Psychological care as a calling in life, a conversation with Prof. Kristīne Mārtinsone
Professor Kristīne Mārtinsone is the Head of the Department of Health Psychology and Paedagogy at Rīga Stradiņš University (RSU). Together with her colleagues at RSU, she has developed a Bachelor’s, a Master’s and a PhD study programme in psychology. Learning from her international colleagues, the professor has brought art therapy to Latvia, developed it as a profession and promoted its integration into the field fo healthcare, as well as developed the first supervision study programme in Latvia.
The professor is an author, co-author or editor of more than 30 publications. These publications have not only become recognised student textbooks, but are also highly in-demand literature for professionals and other interested parties. She has organised several international conferences, participates in research programmes and has an energetic and optimistic outlook on the future.
The RSU Department of Health Psychology and Paedagogy recently celebrated its fifth anniversary. This coincided with the opening of new and modern premises. Within the framework of the traditional Psychology Days in October the department hosted several events gathering students and professionals with the intent of introducing and discussing topics associated with psychological care like military psychology, or the practical application of digital technologies. We met with Professor Kristīne Mārtinsone to ask her how her professional career started and what her plans for the future are.
Psychology is closely related to self-study – a kind of periodic auditing of your own world and the wider world around you. Is this the reason why you turned to psychology after graduating?
When I graduated high school there wasn't an opportunity to study or receive this qualification. I was always interested in studying people, myself, and the world of culture and art. This is probably why I have received three degrees in different fields – they intertwine and serve to enrich each other. In the second half of the previous century, during the Soviet era, I enrolled in the Faculty of Education at the University of Latvia to become a Latvian language and literature teacher. My studies started during the period of Awakening in Latvia and was dominated by a romantic world view. I have to mention that I studied this for five years and even got a Master’s degree in education science. At the time I didn’t know that these five years would later be recognised as a Master’s degree. I also have a Bachelor’s degree in philology. During my Master’s studies, Professor Ausma Špona took an interest in me and invited me to continue on as a doctoral student of psychology.
How did you decide to become a teacher?
I have known that I wanted to be a teacher since I was about four years old, but at that time I was not sure of what it was that I wanted to teach. I probably chose Latvian language and literature to follow in my mother’s footsteps. My mother was a well-known editor and literature critic. This mean that I was exposed to discussions about literature from a very young age. Popular writers frequently visited our home, and we were often invited to visit them in turn. I grew up among creative personalities, with literature and art all around me, which naturally shaped my interests and prompted me to chose my future profession. I thank my supportive father for my industriousness, responsibility and love for work.
After my studies, I started to work in a college as a Latvian language and literature teacher. The boys were 23, and I was only 24 myself! That was a great challenge. I decided to continue my education and enrolled in the University of Latvia to study psychology. After graduating with a Bachelor’s degree, I completed the Master’s programme as well. Looking back, this is a rather interesting time in my life! I was just starting my doctoral studies in psychology whilst simultaneously studying psychology on a Bachelor's level then going on to get a Master's degree. Later I went on to get a Master's degree in healthcare and an art therapist’s qualification at RSU.
How did you start working at universities and colleges?
I was invited to work at the Department of Psychology at the University of Latvia by professor Inga Tiltiņa while I was still a psychology Master’s student. I was entrusted to present the history of psychology course as well as general psychology, psychometrics and educational and legal psychology. After some time I was entrusted with the management of the Psychology Bachelor’s study programme. I also worked as the acting head of department, actively promoted the development of the Psychology Department at the University of Latvia and oversaw the name change of the Faculty of Education to the Faculty of Education and Psychology. Looking back at my experience I can say that I have been involved in psychology almost since the beginnings of formal psychology education in Latvia.
What is art therapy and how has it developed in Latvia?
Art therapy is a type of assistance focusing on the creative process. There are specialisations in visual arts, as well as musical art, drama, dance and motion therapy. Art therapy is a profession that is currently in-demand and I am thankful to my colleagues who are now developing and caring for it.
The opportunity to develop art therapy as a profession and the support of my colleagues encouraged me to leave my successful career at the University of Latvia and to start from scratch at RSU.
Initially, I had to overcome a lot of denial, scepticism and resistance. However, the desire to develop this profession has helped me establish a clear system of art therapy education and practice in our country. I am thankful to Professor Carol Sibbet-Steele from Queen's University Belfast, who helped me in a lot of ways – not only regarding ideology, content and contact lectures, but also by encouraging her colleagues to co-operate with us. Her gift – the coat of arms of Queen's University Belfast – Is always on my desk.
You are currently a professor of psychology, so your work is more connected with the development of the direction of psychology studies at RSU. Is that correct?
That is correct. My workdays are colourful and busy. Together with my colleagues we are currently developing the field of psychological care and education studies as well as research and practice in the context of health. We pay special attention to co-operation with foreign universities, professional organisations as well as with our peers in Latvia.
A good example of co-operation is the fifth annual international conference Health and Personal Development: an Interdisciplinary Approach, that our department organised this spring. Six experienced guest lecturers from the United Kingdom, the United States, Portugal, and Lithuania took part this year.
You are also involved in publishing and are currently preparing your 33rd publication. What do books mean to you?
As I already mentioned, I have obtained a comprehensive education and have had really great teachers! Most of that education was free and I received good grants that permitted me to study and not worry about working. I believe that it is my duty to pass on my knowledge and experience. Books enable everyone to learn about research and the practical aspects of psychological care in their native language.
Society as a whole as well as quality of life is changing. Do you follow these changes and if you do, how do these changes affect the study programme you teach?
It’s important to keep up-to-date with changes in society, new challenges and problems in order to ensure that the specialists we prepare are ready to meet the demands of the time and to ensure that research projects are relevant. I believe that one of the challenges we will face in the future will involve relating to artificial intelligence. Modern technologies determine new behaviour and ways of thinking. Conferences bear evidence on how artificial intelligence provides psychological care. One of the ways I stay up-to-date is by being actively involved in several professional organisations.
Your daily life is very active – what helps you organise your thoughts?
A change of perspective. The ability to, as I call it, zoom in to my surroundings. My hobby is traveling which helps me do that as well. I plan thematic trips. If I wish to enjoy art, I travel to Florence or Barcelona, Paris or London. If I wish to enjoy nature, I chose the Kamchatka Peninsula or Lake Baikal. I have seen the peak of Everest at sunrise from the base camp and taken a swim in the Dead Sea under the stars. I am happy that I have the opportunity to see and experience these places. By the way, every time I visit Asia, I am reminded that Europe is only a small part of the world. At the university, I have lectured on intercultural psychology and travel helps in this aspect as well.
What are some goals you still want to achieve?
I definitely want to help students develop into good professionals who have an in-depth interest in what's going on. As a PhD program manager, I strive to provide maximum support for young researchers. Supporting my colleagues and their professional development as well as my professional and personal development is no less important to me.
RSU offers fantastic opportunities to develop ones creativity and ideas.
I can compare objectively because I have acquaintances and friends at other universities. I am grateful to my team, without which we would not have such good outcomes. I want to strengthen the team and promote our students and professionals as authorities on psychological education, research and practice.