Community psychologists are public health professionals who work with groups and communities to promote wellbeing, empowerment, and social justice. Community psychologists focus on behavior and social issues within a community to prevent problems, build a sense of community, and ensure that community members have the resources needed. These efforts involve collaboration with community stakeholders, action-based research, advocacy, and consultation. Community psychologists work with social service agencies and communities on issues such as building capacity to address an ongoing community issue, provide support, resources and consultation following a challenging community event.
Understanding the Value of Community Psychologists
When a community faces high rates of homelessness and the programs and resources needed to address this issue are lacking or underutilized, community psychologists will work with the community members and social service providers to understand the issue in the socio-historical context of that community and work to build the capacity of the community to better address the issue. Community psychologists will also help evaluate any related programmatic efforts, as well as promote local and state policy change.
What Do Community Psychologists Do?
Community psychologists work with groups and communities to promote the health and wellbeing of the community members and build the resilience of the community as a whole. They work with community members such as community groups, social service providers, school staff, health services professionals, law enforcement personnel, and employers. They may also work with people suffering from chronic disorders, such as alcoholism or drug abuse that plague a community.
Community psychologists may work in not-for-profit agencies, mental health agencies, substance abuse centers, outreach programs, foundations, consultation agencies, schools, hospitals, workplaces, research settings, and academic settings. They focus on prevention, serving at-risk groups, and building capacity to help those suffering from short- term or chronic mental health problems. Their efforts are guided by a number of principles, including:
- Communities are diverse in nature, thus community psychologists work to promote a respect for diversity, foster collaboration, and utilize multiple theoretical perspectives in their efforts.
- Community approaches take into consideration the multiple levels of the social ecological system of a community and require interdisciplinary partnerships and collaboration with community stakeholders.
- Social change through outreach, advocacy, and policy development are important mechanisms to promoting social justice, including the empowerment of historically marginalized groups.
- Community psychology is a research and action field that promotes social change through research and evaluation and the use of evidence-based practices and programs.
Community psychologists promote community wellness in a variety of ways.
How is Community Psychology Unique?
Community psychology is distinct from other branches of psychology such as counseling and social work because the focus is on the community rather than on individuals. Although, community psychologists work with groups, communities, and systems their work ultimately impacts individuals.
Because community psychologists must be knowledgeable and skilled in utilizing theoretical perspectives, conducting research and promoting social change, these professionals are expected to have at least a Master's degree. Advanced academic training prepares community psychologists to conduct research, build community collaboration, and address critical or long-standing issues impacting a community.
Community psychologists are problem solvers; they intervene with prevention efforts at the primary, secondary, and tertiary levels, taking into consideration the related risk and protective factors. They are not limited in their professional capacities. Community psychologists address mental health and social issues, such as:
- School issues (drop-out, bullying, enrichment needs)
- Substance abuse and prevention
The Need for Community Psychologists
Community psychologists provide groups and communities with tools that promote wellbeing, coping, and support resources. They apply multiple strategies to enable a community to thrive.
Many factors contribute to the increasing need for community psychologists. Some are global such as the state of the economy or the housing market. Others are more local such as youth bullying, domestic violence, acts of violent crime, and natural disasters.
Community psychologists provide meaningful outreach to groups of people and communities. They facilitate mental health within a community and help keep it resilient. Community psychologists also research why problems occur and work to prevent them before they arise. Community psychologists play an integral role in promoting the health and wellbeing in society.
Sacred Heart University's Online Master of Science in Applied Psychology provides a flexible option for those who want to advance their career while having the option to continue working. A top-tier, research-driven, real-world-based academic program, the MSAP offers a concentration in Community Psychology. Upon completion of Sacred Heart's Online Master's program, students will be able to pursue meaningful careers that will allow them to become a positive agent of social change, contributing to a community's mental health, healing and wellbeing.
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