied Psychology programme of the Hanze University of Applied Sciences in Groningen.

    I started studying Psychology at the beginning of the 90's in Groningen. Initially, I wanted to specialize in Clinical Psychology, and I almost finished that programme. However, I wasn't very satisfied with the courses, and I kept running into the same problems. I had a lot of questions concerning the field of Clinical Psychology, and I didn't receive satisfying answers to them.

    At a certain point, I took a course at the Department of Theory and History of Psychology (now part of the Master's programme 'Reflecting on Psychology') and I found that so interesting that I decided to complete that programme instead of Clinical Psychology. At that department my critical attitude was very welcome. I learned, for example, how research is conducted and why in that way, or where knowledge comes from.

    After finishing my studies, I worked as a researcher and teacher for a while in Maastricht, until I fell in love with a boy from Groningen and moved back to the north. I started a job there as a student counsellor at the university. A student counsellor helps students with problems, for example, with a handicap. I talked with such students; and I was also involved in policymaking: how can we make sure that handicapped students are able to study successfully. I, together with others, made sure that things are much better organized for this type of students, by now.

    The things I learned during my studies were very useful for my job. It influenced the way I looked at students diagnosed with, for example, adhd or autism. I could see that those diagnoses were just a little piece of their reality into which I could introduce another piece of reality, so they could study successfully. It's a way of thinking I learned during the Master's programme.

    In my current job I am the coordinator of the first year of the GP training programme of the RUG (Huisartsenopleiding). In April, I will start working as manager of the Applied Psychology programme of the Hanze University of Applied Sciences in Groningen. It will be a new challenge, and I'm really looking forward to it.

    I have never regretted my choice to switch to Theory and History of Psychology. It was great to attend classes taught by people like Trudy Dehue and Douwe Draaisma, they are such inspiring teachers, and they really taught me how to write.

  • Testimonial van

    In The Netherlands there are almost no theoreticians in or historians of psychology, which is exactly what we focus on in this Master's degree.

    My name is Boudewijn Wieringa and I'm 32 years old. I started the Master's degree programme in Reflecting on Psychology this year, after I finished the Dutch Bachelor's degree programme in Psychology.

    During the Bachelor's phase I had a lot of questions which remained unanswered during lectures. That's why I decided to pick this Master's. Here we look at psychology in a different way, a more critical way. Other Master's programmes might teach you what a person should have in order to diagnose him or her with ADHD. In this Master's you ask the question, what exactly is ADHD, and why are there so many more children with ADHD now than 50 years ago? Can it be because parents are more stressed, or because they put more pressure on their children?

    The study material for this Master's is more abstract than that of other Master's programmes. We wonder why things are the way they are in psychology and ask critical questions. In The Netherlands there are almost no theoreticians in or historians of psychology, which is exactly what we focus on in this Master's degree. I find it more interesting than anything I did before and I haven't been bored during this Master's at all.

    A big difference with the Bachelor's in psychology is the size of my class. This year there are only four students in total, and we have five lecturers. This makes it very easy to ask questions during class and you get to know the lecturers and your fellow students very quickly. We don't have many classes, so you have to read and study a lot by yourself.

    When I finish this Master's I'd like to stay at the University to do research or maybe also teach, I'm not sure yet.

  • Testimonial van

    Alumna Sarah de Rijcke talks about the Master's programme Reflecting on Psychology.

    I started the Bachelor's programme in Psychology in 1995 with the idea of doing clinical psychology. That was until I took course units in Theory and History of Psychology. I was hooked.

    They made me think and reflect a lot more on the discipline rather than just learning things by rote. I found it fascinating to look critically at how we research things in the discipline and to discover that it has not always been this way. I ended up specializing in Theory and History of Psychology, which is comparable to today's Master's programme Reflecting on Psychology.

    After I graduated I wasn't sure if I wanted to go into academia. I thought it would be really boring and that you would spend the whole time chained to your desk, never seeing the world outside. So I decided to go into journalism, because that seemed more exciting. I really enjoyed journalism, but at a certain point I found that I missed the research and the opportunity to spend a longer period getting right to the bottom of a topic. I decided to return to Groningen to do a PhD at the Department of Theory and History of Psychology.

    The image that I had of research proved completely wrong. I had a huge amount of freedom and could decide for myself how I spent my time. There is no one saying that you need to be at your desk at nine in the morning. You can do your work anywhere. You do need a huge amount of self-discipline, so it is not for everyone, but I love it. You also get to travel, for instance for archive research abroad or conferences. It is also much more creative than I had expected. I am really glad that I decided to do it.

    After my PhD I did a postdoc in Amsterdam, and then I found my current job at Leiden University. I lead a research group that is investigating the effect on academic research of the growing evaluation culture. The number of articles that academics write, how often they are quoted or how often an article is read is increasingly being monitored. These metrics play a growing role in what is considered good and who is appointed to university posts, for instance. The hypothesis of our research is that if you keep on using quantitative metrics to exert pressure on researchers, they will start basing their decisions on these metrics. They will not opt for complicated research that fewer people read but instead for the sexiest research that reaches more people. The question then is if we will still conduct the most important research, because our main concern will be how much we are being read and if we are being published in the right journals.

    A lot of what I learnt in Groningen is still relevant to my current work. The manner of thinking and writing that I learnt then has become second nature to me. You learn to take a sharp and critical look at developments in society. Although the topic that I am studying has changed, the training in Groningen forms the foundation of my current work.

  • Testimonial van

    Here you learn to think about psychology.

    I was looking around on the faculty website when I found the Reflecting on Psychology master program. The things I read appealed to me a lot: it's a broadening program, which is pretty unique at this faculty. And it touches on all kinds of other fields, like sociology, philosophy and anthropology, which I also find very interesting.

    Actually, I wasn't sure at the time whether I already wanted to start a master. I was considering maybe taking a gap year. But Reflecting on Psychology really got inside my head. So in the end, I followed my gut feeling and went for this master!

    I don't have any concrete plans for the future just yet. Since Reflecting on Psychology is such a broad program, it doesn't really guide you toward a specific profession. I have all my options still open, nothing's fixed.
    The same applies to the course program itself, by the way. This is the first year the course is offered. That means the program is very flexible and free, there's a lot that we can design just the way we want it. And because there are only four students, the lecturers have all the time in the world for personal attention and guidance, which is great.

    One skill you absolutely improve in this program is writing. I enjoy that very much and missed it a little during the bachelor. Plus, we learn to think about psychology: what does the field do, how does it manifest itself through the years and within society? It's what I like to call a helicopter study, where you look at the field from above.


  • Testimonial van lecturer Jeremy Trevelyan Burman

    Jeremy Trevelyan Burman - Assistent professor in Theory and History of Psychology

    My name is Jeremy Trevelyan Burman. I'm a Canadian research psychologist. My primary field, the history of psychology, is a bit different from most other areas: it's a kind of critical meta-psychology. This is always interesting: I'm constantly surprised by what we didn't know, but thought we understood.

    The way I think about my specialty is informed by my training as a psychological scientist. Briefly put: history is a method that can be applied with rigour to the problem of reflection. A standard question – ‘Why are things the way they are?’ – then becomes the basis for empirical research: you have to go looking to find the answer. Sometimes this will be in old books or articles that people have forgotten. Or maybe it’s to be found in another language. But sometimes the answer will only be found in letters held an archive off somewhere far away. That’s when it gets really interesting. (I worked at the Piaget Archives in Geneva before joining the tenure track at RUG.)

    Our program, Reflecting on Psychology, is pretty unique. This is because it’s offered by a group here at the RUG that is composed of experts in the Theory and History of Psychology. As a result, this is the only school on this side of the world where you can get trained up to the highest levels in the area: you can start in the Bachelor, continue on to the Master, and then finish as a PhD.

    We ask our students to think, to write, and to share their ideas. What makes our program different from others, though, is that we have specific tools to help elevate the quality and rigour of our students’ thinking. We don’t teach specific skills that a student might need for a particular job after they graduate. But we certainly can teach you to be better at jobs that require careful, critical, and high-level thinking, writing, and communication. That, I think, is very valuable.

    – lecturer Jeremy Trevelyan Burman
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