What is a Community Psychologist?
As the name indicates, it is a branch of psychology that involves the relationship between individuals and the community. It is a reciprocal effect as one affects the other. The purpose of the psychologist in this field is to improve the quality of life for the residents of the community. This process addresses the mental health, economic issues, and social problems that affect the people, groups, and organizations within the community.
The American Psychological Association (APA) has a division devoted to this specialty – known as Division 27. It is the Society for Community Research and Action (SCRA). The SCRA conducts research and employs social action by using social and behavioral science to enhance community life and prevent societal problems.
There is a variety of settings where community psychologists work:
- Learning institutions from community colleges to major universities
- Human services and health agencies at the city, county, state, and federal levels
- Community and religious organizations
- Mental health facilities and substance abuse treatment centers
- Research and consulting firms
Depending on the place of employment, community psychologists may act as educators, policy evaluators, and developers, researchers, agents of social change, and advocators. The foundation of these roles became established in 1965 at the Swampscott Conference. Several prominent psychologists attended the event to discuss community mental health concerns. The focus shifted from individuals to the community as a unit in society. This conference was the genesis of community psychology.
This field of psychology evolved to create strategies and policies that will enhance the well-being of all members of a community. In this endeavor, psychologists build collaborative relationships with community and civic leaders to prevent social inequalities and improve quality of life. They may strive to reduce drug usage, reduce teen drinking, prevent teen pregnancy, and work with the homeless.
Dealing with an escalating homeless population, a community psychologist might confer with local churches, soup kitchens, and homeless shelters to provide an alternative to living on the street. They may also discuss with law enforcement agencies on how to act when encountering criminal activity by homeless individuals. These problems create challenges for all levels of local government and supporting agencies to improve conditions for the homeless.
As an advocate for those living below the poverty line, community psychologists work with employment agencies and government work programs. Federal agencies, such as Medicaid, may also be involved.
A mental health coordinator is an area of employment for those with the appropriate graduate education in psychology and licensing credentials. The job responsibilities of this position involve being a therapist, counselor, and mental health assessor. Some of these jobs are in the corrections system, where you would perform mental health screenings and implement treatment plans. Some companies provide these psychological services to inmates for state and federal prisons.
Employment Case Manager is a position to aspire to that may only require a bachelor’s degree in psychology plus experience in this field. Again, independent companies provide education, job search, and therapeutic services for communities. Adult victims of human trafficking, physical disabilities, abused adults, and sexual assault victims require case management involvement. In this role, you act as the liaison between a community or civic entity and the clients.
Graduates with at least a bachelor’s degree may be eligible to conduct social science research. Opportunities exist in the private sector and learning institutions to do scientific research pertaining to behavioral health programs. Elite universities have jobs for a Research Program Coordinator whose duties include clinical research studies on alcohol, cocaine, nicotine, and other drug use disorders. The study may involve the etiology or societal influences that lead to addiction and drug abuse. Other tasks include obtaining urine samples, interviewing patients, conducting assessments, and recommending treatment.
A Health Program and Violence Prevention Manager is an example of a title used in a city’s health department. The community psychologist develops strategies and programs to prevent and respond to domestic violence, gun violence, and child abuse. In this role, you may consult with elected officials, law enforcement, and school boards. You may also give presentations to classroom students and parent organizations. Monitoring compliance with federal, state, and local policies may also be on your list of duties.
Although community psychology is a specialized field, there are degree choices. You should begin with a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a closely related area. Beyond the undergraduate level, you may opt to concentrate on developmental psychology, social psychology, community development, or public health. However, students can seek a practicum and internship placements in community psychology.