Community Psychology – Definition, History, Theories, Values ​​and Fields

The community psychology is the study of human behavior in their contexts multiple ecological, historical, cultural and sociopolitical and away from the broader field of nuclear internal stress, cognitive and family psychology towards incorporating more attention to the role of systems and social structures in human functioning.

History of community psychology

It began to emerge in the United States during the 1950s, and its development was influenced by the socio-political climate of the 1960s and 1970s. Civil rights, peace activism, feminism, the anti-poverty movement, and environmental awareness provided the context to define the field. Central to its development was the idea that psychology should not only focus on treating people once problems arise, but also plays an important role in addressing social conditions (e.g. poverty, racism) that increase the risk of illness and distress

It has an identifiable set of principles that define and guide the field. These principles include personal well-being and access to resources, social justice and freedom from oppression, a sense of community and connectedness, multiple dimensions of diversity (e.g., gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability), and community collaboration, participation, self-determination and empowerment. In its concern for the interdependence and interaction of individuals and groups, community psychology attempts to encourage the creation of transactions between people and the environment that prevent dysfunction, facilitate empowerment and social justice, and promote well-being.

Research is based on a collaborative model in which the researcher works in partnership with the community to address their needs, must lead to action or have clear implications for action. Intervention approaches include primary prevention programs, empowerment interventions, mutual support groups (self-help), and social action strategies (eg, organizing and advocating for the community). The primary goal of interventions is to address the causes of illness and distress through strategies that address antecedent and facilitating factors.

Today, a 1965 meeting of psychologists at the Swampscott Conference is recognized by many as the official beginning of contemporary community psychology. At this meeting, attendees concluded that psychology needed to focus more on social and community changes to address mental health and well-being.

Theories, concepts and values ​​in community psychology

Ecological levels of analysis: James Kelly (1966) developed an ecological analogy used to understand the ways in which configurations and individuals are interrelated. Unlike the ecological framework developed by Bronfenbrenner (1979), Kelly’s framework approach did not focus so much on how different levels of the environment can affect the individual, but rather on understanding how human communities function. Specifically, it suggests that there are 4 important principles that govern the people in the environment:


That is, what individuals do is adaptive given the demands of the surrounding context. It is a two-way process, people adapt to the restrictions and quality of the environment, while the environment adapts to its members

Examples: When an individual adapts to the demands of a new job, they adapt to that environment by learning or acquiring the necessary skills that they may need to perform their tasks well. On the environmental side of adaptation, we can imagine various situations involving the family, such as the birth of a child, a parent’s new job, or when children attend college and move away from home; in all these cases, the environment adapted as necessary to the changes.


Each scenario has a history that created current structures, norms, attitudes and policies, and any intervention in the environment must appreciate this history and understand why the current system exists the way it does. This principle applies to families, organizations, and communities, and an implication of noticing and understanding succession in these units is that psychologists must understand the history of that unit before attempting to implement an intervention plan.

Resource Cycling

Each setting has resources that need to be identified and possibilities to develop new resources, a resource perspective emphasizes a focus on the strengths of individuals, groups and institutions within the setting, and interventions are more likely to be successful if they build on such existing strengths, rather than introducing new external mechanisms for change. There are personal resources that include individual talents, strengths, or specialties, as well as social resources such as shared norms, beliefs, or values, and aspects of the physical environment can be considered resources, such as quiet resting places, a library, and other qualities of the particular space.


Configurations are systems, and any change in one aspect of the configuration will have consequences for other aspects, so any intervention must anticipate its impact on the entire configuration and be prepared for unintended consequences. When we look at a school, for example, interdependent parties include: students, teachers, administrators, student parents, faculty, and staff (secretaries, custodians, counselors, nurses), board members, and taxpayers.

First and second order change

Because community psychologists work on social issues, to bring about positive change. Watzlawick (1974) differentiated between first-order and second-order change and how second-order change is the focus of community psychology.

First-order change : Positively change the people in an environment to try to solve a problem

Second order change: Attend to the systems and structures involved with the problem to adjust the person-environment.

As an example of how these methods differ, consider homelessness. A first-order change to “fix” homelessness would be to offer shelter to one or more homeless people. A second-order change would be to address problems in affordable housing policy.


One of the goals of community psychology involves the empowerment of people and communities that have been marginalized by society.

One definition of the term is’ an intentional and ongoing process centered on the local community, involving mutual respect, critical reflection, caring and group participation, through which people who lack an equal share of resources gain greater access and control on those resources.

While empowerment has had an important place in community psychology research and literature, some have criticized its use. Riger (1993), for example, points out the paradoxical nature that empowerment is a masculine and individualistic construction used in community research.

social justice

A core value of community psychology is seeking social justice through investigation and action. Community psychologists advocate for equality and policies that enable the well-being of all people, especially marginalized populations.


This value is seen through much of the research conducted with communities regardless of their ethnicity, culture, sexual orientation, disability status, socioeconomic status, sex, and age.

Individual well-being

It is the physical and psychological well-being of all people. Research in community psychology focuses on methods of increasing individual well-being, particularly through prevention and second-order change.

Citizen participation

It refers to the ability of people to have a voice in decision-making , defining and addressing problems, and the dissemination of information gathered from them. This is the basis for the use of participatory action research in community psychology, where community members participate in the research process by sharing their unique knowledge and experience with the research team and working as co-investigators.

Collaboration and community strengths

Collaborating with community members to build research and action projects makes community psychology an exceptionally applied field, allowing communities to use their knowledge to contribute to projects in a collaborative, fair and equitable way, the research process it can in itself empower citizens. This requires an ongoing relationship between the researcher and the community from before the investigation begins until the investigation ends.

What do community psychologists do?

Depending on training, experiences, and preferences, community psychologists may work as educators, teachers, program directors, consultants, policy developers, evaluators, and researchers in community organizations, universities, or government agencies to promote mental health and wellness. of the community.

  • They seek to expand help beyond traditional psychotherapy to promote wellness.
  • They engage in action-oriented research to develop, implement, and evaluate programs.
  • They have a scientific basis to better understand the multiple influences of the social environment on health and well-being.
  • They build collaborative relationships with community members, groups, and organizations to solve social problems.
  • They consult and provide tools to organizations to develop the capacity to address social problems such as exploitation and victimization.
  • They analyze the configuration of government, civic life, and the workplace to understand and enhance fair and diverse participation.
  • They fight oppression, work to reduce social inequalities and work with marginalized people for their empowerment.

Community psychology and related fields

People sometimes confuse community psychology with related fields like social work, cross-cultural psychology, and social psychology and it has many similarities with related fields and is based on these disciplines, it is important to note some important distinctions. For example, community psychology focuses on action and problem solving in much the same way as clinical psychology. However, clinical psychology tends to focus more on solving individual problems, while community psychology is dedicated to understanding the underlying social problems that contribute to these problems.

Community psychology also takes a holistic systems-based approach to understanding behavior and how people fit into society, as do related fields such as sociology and social psychology . Community psychology tends to focus more on applying psychological and social knowledge to solve problems, create real-world solutions, and take immediate action.

Like public health and mental health counseling, community psychology also focuses on the prevention of problems and the promotion of health and well-being, it has a very strong research-oriented component. Community psychologists conduct original research, develop theoretical frameworks, and then apply this knowledge directly in public and private communities.

As you can see, community psychology overlaps with other disciplines, it has its own unique and important contributions to make. The main objectives of this field are to create new ways to empower people within their communities, promote social change and diversity, promote individual and community well-being, and prevent disorder.

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Hello, how are you? My name is Georgia Tarrant, and I am a clinical psychologist. In everyday life, professional obligations seem to predominate over our personal life. It's as if work takes up more and more of the time we'd love to devote to our love life, our family, or even a moment of leisure.