Community Psychology - Characteristics and Origin

How can you actively participate in your community? Why do society's problems affect your health and well-being? These are two of the main questions the field of community psychology (an area of ​​psychology concerned with how individuals relate to society) intends to answer.
Community Psychology - Characteristics and Origin
Gema Sánchez Cuevas

Reviewed and approved by the psychologist Gema Sánchez Cuevas.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

Community psychology is a fairly broad discipline with elements from other disciplines, such as sociology, cross-cultural psychology, social psychology, public health, and political science. Psychologists working in this field analyze the cultural, economic, social, political, and environmental aspects that shape and influence the lives of people around the world.

The community psychology approach can be applied and theoretical. However, it’s often a mixture of both. Some community psychologists do research on theoretical issues. Others take this information and use it immediately. Mainly to identify problems and develop solutions in communities. Therefore, community psychology is a discipline that’s oriented towards studying and transforming society.

Origin of community psychology

Community psychology emerged in the 1950s and 1960s in the United States. This occurred due to dissatisfaction with the ability of clinical psychology to tackle broader social problems by a growing group of psychologists.

Thus, the following factors that contributed to the beginning of community psychology in the United States stand out:

  • Firstly, a departure from socially conservative practices centered on the individual, health, and psychology. This, in a period related to issues of public health, prevention, and social change after World War II.
  • The increasing interest of social psychologists in racial and religious prejudices, poverty, and other social issues.
  • The perceived need for large-scale mental illness treatment for veterans.
  • Questioning the value of psychotherapy as the only treatment for many people with mental illness.
  • The development of community mental health centers. Also, the deinstitutionalization of people with mental illness in their communities.

Similarly, many authors recognize a meeting of psychologists in 1965 during the Swampscott Conference as the official beginning of contemporary community psychology. In it, attendees concluded that psychology needed to focus more on social and community changes. Mainly to address mental health and well-being. The field began to grow from that moment on until this day.

Characteristics and foundations

Civil rights, peace activism, feminism, the anti-poverty movement, and environmental awareness provided the context for defining the field of community psychology.

In this regard, the idea that psychology shouldn’t only focus on treating people once problems have arisen was central to its development. However, it also plays an important role in addressing social conditions such as poverty and discrimination. This is because these factors increase the risk of disease.

Thus, community psychology has an identifiable set of principles that define and guide the field. They include:

  • Personal well-being and access to resources.
  • Social justice and freedom from oppression.
  • A sense of community and connection.
  • Multiple dimensions of diversity (such as gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and disability).
  • Community collaboration, participation, self-determination, and empowerment.

Also, in its concern for the interdependence and interaction of individuals and groups, community psychology tries to encourage the creation of person-environment transactions that avoid dysfunction, facilitate empowerment and social justice, and promote well-being. By virtue of this, community psychology insists on multiple levels of analysis:

  • Individual (attitudes, cognitions, emotions).
  • Microsystem (family, classroom, teams).
  • Organizational (school, church, organization).
  • Community (identity, communities of common experience).
  • Macrosystem (ideologies, cultures, social institutions).
The pieces of a puzzle.

Research in community psychology

This kind of research is based on a collaborative model in which the researcher works in partnership with the community to address their needs. Thus, this type of research must lead to action or have clear implications for action.

In addition, intervention approaches based on this concept include primary prevention programs, empowerment interventions, mutual support groups (self-help), and social action strategies such as community advocacy and organization.

Thus, the main goal of these kinds of interventions is to address the causes of illness and distress through strategies that address antecedent and facilitating factors.

Finally, community psychology is a discipline concerned with the use of psychological resources to solve social problems and, thus, achieve a social transformation.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.