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Community psychology explores the interactive relationships between individuals and their communities. The mission of community psychologists is to understand and improve the quality of life for both individuals and communities through collaborative action and research.
What is Community Psychology?
Community psychologists strive to promote healthy and empowered groups and communities. They use concepts and knowledge from a variety of disciplines, such as social, ecological, environmental and cross cultural psychology. Public health, social work and applied anthropology are also related. Community psychologists are involved in politics, public policies and social issues. Community psychologist focus both on first hand change, such as through helping individuals, and second hand change, such as changing social systems. Many community psychologists work with certain social issues, such as education, violence prevention and preventative medicine. Diversity, empowerment and social justice are all core values of community-based psychology.
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How Do Community Psychologists Help?
Community psychologists directly deal with sensitive and important social issues. For example, they may focus on finding ways to help the disadvantaged, such as the poor, or disenfranchised, such as the homeless, connect with their local communities and access resources and support. Other social psychologists try to reduce ethnic tension through researching and understanding social issues that minority groups face. Community psychologists in leadership positions may develop and implement action driven community-based programs with specific purposes, such as increasing literacy rates or providing resources to immigrants.
Some community psychologists are community coordinators and they spend their time collaborating with non-profits, community groups and the local government to improve community conditions. Senior community psychologists may work in think tanks, government agencies and private consulting companies promoting beneficial legal and economic changes for communities. Many community psychologists work in health and human services, such as Child Welfare or Adult Services, for local and state governments.
How is Community-Based Psychology Unique?
Community-based psychology is closely related to other fields, so thus it is commonly confused with things like social work and social psychology. Although community-based psychology borrows key concepts and practices from similar fields, it is totally different because it is centered on grassroots action and solving problems. Therefore, it is a kind of collective clinical psychology. However, the emphasis is on underlying social issues and not individual problems.
Community-based psychology is sometimes confused with sociology because it focuses on society and economics. However, community-based psychology focuses on applied social knowledge and psychological techniques to collaboratively solve shared problems.
Finally, unlike the academic field of public health, community-based psychology is centered on preventing health and wellness problems through hands-on action.
What Education is Required?
Because community-based psychology is such a highly specialized field, most community psychologists have a master's in a field of psychology. Due to the fact that community-based psychology is relatively new, most programs offer either an interdisciplinary degree or specialization in community-based psychology.
Students aspiring to be a community psychologist should consider studying social, organization or developmental psychology. In fact, any field of applied psychology or human service related degree program is highly recommended. Students should ensure that they study statistics, grant writing, public health, research methodology and how to develop prevention programs.
In summary, community psychology combines the drive for social justice and health with applied psychology. Being a community psychologist will empower the student to improve and protect their community.