Community psychology is the branch of psychology concerned with person-environment interactions and the ways society impacts upon individual and community functioning. Community psychology focuses on social issues, institutions, and settings that influence individuals, groups, and organizations.
Community psychology as a science seeks to understand relationships between environmental conditions and the development of health and well-being of all members of a community. The practice of community psychology is directed towards the design and evaluation of ways to facilitate psychological competence and empowerment, prevent disorder, and promote social change. The goal is to optimize the well-being of individuals and communities with innovative and alternative interventions designed in collaboration with affected community members and with other related disciplines inside and outside of psychology.
Community psychology represents a new perspective for looking at the problems of everyday life. It recognizes that many of the problems people confront arise not from disturbances within their individual psyches, but from the failures of community systems to adequately socialize and support its citizens. It replaces the traditional perspective on helping that sees people in terms of their pathologies and deficits with the notion that all people have strengths and competencies. Community Psychology is a recognized division of the American Psychological Association: the Society for Community Research and Action (Div. 27).
Training in community psychology emphasizes prevention and health promotion and facilitating wellness by building on strengths and enhancing competencies. Community psychology has a strong social change orientation with an emphasis on identifying and eliminating oppression and increasing social justice. Training equips students with skills useful in coping with multifaceted problems facing communities. Students are also educated on how to conduct community research and intervention in a pluralistic society. Students become aware of the contemporary community needs and how both qualitative and quantitative techniques can be employed to address complex social problems.
Training in the field can be obtained in a variety of different ways on both the doctoral and master's degree levels. The Council of Community Psychology Program Director's has compiled of list of training programs in clinical-community psychology, an integration of the two backgrounds, and just community psychology. The field is becoming more globally recognized and various colleges and universities in Europe, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia offer degrees in community psychology.
With training in research and action, evaluation and delivery of innovative community-based services, community psychologists are employed in a variety of worksites and have a broad range of job titles. Except for university faculty positions, you are not likely to see a job announcement asking for a community psychologist per se. However, people with training in community psychology at the masters or doctoral level work in a variety of human service agencies, government offices, planning and research units, public policy making roles, colleges and universities.Community psychologists value interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary collaborations. Thus, individuals with a community psychology orientation and relevant training might hold positions as a city manager or regional planner, chief of police, director of residential life at a college, or director of an alternative school. Individuals with a community psychology orientation might work in hospitals, schools, universities, programs for the homeless or public health settings.
In schools, community psychologists work with students and staff in designing and implementing prevention programs to help schools deal with the various societal problems that crop up. For instance, students are encouraged to get involved with school activities as a healthy outlet for their free time. Additionally, these psychologists may assist in peer mediation, so that short term conflicts between groups of students do not fester and form long-standing feuds. It is important to schools that students learn in a peaceful and safe environment. Community psychology is a vital part of the present day system of public and community health. It is absolutely essential to continue research in developing ways to combat homelessness, socially-induced depression, drug use, and a multitude of other problems.
With a masters degree Community psychologists might:
- work with a community service agency for children, families, the homeless, older citizens, disabled persons or those with mental illness, for example
- work with local, state, or national government agencies assisting in policy analysis and policy making roles, e.g., serving as staff to elected officials
- conduct evaluations of community programs and policies
- provide consultation on community development and change initiatives
- work with not-for-profit and grass roots organizations
- work on initiatives to solve community problems and improve quality of life in communities
- work with prevention programs in a variety of settings
With a doctoral degree Community psychologists might:
- teach and do research in a college or university
- direct a community service agency
- work with local, state, or national government agencies in policy analysis and policy making roles
- conduct evaluations of community programs and policies
- apply the research skills of the doctoral degree to analysis of community change
- provide consultation on community development and change
- direct initiatives to solve community problems and improve quality of life in communities implement and evaluate prevention programs
- work in business or industry on quality of life and workplace issues, prevention of organizational problems, or employee assistance programs
If you would like to learn more about this fascinating discipline, we suggest checking out the Council of Community Psychology Program Director's recommended reading list, the Community Psychology Network, or joining one of the many discussion lists. The reading list provides references to various periodicals, text books, and an alphabetical listing of various foci including prevention, intervention, diversity, empowerment, history and current issues, and methods. The Community Psychology Network site is full of information including links and information regarding discussion lists, professional membership societies, graduate schools, community psychology course materials, funding sources, position announcements, community psychology books and suggested reading material, and various other miscellaneous resources relevant to the field.