Cultural Psychologist

My professional background is in Cultural Psychology. What studying this subject made me realize, above all, is that we as people are not just individuals and social beings but also culturally determined. Even phenomena that we tend to regard as purely individual matters – emotions, feelings and physical perceptions – have a cultural component when seen from the point of view of Cultural Psychology.
This realization is an important guiding principle in my work. For example, it leads me not to overrate the importance of individual choice in healthcare: how ‘individual’  can patients’ choices really be, when offered in a highly medicalized context?

Connecting two worlds

During the last twenty years, I have found myself moving in several different professional worlds at the same time, drawing connections wherever I could. I have combined theory with practice, research with teaching and science with journalism. A recurrent theme throughout my work has been the doctor-patient relationship, which I see as a coming together of two cultures. In my work at the Academic Medical Center (AMC) over the last twelve years, I have been able to fully enter both of these worlds. For my wide-ranging research, teaching and support activities, I worked closely with patients and the many different types of medical professionals who work in this kind of large academic hospital. In this, my changing roles of lecturer, researcher, discussion moderator and supervisor helped me to constantly change perspective and make connections.

Putting it all into practice

I have specialized in taking scientific insights making them ready to be applied in practice. After completing my PhD in medical ethics, for example, I used the knowledge gained in my research – into unexpected findings in prenatal diagnosis – to develop a consultation model. My experience of teaching modules on conducting consultations as part of the General Practice training program also proved very useful in this regard. This MIMES consultation model is now used for the counseling course on prenatal screening in the Amsterdam region (see Innovations in Education).

The issue that has always preoccupied me is how the healthcare system can truly do justice to the vulnerable position of patients. In trying to get to grips with this issue I have increasingly focused on the responsibility that professionals themselves can take in this process. As teaching coordinator for the Professionalism Program at the AMC, I was able to work with colleagues to integrate various forms of reflection-related teaching into the medicine curriculum (see Professionalism). Based on the notion that professional awareness-raising can benefit communications with patients, I devised a new type of educational tool, Moralmap.com, to help GP trainees and others to think about the morally sensitive issues that they encounter in their everyday practice (see Innovations in Education).

Within our own company, The Good Worker, we have developed this focus on professional responsibility even further. By combining reflection on one's own role as a professional with training in specific skills, we use refresher courses, advice and coaching to help improve patient care.