There are many different approaches to the study of psychology, and community psychology is one of the lesser-known ones. While the typical image of a psychologist is of a trained doctor in an office discussing and working through problems with an individual, community psychology aims for a wider approach. This article will describe the practices and goals of community psychology and examine it as a viable approach in social settings.
History of Community Psychology
Psychologists in the 1950s and 1960s began to consider the impact of a person’s social connections on their mental health, but most within the field point to the 1965 Swampscott Conference as the birthplace of community psychology. The Swampscott conference was organized in response to the community mental health movement that sprung up following the closure of most prominent mental institutions. It had the original goal of providing resources for training in the community mental health field, but participants decided to broaden their views and look toward creating a new field focused on altering environments to lessen mental distress for all rather than narrowing in on people with specific mental health problems.
How Community Psychology Works
Community psychology focuses on the social aspect of mental function. The way that people connect to each other in a space can have a strong influence on the thought processes and actions of every person within that space. Those who take a communal approach to psychology are not concerned with the health of just one patient, they are working toward improving the mental health and well-being of an entire community of people. This can mean a neighborhood, a workplace, or even a larger group like an entire city. Community psychologists do not work out of offices or medical centers. Instead, they take on positions of leadership and guidance within their communities, whether they choose to become teachers of community psychology or create groups to manufacture positive change within the community.
Goals of Community Psychology
Psychologists in this field view mental health problems as preventable in many cases. Since stress and social isolation are risk factors for mental illness, one of the goals of community psychology is to build structures within a group for emotional support. They can also take on jobs where they teach coping strategies for difficult situations to a number of people within the community to bolster the group’s average ability to handle stress.
The field of community psychology is still growing and developing at a rapid rate, making it challenging to predict where it might go in the future. At present it has created a unique outlook on mental health and the goal of providing a boost to community health is admirable, especially considering that mental illness rates are trending up all over the United States. However, prevention is not everything. Sometimes mental illnesses develop even in the absence of significant risk factors, and the people who have them need individualized care and support as well as stronger social structures. Combined with approaches to treating individuals, community psychology could be a powerful tool for improving the overall well-being of society.