Introduction (Psychology and Mental Health)
Community psychology is founded on the following precepts: an emphasis on the competence of persons and communities; an appreciation of personal and cultural diversity; an orientation that promotes prevention; a preference for organizational, community- and systems-level intervention; and a belief in the need for an ecologically valid database with which to determine the appropriateness and value of human-service interventions.
Community psychology emphasizes social, environmental, and cultural factors as significant elements influencing the development and expression of behaviors commonly identified as signs of maladjustment. Community psychology demands a respect for human diversity—people have a right to be different. Requiring that people fit into a particular mold or conform to a particular standard increases the probability that some will be considered failures or maladjusted individuals. Instead of focusing on how to motivate “deviant” people to adjust, the community psychologist attempts to increase behavioral options, expand cultural and environmental choices, redistribute resources, and foster the acceptance of variability.
From a community-psychology perspective, it is not the weakness of the individual that causes psychopathology but a lack of person-environment fit. The concept of person-environment fit is founded in ecology. Ecology posits that each organism is in constant interaction with all aspects...
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Community Models (Psychology and Mental Health)
Psychologists trained in the clinical/community model have expertise in individual assessment and psychotherapy. They are likely to work within community mental health centers or other human-services programs as direct service providers. They differ from traditionally trained clinical psychologists in having an orientation that is directed toward crisis intervention, public health, and prevention.
The community/clinical model leads to a primary emphasis of working with community groups to enable the development, implementation, and administration of human-services initiatives. This model is similar to the community-activist model; persons with a community/clinical orientation, however, are more likely to work within the system than outside it.
Persons following the community-activist model draw on their training in psychology to enable them to confront social injustice and misallocation of resources. These individuals are versed in grass-roots community organization, the realities of social confrontation, and advocacy.
The academic/research model of community psychology is founded on the principles of action-oriented research. Here the researcher is directed to work on real-world problems using ecologically valid methods. Furthermore, action-oriented research requires that recommendations that follow from the researcher’s findings be implemented.
Psychologists who advocate the prevention model use...
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Prevention Programs (Psychology and Mental Health)
Community psychology has played a major role in sensitizing human-services professionals to the need for services oriented toward prevention. Many of the assumptions and principles of prevention are taken from the field of public health medicine. Public health officials know that disease cannot be eradicated by treatment alone. Furthermore, the significant gains in life expectancy that have occurred over the last one hundred years are not primarily the result of wonder drugs, transplants, or other marvels of modern medicine. Instead, improved sanitation, immunizations, and access to an adequate food supply have been the key factors in conquering diseases and increasing the human life span.
To design and implement effective prevention-oriented programs, one must have an understanding of epidemiology, incidence, and prevalence. Epidemiology is the study of the rates and distributions of disorders as these data pertain to causes and prevention. Incidence is the number of new cases of a disorder that occur in a given population in a specific period. Prevalence is either the total number of cases of a disorder in a given population at a specific point in time or the average number of cases during a specific period. By combining information concerning epidemiology, incidence, and prevalence, it is possible to arrive at insights into the causes of a disorder, likely methods of transmission, prognosis, and intervention methods...
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An Emerging Field (Psychology and Mental Health)
Community psychology had its origins in the 1960’s, a time of radical ideas, antiestablishment attitudes, and a belief in the perfectibility of humankind. In 1965, in Swampscott, Massachusetts, a meeting was called to ascertain how psychology could most effectively contribute to the emerging community mental health movement.
A transformation in treatment focus was taking place at the time of the Swampscott meeting. This change had been provided with a blueprint for its development in a report by the Joint Commission on Mental Illness and Health written in 1961. The Joint Commission report, Action for Mental Health, called for a shift from treating psychiatric patients in large state mental hospitals to the provision of care through outpatient community mental health clinics and smaller inpatient units located in general hospitals. Additionally, the report included the following recommendations: increasing support for research, developing “aftercare,” providing partial hospitalization and rehabilitation services, and expanding mental health education to ensure that the public became more aware of mental disorders and to reduce the stigmatization associated with mental illness.
On February 5, 1963, President John F. Kennedy became the first president of the United States to address Congress regarding the needs of the mentally ill and the mentally retarded. President Kennedy called for a “bold new...
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Sources for Further Study (Psychology and Mental Health)
Caplan, Gerald. Principles of Preventive Psychiatry. New York: Basic Books, 1964. Caplan was a key figure in directing attention to the need to be informed concerning biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors as they influence psychopathology. Furthermore, Caplan’s call for an emphasis on primary prevention antedated the origin of community psychology.
Dalton James H., Maurice J. Elias, and Abraham Wandersman. Community Psychology: Linking Individuals and Communities. 2d ed. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, 2007. A practical guide to developing community psychology programs, with study tools and suggestions for applications. Discusses such successful programs as Alcoholics Anonymous and the San Francisco Depression Prevention Project.
Heller, Kenneth, et al. Psychology and Community Change: Challenges of the Future. 2d ed. Homewood, Ill.: Dorsey Press, 1984. Describes how knowledge of groups, organizations, and communities can be applied in addressing social problems. Ecological approaches and prevention-oriented interventions are the primary substance of the text.
Levine, Murray, and David V. Perkins. Principles of Community Psychology: Perspectives and Applications. 3d ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. The authors provide an extended discussion of social problems, the conceptual foundations of community psychology, and the application of...
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Community Psychology (Encyclopedia of Public Health)
Community psychology (CP), as a discipline, began in 1965 in Swampscott, Massachusetts, during a meeting of psychologists discussing training for community mental health. This group identified CP to be distinct from clinical psychology and community mental health. The original focus was on social and cultural influences on mental health, and it has since widened, with CP now being a discipline within psychology that examines ecological issues beyond the individual level, explores the value of diversity, challenges narrow unidimensional measures of health, and validates psychologists as agents of social changes. A public health approach was used to help provide the burgeoning field with an alternative to the medical model used in clinical psychology that focuses on illness, treatment, and recovery. This helped establish prevention as a founding principle of the field. CP has become a science of prevention, community intervention, and social epidemiology. Themes of the field include ecological perspectives, cultural relevance and diversity, and empowerment. Ecological perspectives emphasize social and environmental contexts at the individual, organizational, and community levels of analysis, and apply principles of resource mobilization, interdependence, and adaptation.
The following intervention and evaluation projects exemplify efforts in community psychology that have contributed to public health and welfare. The community lodge system was an alternative community living and employment setting for individuals with serious mental illness. The setting provided residents an opportunity to progressively operate and own their lodge including their own janitorial business. Another example is the Juvenile Diversion project. This project provided an alternative program for youth who would have otherwise entered the juvenile court system or a social service agency. The youth in the program were connected to a college student who worked with each youth to help them with school, social relations (peer and family), and accessing community resources. These projects are two examples within the field of community psychology designed to encourage consumer participation, build on their strengths and competencies, and promote health. Other research in community psychology has also helped provide public health with an empirical and theoretical basis for much of its work on community involvement and lay helpers, empowerment, and social capital.
COMMUNITY PSYCHOLOGY AND PUBLIC HEALTH
Community psychology has many methods, topics, theories, and values in common with public health. Both fields emphasize skill development and utilize an approach that involves participants in program planning, implementation, and evaluation. They also employ qualitative and quantitative methods for process and outcome evaluation. Methods such as advocacy, community organizing, policy influence, and dissemination are used by both fields. Community psychologists focus on social determinants of health, including interpersonal support, stress and coping, citizen participation, social capital, wellness and health promotion, and social change in individuals, families, schools, churches, workplaces, and communities. Mutual and self-help approaches also overlap the two fields.
Community psychology and public health apply similar theories and conceptual models, including empowerment theory, social change theories, dissemination of innovation, and ecological theory. CP addresses cultural issues and diversity in both the application of theory and research and in intervention design. This is consistent with public health approaches because programs are developed and modified to match the values, norms, and beliefs of the audience, whether the focus is on ethnic, behavioral (e.g., homosexual, intravenous drug use), gender, or cultural differences. Both CP and public health consider social relationships, involve diverse community members, and study factors outside the individual when looking at the problems of individuals, so as to avoid blaming individuals solely for their problems.
Community psychology also differs from traditional public health in some ways. Much of the focus of CP is on mental health issues while public health stresses more traditional health concerns such as communicable diseases, cardiovascular disease, asthma, diabetes, and cancer. CP tends to focus more on behavioral aspects of health such as alcohol and drug use, risky sexual behavior, teen pregnancy, and violence. CP also includes topics that are considered fringe public health topics, such as homelessness, school dropout, and unemployment. Public health has a more practice-oriented approach to social problems, while CP emphasizes theory and social research. Both CP and public health, however, stress prevention, empowerment, promotion of healthy behaviors and contexts, and creating settings for community involvement and improvement.
COMMUNITY PSYCHOLOGY VERSUS HEALTH PSYCHOLOGY
Community psychology differs from health psychology in several ways. CP focuses on social change and social factors related to health outcomes, and pays more attention to context and change at organizational and community levels, while health psychology emphasizes individual health behavior and change. Theories applied in health psychology also focus on factors that predict behavior change, such as the health belief model, the theory of reasoned action, and stages of change. CP examines multiple determinants of health and the context in which behavioral choices are made, while health psychology focuses on individual motivation and cognitive factors associated with health behavior. Health psychology also tends to use approaches to intervention where participants are passive recipients of programs. CP approaches, like public health approaches, are more participatory in nature and involve program recipients in the design, implementation, and evaluation of programs. These two fields, however, overlap in some ways. Health psychology and community psychology include studies of social support and interventions to enhance support, and they both stress skill building, competence, and self agency. They also examine similar topics, but community psychology includes a broader array of issues that may extend beyond traditional definitions of health.
(SEE ALSO: Antisocial Behavior; Behavioral Determinants; Community Health; Community Mental Health Services; Ecosystems; Environmental Determinants of Health; Health Belief Model; Prevention; Social Determinants; Transtheoretical Model of Stages of Change)
Dalton, J. H.; Elias, M. J.; and Wandesman, A. (2001). Community Psychology: Linking Individuals and Communities. Stanford, CT: Wadsworth/Thompson Learning, Inc.
Kelly, J. G. (1986). "An Ecological Paradigm: Defining Mental Health Consultation as a Preventive Service." Prevention in Human Services, 4:16.
Meritt, D. M.; Greene, G. J.; Jopp, D. A.; and Kelly, J. G. (1999). "A History of Division 27 (Society for Community Research and Action)." In Unification through Division: Histories of the Divisions of the American Psychological Association, Volume III, ed. D. A. Dewsbury. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Rappaport, J., and Seidman, E. (2000). The Handbook of Community Psychology. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers.