A bit overstated? Perhaps
not, when we recall that one definition of champion is "one who fights for
another or defends any person or cause." Community psychologists are often
champions for those most at risk in our society, for example, the mentally ill,
the physically challenged, the homeless, and victims of abuse and neglect. But
let's back up and start by trying to answer the vexing question: what exactly
is community psychology?
What is community
There's a short answer and a long answer. The short answer (definition) I like
comes from George Orford (1992, p. vii): "community psychology is about
understanding people within their social worlds and using this understanding to
improve people's well-being."
The long answer is that
community psychology represents a new perspective for looking at the problems
of everyday life, a paradigm shift. 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 clinical perspective on helping that
sees people in terms of their pathologies and deficits with the notion that all
people have strengths and competencies.
For community psychologists,
successful helping is viewed as a mutual process. We work with people and groups; we try not to do
to. We take seriously the admonition of George Miller (1969), a former
president of the American Psychological Association, who said that our job as
psychologists is to "give psychology away."
Community psychology is
ultimately about empowering others. But how do we do this? In the following
paragraphs, we present several examples that show the range of ways community
psychologists work to this end.
What do community
psychologists actually do?
Gaye Rizzo: Librarian as Community
"Wilson [Conn.] is a more fragile community than it once was.
Suburbanization and urban renewal have taken its churches and entire blocks of
business from its center. Wilson has also had an infusion of new people who
have not always settled in comfortably with the old. Fortunately, a new center
of the community has emerged: the library. This is no accident. It is due
directly to Gaye's concern, innovation and effectiveness" (from remarks
prepared to honor Gaye Rizzo as the recipient of 1995 Vocational Service Award
from Rotary International). Gaye Rizzo is an unlikely librarian. With a BA in
Spanish and an MA in community psychology from Central Connecticut State University,
she views the library as a community center and has introduced such innovations
as a book delivery service for senior shut-ins and an after-school
tutoring/mentoring program for latchkey children staffed by seniors as well as
other adults in the community. Working with other community agencies, the
library has been involved in a number of prevention-oriented programs: a Rites
of Passage program that focuses on building self-esteem in preteens, parenting
skills for teen mothers, and a "shut-in buddy" program which builds
telephone networks among isolates.
In Gaye's words,
"Community psychology helped me look at the big picture. By working with
other agencies and combining resources, we can do a much better job of meeting
the needs of people who come to us."
Clinician with a Community Conscience
For Jeff Elias-Frankl, community psychology "is more a state of mind than
a place of work." Jeff completed a PhD in clinical/community psychology at
the University of Maryland and is now a managing partner of the Colt's Neck
Consulting Group in Monmouth County, N.J. Jeff and his colleagues combine a
traditional clinical practice with a variety of innovative, community-oriented
projects; the College House Project is one such program.
Recognizing that high
school graduates with learning disabilities often experience considerable
difficulty in college settings, the consulting group is developing a two-level
program of appropriate support services at a local community college. At the
more intensive level, a small group of undergraduates will live in a
group-living situation with graduate student mentors who provide training in
social and life management skills. Students with less intensive needs will be
assigned a liaison who is responsible for monitoring the student's progress,
facilitating the use of needed resources, and acting as an advocate for the
student. Consistent with George Miller's admonishment to "give psychology
away," the consulting group will train staff of the community college to
provide these services directly in the third year of the project.
A program on Black-White
relations entitled "Bridging the Great Divide" was developed which
utilized acting students trained in socio-drama methods. A large audience (80+)
included students, police, and community members who explored their own
emotions and attitudes toward ethnic issues through various scenarios that were
"brought to life" by the actors. Using a stop-action technique,
participants were able to explore alternate ways of handling potentially
confrontive situations. For Jeff and his colleagues, the integration of
traditional clinical work with community-based activities such as these have
allowed them to earn a good income and move beyond traditional models of
Academic and Community Builder
Rod Watts, associate professor and director of clinical training at DePaul
University in Chicago, divides his time between traditional academic activities
and empowerment research in the community. A graduate of the clinical/community
doctoral program at the University of Maryland, Rod teaches a variety of
undergraduate and graduate courses in such areas as community psychology,
program evaluation, psychology of men, and human diversity.
Beyond the classroom,
Professor Watts has developed a "Young Warriors" program to help
African American males think more critically about the images of masculinity
they receive from TV shows, rap videos, and other media. The program
facilitates empowerment by helping young men explore new meanings of manhood
and by building social/political consciousness. The "Young Warriors"
program has been offered in a variety of settings (e.g., schools, youth service
agencies) over the last five years. The program offers both an opportunity for
personal development and a venue for Professor Watt's continuing research on a
theory of social/political development.
The Organization of
The Society for Community Research and Action (SCRA) is the primary
organization of community psychology. It is associated with the American
Psychological Association (Division 27). Within the SCRA, there are over a
dozen different interest groups reflecting more specific areas of focus, for
example, aging, community action, children and youth, cultural and racial
affairs, disabilities, prevention and promotion, women, self help/mutual help,
and rural issues. (See below for information on how to join SCRA.)
What kind of education
do I need to be a community psychologist?
As suggested above, community psychology is a way of looking at the world.
People who identify with community psychology values hold a host of degrees
(including some not in psychology!). Most community psychologists hold advanced
degrees (MA or PhD), and there are a number of colleges and universities that
offer programs in this area.
There are several sources
of information about community psychology programs. First, you can check Graduate Study in Psychology, published
by the American Psychological Association, which lists graduate program
information on all areas of psychology. Community-oriented programs can be
found under a number of headings in the index (e.g., community,
clinical-community, community-clinical, community-rural, community-school).
A second source of
information is the survey of graduate programs conducted every few years by the
Society for Community Research and Action. This information is then published
in The Community Psychologist (see the next section for more information about
getting this journal). The most recent survey information was published in the
Summer 1995 issue. Reprints of the survey can also be obtained from Greg
Meissen (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Finally, a more detailed
description of different types of programs in community psychology can be found
in Education in Community Psychology:
Models for Graduate and Undergraduate Programs (C. O'Donnell &
J. Ferrari, Eds., Haworth Press, 1997). This book contains a wealth of
information regarding the philosophy and focus of various programs as well as
sections written by students currently in the program. Copies can be obtained
through your library or bookstore or by calling (607) 722-5857, ext. 321.
Where can I get more
As a student, you can join the Society for Community Research and Action (SCRA)
for $18 a year and receive subscriptions to The
Community Psychologist, a quarterly publication that describes
current activities in the field, and the American
Journal of Community Psychology, the primary research journal. For
a membership application, contact: William Davidson, SCRA Treasurer, Department
of Psychology, Michigan State University, 129 Psychology Research Building,
East Lansing, MI 48824-1117; e-mail: william.davidson@ ssc.msu.edu.
The SCRA also has a
listserv network [SCRA-L] to which you can subscribe by sending the following
message: SUBSCRIBE SCRA-L YOUR NAME, to email@example.com. SCRA
also maintains a home page at www.apa.org/divisions/div27.
represents a challenging yet rewarding career choice for those who would be
champions. We hope you will join us!
Miller, G. A. (1969). Psychology as a means of promoting human welfare. American Psychologist, 24, 1063-1075.
Orford, J. (1992). Community psychology: Theory and practice.
Chichester, England: John Wiley & Sons.