The Field of Community Psychology

In this article, we will discuss The Field of Community Psychology. So, let’s get started.

The Field of Community Psychology

Community psychology is oriented toward averting human problems rather than simply repairing those which already exist. The ultimate goal of prevention community psychologists believe, can best be attained through social and community interventions which alter the social institutions which vitally affect the patient’s well-being. Toward this end, emphasis is shifted from intra individual factors, whether psychodynamic or biological, toward greater attention to the social and institutional determinants of human functioning and disorder. Community psychology represents a “public health” rather than a “treatment” approach to mental health problems, consequently, there is greater concern with populations and prevention than with individuals and cure.

In actuality, however, community psychology covers a broad range of activities. It is more a way of thinking than an explicit set of principles and practices. As we noted in our earlier discussion of alternate models of mental health intervention, the community approach spans a spectrum from interventions close to the “therapeutic” mode to those of “social action.” In surveying a number of community-oriented programs, Schon (1968) notes four groups: (1) those which extend existing practice, aiming at populations for whom treatment has been relatively inaccessible; (2) those which focus on secondary prevention, to identify mentally ill individuals before their illness has reached crisis proportions: (3) those which aim to influence the mental health climate of a community through consultation to key institutions such as courts or schools, and (4) those in which the unit of treatment itself shifts from individuals or families to the community itself, and from the distress of individuals to the sickness of communities. Thus, in practice one community psychologist may work in direct, therapy like services to people presently in distress (as in crisis intervention, suicide prevention, etc.) while another takes as his target the social setting itself, in the interest of people living under its influence. An example of the latter might be an effort to alter the social structure of a school, and hence the behavior of teachers, as to “create a setting” which is more likely to enhance the emotional and intellectual growth of children in it (Sarason, 1972).

The term “community psychology” itself was born in the Boston conference of 1965 (Bennett, 1965: Bennett et al., 1966). The participants were psychologists in community mental health programs, but they saw a new field emerging which extended beyond concern with the mentally ill and therefore required a new name. In their view, community psychology should work toward fostering
the adaptive functioning of large groups of people, only a limited number of whom could be considered actual or even potential psychiatric patients. Community psychologists would serve as change agents, social systems analysts, consultants in community affairs, and students generally of the whole man in
relation to all his environments” (Bennett, 1965, p.833) Some held that community psychologists should go beyond consultation to a social activist role: they should seek to control power as well as influencing those who now wield it. All agreed, however, that the community psychologist was to be a “participant conceptualizer” who could use his scientific skills to generate relevant knowledge and conceive programs within a model of action research. Though most were trained clinicians, community psychology was viewed as a parallel but separate field from clinical psychology, addressing distinct problems, involving different concepts and techniques and requiring separate training. Since the Boston conference, the term “community/clinical psychology” has emerged to characterize the border area, in which clinicians use socially oriented concepts and methods.

This is the major area of our concern in this volume, but for simplicity I will use the term community psychology without qualification. In the present context, therefore, community psychology can be viewed as an orientation within the broadly defined field of clinical psychology, though in other respects it is a field in
its own right.

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