What is a Community Psychologist?

A community psychologist focuses on the well-being and mental health of the collective community. The overall health of the community usually suffers when groups of individuals experience certain social problems or mental disorders. These could be anything from homelessness to discrimination to low socio-economic status. Community psychology is a unique branch of psychology that studies how individuals relate to their communities and vice versa. Community psychologists often research and deal with undesirable and unpleasant community problems in order to discover solutions and make improvements.

The Goals of Community Psychology

Community psychologists may work as educators, consultants, researchers, evaluators, program directors and policy developers in nonprofits, universities, government agencies and community organizations. They expand the clinical limits of traditional psychotherapy to promote community wellness, advocacy and healing. Community psychologists may conduct action-oriented research and experimentation to develop, implement and evaluate public programs. These community psychologists will use traditional scientific tools, concepts and models to better understand the various influences of social environments on individual health and well-being.

Other community psychologists will spend less time research and more time building collaborative relationships with community members, groups, and organizations to solve serious problems. Some community psychologists are consultants who provide tools, advice and resources to help organizations address social problems. For example, some community psychologists will strive to understand the correlating factors and variables behind immigration exploitation, crime victimization, government bureaucracy and program discrimination. All community psychologists strive to increase fairness, respect, empowerment and respect for diversity while reducing oppression, marginalization and social inequalities.

Required Education

Most community psychologists have a bachelor’s degree in general psychology and a master’s degree in either social, community or interdisciplinary psychology. These master’s programs usually focus on the research and practical skills needed for field work, program evaluation and policy development. For example, a Master of Arts in Community Psychology will teach students how to analyze, understand and impact the social factors that influence community well-being. Students will gain real-world skills, learn how to deal with social challenges and understand existing nonprofit and government programs. Graduates will become social advocates, change agents and community empowerment proponents.

These graduate programs will most likely offer classes in conflict resolution and mediation, so students will understand the nature of disagreements and how to achieve positive outcomes. Most classes use simulated conflict situations with real-world examples to help students learn how to assess common causes, execute different forms of dispute resolution and implement supervised mediation processes. Classes on the social psychology of community problems introduce students to advanced perspectives on the role of culture and group behaviors in understanding individual decisions and problems. Students will enjoy increased cultural competence in field research and professional practice. Electives may include health psychology, cross-culture psychology and social policy.

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A degree in community psychology will prepare graduates to advocate for a community’s rights and well-being through building collaborative relationships, promoting social justice, encouraging diversity and enlisting the help of organizations and government agencies. Community psychologists prefer to use existing social resources and community engagement to understand and prevent societal problems. Community psychologists usually belong to the American Psychological Association’s (APA) 27 Division, which is the Society for Community Research and Action (SCRA).