Interview with Coert Visser, Psychologist and Author of The Progress-Focused Approach

    We recently had the wonderful opportunity to interview Coert Visser, owner of NOAM (Utrecht Area Netherlands Professional Training and Coaching) and author of the The Progress-Focused Approach – a blog dedicated to teaching and illuminating the field of workplace psychology. During the interview, Visser revealed the challenges and opportunity he has faced in the psychology profession. He discusses how he chose the field of psychology as his chosen field of endeavor, an important book that shifted his way of thinking, and carefully illustrates an important project that took place in his career.

    What led you to pursue psychology as a professional choice?

    coert-visserOne of the main triggers which got me interested in psychology was reading the book “Your Erroneous Zones” by Dr. Wayne Dyer. In the 1970s, this was one of the first top-selling self-help books. The book was largely inspired by ideas from humanistic psychology and cognitive and behavioral therapy. The book shifted my implicit views on how I thought about myself. It helped me to see more possibilities. After I left school, I started studying medicine, which disappointed me somewhat. I had to learn countless things by heart but felt I wasn’t stimulated to critically think about what I had learned. One of the subjects in the study was a subject called health psychology. This I liked. I decided to switch to psychology and I have never regretted the switch. I chose to specialize in work and organizational psychology and clinical psychology. After I graduated, I proceeded to work as a selection psychologist.

    What are some challenges you have faced in your career in psychology? What steps have you taken to overcome them?

    I started working as a psychologist in 1990 and within a few years I was asked to become a team leader. Within several years, my management responsibilities grew and grew. Near the end of the 1990s, I was now working as an associate director at PricewaterhouseCoopers, I was much more involved with management than with my profession. Although, superficially, everything seemed to be going quite well, my job did not bring me much fulfillment. I decided to quit my job and started working as an independent psychologist. While this seemed like a risky step, it worked out fine for me. It gave me the freedom to fully focus on my profession without having to worry about management, meetings, and etcetera. While, in the beginning, it was a bit of a financial challenge now and then, it eventually worked out well. And the fulfillment is back.

    What advice do you have for those entering the field of psychology?

    My suggestion would be to follow what interests you and what fascinates you. In a recent article, I have mentioned interest-focused development. When you focus on what interests you, your thinking and memory become clearer. Also, focusing on your interests gives you new energy. Finally, your interests will never run dry. When learning about things that interest you, some things will fit well with what you already know. But some stuff will be surprising and different from what you thought you knew to be true. This makes you aware of a gap in your knowledge, which you then will want to bridge. Thus, your interests develop and lead you in new and surprising directions.

    What is one interesting case or project you have worked on during your career?

    Here is a case which illustrates how asking questions is probably one of the most useful things I do in my profession.

    A few years ago, I had a pleasant conversation with Hank, a former client of mine, and his manager and personnel manager. A year before, I had coached this person after he had made some mistakes in his work. The objective of the coaching was to make sure that he would not make any more mistakes in the future. Because he was working in a hospital laboratory, any mistakes could create serious health risks for patients. The coaching took place over a period from January until October and consisted of six conversations. Three weeks ago I was invited to have one more conversation with him and with his new line manager and the personnel manager. His old line manager had retired in the meantime, and his personnel manager would soon leave the hospital to go work in another hospital. First I talked to Hank. While there were a few issues he would like to work on and would like to talk about with me, it became clear quickly that he was doing very well in his job. After this conversation, we had a conversation with Hank, the new line manager and the leaving personnel manager. The conversation was very open and positive. The personnel manager remarked that Hank looked so much better than two years ago, and she asked if I could explain this. Hank said the following: “At first, I was skeptical. I really thought the real intention of this coaching was to get rid of me in a decent way. And, at first, I thought, well, I might as well play along. What else could I do? But after one conversation with the coach, I knew this could not be true, so I really started trying. These conversations were really helpful. They helped me to organize my thoughts. I learned how to step outside myself and to observe myself. This helped me to gradually change my behavior. What was really helpful was to talk to someone who knows nothing about our work. I could easily notice the coach knew nothing about our work. That was really helpful. I had to explain everything.”

    Could you suggest three guidelines for the individual who is entering the field of psychology?

    • Give priority to ethics, not commerce.
    • Follow evidence, not dogma.
    • Keep working on getting better at what you do.

    As an accomplished psychology blogger, do you have any social media advice for people entering the field of psychology?

    Well, I could probably learn more about social media from them than they could learn from me! But I do use social media a lot, and it helps me connect with my market. I tweet about what I have written and about new psychology research I have found out about. A great thing about LinkedIn is that it allows you to build groups, which is quite useful for me. I am not too active on Google+ but I think it is promising. I do find there some interesting stuff which I usually don’t find elsewhere. I did use Facebook, and it worked in the sense that it lead to much traffic to my websites, but I quit using it a few years ago. Somehow I did not feel comfortable with Facebook. I wasn’t sure I could trust it.

    This is the final question and time for your inner psychologist to break free. What is the biggest strength you would say you bring to your career, and how would you advise students to mine their own strengths to further their careers?

    I think I am reasonably good at being aware of my own ignorance about many topics, both within psychology and outside of psychology. This helps me to stay curious and to keep researching and learning, which actually is fun to do and very useful.

    We want to thank Coert for being so generous with his time and sharing his insights and advice. You can learn more about Coert at his blog, The Progress-Focused Approach, and on LinkedIn.