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Degree overview: Community psychology

This degree overview was written by Sharon Hakim on behalf of the Society of Community Research and Action, an international organization devoted to advancing theory, research and social action which includes a network of graduate schools.

Although community psychology shares its historical roots with clinical psychology, it is very different from the traditional, one-on-one counseling model that comes to mind when one thinks of the field of clinical psychology.

Community psychology aims to go beyond the individual, focusing instead on the community, environment, and larger influencing factors that affect people's daily lives (culture, politics, economics, healthcare, etc.).

The field of community psychology is devoted to advancing theory, research, and collaborative social action (at neighborhood, organizational, state, national, and international levels) to promote positive well-being, increase empowerment, advance social justice, encourage understanding of each other and of issues that society faces, and to prevent the development of problems.

Community psychology links direct action and service with research and evaluation, partnering with community members to promote change, recognizing both the expertise they have about their own situation, and the need for community member involvement and participation to implement culturally and situationally appropriate and sustainable progress.

Community psychologists work in nonprofits, community organizations, government positions, mental health agencies, public health, healthcare, consulting and evaluation agencies, at foundations, and in academic or research settings. Although the field spans many positions and interests, most community psychologists identify themselves as either a community practitioner (someone who is working directly with communities, organizations, schools and groups to bring about change) or an academic/researcher (someone who teaches and does the research and evaluation on which effective community practice is built).

Many programs related to community psychology are housed in psychology departments, while others are interdisciplinary.

Students earning a community psychology degree complete courses that focus on: history and concepts of the field, human diversity and cultural competence, public health, community research methods and statistics, collaborative work in communities, organizational and community development and consultation, prevention and intervention, program evaluation, and grantwriting.

Research is a large component of both the Ph.D. and masters degrees, as community psychologists base interventions on theory and research and use action-oriented research to promote positive change.

Further, students will generally find niches under faculty mentors at their institutions related to local programs, organizations, grants, special populations, or social issues of interest—granting students the chance to have practice doing the work of a community psychologist, under the supervision of a faculty member.