What Is Community Psychology?

Community psychology explores the way individuals relate to society and how community issues impact individual health and wellbeing. Those who work in the field take a multi-disciplinary approach that can include elements of public health, sociology, political science, and social psychology.

Working in community psychology provides professionals in the field with another career track option that allows them to focus their skills on a specific area of psychology. Focusing on community psychology is an opportunity to explore some of the most important issues in a growing, diverse population. Among those questions are why some people become bigger contributors to a community than others and how issues such as crime and poverty impact the mental health of individuals.

Community Psychology Principles

Community psychology emerged in the 1950s in an effort to expand the field of psychology beyond the focus on the individual and nuclear family. One of its foundational principles is that psychology should address ways to treat patients once problems emerge and address social conditions that increase the risk of mental health issues.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, community psychologists work under a set of principles that include the following:

  • Personal wellness and access to resources
  • Social justice and freedom from oppression
  • Sense of community and connectedness
  • Multiple dimensions of diversity (gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, etc.)
  • Community collaboration, participation, self-determination, and empowerment

The American Psychology Association writes that community psychology work focuses on “the development of theory, research, and practice relevant to the reciprocal relationships between individuals and the social systems that constitute the community context.”

What Do Community Psychologists Do?

Community psychologists can work in many fields, depending on their education and training. They may work as educators, program directors for government agencies or nonprofits, consultants, policymakers, or researchers for governments, universities, or community organizations.

According to the Society for Community Research and Action, no matter the specific job they hold, community psychologists work toward certain goals. Those goals include:

  • Seeking to expand “helping” beyond traditional psychotherapy to promote wellness
  • Engaging in action-oriented research that develops and evaluates programs
  • Basing work on a scientific foundation that leads to a better understanding of how social environments influence health and wellness
  • Building collaborative relationships with community members, groups, and organizations
  • Consulting with organizations to build capacity to address social problems
  • Analyzing government, civic life, and workplaces to understand and improve fair and diverse participation
  • Fighting oppression and working to reduce social inequalities and empower marginalized people

Qualities of Successful Community Psychologists

The skills needed by community psychologists start with those needed by all psychologists. They include strong analytical and communication skills, integrity, patience, interpersonal and observational skills, and strong problem-solving skills.

Community psychologists also need strong research skills and a deep understanding of the issues that impact the communities they work in. They must also learn to leverage their skills to support disadvantaged or disenfranchised people and help them build better connections with their communities.

Community psychologists focus on creating positive social change through first-order change and second-order change. First-order change involves changes in each person that can prevent or fix community problems. Second-order change involves changing social systems to provide more support for individuals, allowing them to fit better into their communities.

How to Become a Community Psychologist

Working as a community psychologist requires first earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Most jobs also require earning a master’s degree. Many move on to earn a doctorate.

Touro University Worldwide provides coursework in community psychology starting at the undergraduate level. Students learn about the relationship between individuals and the surrounding community. They also explore how society can help or hinder how individuals and communities function.

Working in community psychology offers an opportunity to expand how psychology supports both individuals and communities. Earning a degree in psychology is the first important step toward working in this fascinating area of the psychology field.

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