Theory and History of Psychology studies psychology as a science, a discipline, and a profession. It's the only programme of its kind in Europe.
Our aim is to understand why psychology became the way it is, how it has been understood, how it negotiates its boundaries with other allied sciences, and how it could be improved. We focus on the social, methodological, philosophical, and conceptual issues that underlie contemporary psychology. For this reason, our programme will appeal particularly to students who wonder why things are the way they are, dare to question established truths, and dream about how they could be different.
This is a programme for those who want to explore beyond statistical analyses of quantitative data and to learn about the various historical, cultural, and qualitative alternatives to the standard set of approaches in contemporary scientific psychology. Gaining access to a broader range of concepts, literature, and research methods will help you to identify and ask the most exciting and urgent questions, and discover new ways to consider their answers by looking at history, philosophy, public understanding, and sociology of science.
Together with faculty and fellow students, you will set to work by reading deeply in both primary and secondary sources, examining popularizations, writing your own texts, presenting your own ideas, reconsidering your reasoning, and debating the consequences. This active learning process will help you to think flexibly and well in various different contexts, conduct independent research unconstrained by current fashion, and communicate in an understandable and attractive way about ideas that have not yet been popularized elsewhere.
Thanks to this degree programme, I now have a very clear picture of what I am most interested in.
My name is Rajitha Panditharadhyula, I come from India and this is my second Master's degree. I obtained my previous Master's degree in Psychology and also have a Bachelor's degree in Pharmacy. I am interested in understanding the healthcare system from a social, political and ethnographic perspective.
When I first saw the website, I read in an implicit way that this programme will teach you how to think. This is something that still sticks with me. During the programme, you develop intellectually and you learn why you think in the way that you do. I am an inquisitive person and I am always curious about why I think in a certain way. After finishing this programme, I can certainly say that it teaches you a style of thinking that you can apply to virtually any case. This is very useful if you want to understand more about the healthcare, social or political system.
I think the Writing Skills course unit was extremely fun and engaging. For me, no part of the course unit felt burdensome. Of course, we also had weekly assignments and giving critical feedback was something that sometimes felt tedious at the time. But when I look back and reflect on this, I think that it was exciting. The take-away after finishing the entire teaching block was very significant. In addition, I also found the Brain, Consciousness and Society course unit highly interesting.
For my thesis, I chose to work on the concept of resilience. I analyzed the work of seven different researchers that has been done on the topic in the past five decades. I summarized their articles, identified the patterns within them and discussed their similarities and differences. By the end, I was able to give a definition of resilience of which I think is the most functional form of resilience.
The ability to successfully comment on society is something that any student following this degree programme could certainly expect to learn. We read a lot of different messages in the news, in magazines and so on. This degree programme essentially teaches you to place all of this information in a meaningful context, to create a complete picture and to make sense of it. For example, one fact could mean something very different academically, politically or socially. The degree programme instills all of these different perspectives into your thought process so that you can collate them and see the full picture.
Thanks to this degree programme, I now have a very clear picture of what I am most interested in. In the future, I would like to focus on the meaning of as many concepts as possible in the context of my own country.
I completed the course unit Brain, Consciousness and Society, which focused on the relationship between neuroscience, psychology and society .
My name is Kees van Genuchten. After obtaining my Bachelor's degree in Psychology and Economics, I decided to enroll in the Master's programme in Theory and History of Psychology. I am also currently completing a Master's degree in Economics at the University of Groningen.
I am fascinated with the contents of the programme in Theory and History of Psychology. By taking a step back and reflecting on the field as a whole and on the methods that we use within psychology specifically, we can determine where improvements can be made and look at how our area of expertise intersects with others, including sociology and economics. We then also study the relationship between the field of psychology and society.
As part of my Master’s degree programme, I completed the course unit Brain, Consciousness and Society, which focused on the relationship between neuroscience, psychology and society. The course unit included a look at Freudian psychology and the lessons that it holds. Other course units covered during the Master’s programme include Writing Skills and Qualitative Research Methods. Writing Skills focuses on honing your writing, and Qualitative Research Methods details how interviews should be conducted and how to perform and set up qualitative studies. It is also possible to enrol in a course unit at another faculty . You have a considerable amount of freedom of choice, as long as any course unit that you wish to take has a link to psychology. I decided to take the Neuroethics course unit offered by the Faculty of Philosophy.
What I love about the degree programme is the freedom that it offers. You can choose any topic for your writing assignments as long as it is related to psychology and you can properly substantiate your arguments. The course units cover a wide range of areas and that greatly appeals to me. For your papers, you can pick just about any topic you like as long as it’s related to the field. These assignments have helped me to improve my writing on a plethora of interesting topics. The supervision by teaching staff is also great.
I am still debating what I want to do next. If I continue in the field of psychology, I think I would like to do a PhD and pursue a career in academia. I would say that this Master’s degree programme also teaches skills that would be useful in a career as a journalist or author, with a focus on science communication for example.
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.
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.
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
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
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!
On an everyday basis, I am putting into practice the skills that I developed throughout my studies.
My name is Stephen Scholte. I am currently a Doctoral Researcher in the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex. I am working on a project which investigates serendipity in science and technology research and development, with a specific focus on psychopharmacology.
I was alerted to the opportunity here in Sussex via an email from Maarten Derksen, Assistant Professor of Reflecting on Psychology at the UG. He forwarded to me the call for applications for this ERC-funded position. The application involved sending a writing sample, a CV and a motivation letter as well as writing a research proposal. I was offered an interview, so I came to meet the potential supervisors and check out the city. They offered me the position and now here I am! The abilities I honed and knowledge base that I developed during my stay in Groningen were, I am told, influential factors in being offered the position. Being able to critically reflect on the methodologies of social sciences, a knack for drawing different strands of empirical and theoretical work together into novel constellations, and a competence for writing clearly and engagingly are all skills for which I owe much to the Master’s programme in Reflecting on Psychology.
Next to introducing me to some of the most interesting work in the theory, methodology and history of psychology and the social sciences, the Master’s programme in Reflecting on Psychology at the UG may have been most useful in providing the framework within which I learnt to really think. Knowledge in isolation means little and the contemporary context, which allows near immediate access to any piece of knowledge in the cannon, only accentuates the futility of becoming a walking encyclopaedia – we have one constantly in our pockets. What is necessary, and of utmost value in almost any interesting occupation (and especially for aspiring academics such as myself) is the ability to analyse, to reflect and to connect the oversupply of information with which we are constantly confronted. This, I learnt in Groningen, and it is what I try to do every day in my current position.
The process of writing a Master’s thesis taught me things that I did not realize would be so valuable; in large part, the autonomy and discipline needed to conduct actual research. It taught me to take responsibility for my own direction and for my own thoughts. I don’t believe there is anywhere else I would have been given the freedom and support that I received during this Master’s programme. These allowed me to really work on myself as a researcher and writer. The path to find one’s own voice is foggy and likely interminable, but I was definitely gifted a powerful torch by mentors and supervisors during the Master’s programme. My academic voice] is one articulated in a vocabulary comprised largely of the content of the course units which make up the Master’s programme.
I have an interesting job that I enjoy, and I have my studies in Groningen largely to thank for this. On an everyday basis, I am putting into practice the skills that I developed throughout my studies; critical reading and analysis, drawing cross-disciplinary connections, and applying, comparing and adapting theoretical frameworks to empirical data. There are a host of skills also which are far more difficult to articulate, somehow tacit skills, that are only gained in proximity to experts and through practice under the guidance of experts. Something like critical intuition is a big part of this for me and helps me immensely in the constant decisions that one must make as a researcher: what ideas do I follow? Which lines of investigation could be interesting? Where do I narrow my focus or zoom out?
In my late twenties, with a degree in Music and a job in a terrible bar, I decided to go back to university and study Psychology. I ended up doing the Bachelor’s programme in Groningen – more by circumstantial accident than divination. During the programme, I found that the kinds of questions I was asking my professors usually resulted in recommendations to go and speak with someone in the Theory and History department − which I did. I initially arrived in the office of Trudy Dehue, hoping for some answers. But I was not given any – just a host of new and improved questions. I was hooked. Over the course of the Bachelor’s programme, I followed every course unit I could that was being taught by the staff of this department, and was continually gifted with the time, openness and support of the Theory and History staff. There was little doubt for me after graduating with my Bachelor’s degree that this was the place for me to continue with the Master’s programme. My only reservation was that I wanted to follow the Master’s degree with a PhD project, and I had regularly been told that this was almost impossible without doing a two-year Research Master’s – but here I am!
I have probably extolled the virtues of the programme and the staff members enough already, but it was also the social environment and city of Groningen that made my time there so enjoyable. I found a group of people with whom I was comfortable yet regularly challenged, who had shared interests yet diverse backgrounds and perspectives, and even as a somewhat older, less “studenty” student, I very much enjoyed inhabiting the welcoming little city of Groningen.
The next three and a half years will be occupied by my PhD research. In this, I hope to be able to say something insightful and useful about the way in which targeted research programmes interact with the praxis of psychopharmacological treatment. Beyond this, I will have to wait and see; at this stage I would like to continue in academia, which likely means finding a postdoctoral position somewhere, and hopefully one day I will be lucky enough to end up in a faculty like the one in Groningen.
I’m wary to give advice, as I realize that what works for one person may not necessarily translate to success for the next, but for myself, the opportunities that I have been most grateful for have generally come from following the things that I really love to do. NO RAGRETS! (typo intentional).
I have never regretted my choice to switch to Theory and History of Psychology.
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.
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 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
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.
How can you be sure that something is new if you do not know about the past?
Since January 2020, Annette Mülberger has been working at the Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences. As a Theory and History of Psychology professor she argues that looking at the past can help to understand contemporary issues.
Annette: “We live in a fast-paced and future-oriented society. Scientists need to constantly innovate. How can you be sure that something is new if you do not know about the past? The past is our collective experience. We can learn a lot from it.”
By looking at the past, you for example discover that 'new' ideas in psychology often are not so new at all and have been tried before. Looking at the past thus helps to avoid reinventing the wheel and provides insight into how the field of psychology has evolved over the years.
Annette: “Psychologists often assume history is boring because they think of history as a descriptive chronology. But historical documents can tell us much more than only that something happened in the past. Questions about why certain events took place are also part of the work of the historian. To find this out is a challenging and exciting task!”
As a scientist in the field of Theory and History of Psychology, it is important to be open-minded and to put yourself in the shoes of the people of the past, Annette believes. “It takes some patience and empathy.”
A complicating factor is that you no longer can interview these people and therefore have to reconstruct their way of thinking. Some people think that is not ‘real’ scientific research, but Annette thinks this is too short-sighted. “It really helps us to focus on bigger questions dealing with the dynamics of science and society at large.”
Before moving to Groningen, Annette lived in Germany and Spain respectively. Annette chose Groningen because of the good reputation of the Theory and History of Psychology department, but also because of the beautiful spots in the city and the friendly people.
Because of her many years abroad, Annette became a real polyglot: she publishes in seven languages (English, Spanish, German, Catalan, French, Italian and Portuguese). Annette: “Each language is a highly valuable cultural product. I think it is very important that languages are kept alive in this globalizing world. I find it a pity that scientists no longer seem to care about publishing in different languages than English.”
The plan is to add an eighth language to the impressive list soon. “I am currently learning Nederlands and hope that I will master it soon. So please speak Nederlands to me!”, says a smiling Annette.
I'm constantly surprised by what we didn't know, but thought we understood.
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.
The programme is particularly interesting for students who want to obtain a deeper understanding of how science and people work, and who also have an academic curiosity.
Foto: Elsbeth Hoekstra
My name is Stephan Schleim, I come from Germany and I have worked at the University of Groningen for 11 years. I studied Philosophy and Psychology and took minors in Computer Science. I then went on to do a PhD in Cognitive Science and to carry out brain research.
Can you tell us something about the Master’s degree programme in Theory and History of Psychology?
If you think about the problems in society, you can see that they do not neatly correspond to specific disciplines. Whether focusing on the climate crisis or discrimination, these are issues that touch on many different fields. We may have invented these fields, but the problems in the world are not limited by such boundaries. This is why I think that it is very important that we as a department conduct interdisciplinary research and teach this Master’s track.
What is your own research area?
I am currently working on a four-year NWO research project. I am investigating the relationship between psychology and the concept that people’s actions can be explained by neurological processes alone. For example, can you see what is right and what is wrong by looking at the brain? Some leading scientists claim that this is possible, and I have responded to this. In the Netherlands, a new law was introduced in 2014 for young adults that is partly based on brain research. The reasoning is that criminal responsibility can be measured in the brain. I find it important to examine whether that reasoning is theoretically correct and how reliable certain scanning techniques are, for example.
Who might be interested in this Master’s track?
The programme is particularly interesting for students who want to obtain a deeper understanding of how science and people work, and who also have an academic curiosity. For example, in the course unit Boundaries of Psychology, we go into what the boundaries are, and why they exist. It is an interdisciplinary programme that gives students the opportunity to think out of the box and to develop their own ideas. Students also receive a lot of individual supervision and we spend a lot of time and attention on developing writing skills.
What do alumni go on to do?
We continue to keep in touch with our students after graduation. During the programme, they learn how to write about science, and that opens up lots of possibilities. For example, students often find jobs analysing scientific problems as a consultant at a government institution, or they go on to do a PhD. They may also work in the cultural sector, for example at a library or a museum. Some students dive into the archives and research cultural heritage in psychology.
What is your advice for students who are considering following this Master’s programme?
We live in a time in which students think a lot about their future and the job market. When choosing a degree programme, it is very important to think about your intrinsic motivation and what is important to you. If you choose a programme that you are really interested in, it will always come in useful. So, think about what you like, and what you really want. Choose what you want, and go for it!
I believe that we are the smallest track within the Master’s in Psychology programme, and that makes the track more personal. We are passionate about what we do, and we listen to what students want when choosing topics. For example, some Master’s students carry out research on autism in films and novels; others on the meaning of love. The students are intrinsically motivated because they are free to choose a subject that they find interesting.