Community Psychologist

team standing in office
“Social justice”, “action-oriented research”, “reducing oppression”, “multidisciplinary”, “celebrating culture”, “supporting community strengths” and “global in nature” are just some of the phrases the SCRA uses to describe community psychology.

Looking at how to get a specific segment of the population to exercise, addressing the issue of bullying among middle school students, improving the means by which marginalized individuals can access necessary services—these are just some examples of themes that community psychologists explore.

“Community Psychologists go beyond an individual focus and integrate social, cultural, economic, political, environmental, and international influences to promote positive change, health, and empowerment at individual and systemic levels,” states the Society for Community Research and Action (SCRA), Division 27 of the American Psychological Association. “Social justice”, “action-oriented research”, “reducing oppression”, “multidisciplinary”, “celebrating culture”, “supporting community strengths” and “global in nature” are just some of the phrases the SCRA uses to describe community psychology.

According to Professor Douglas D. Perkins, Ph.D. (in his article “An Introduction to Community Psychology”), community psychology, which “advocate[s] social rather than individual change,” is a relatively new field. Some long time psychologists have or are transitioning into community psychology. Additionally, numerous universities are now offering community psychology programs. “…There is a sense of vibrant urgency and uniqueness among community-psychologists—as if they are as much a part of a social movement as of a professional or scientific discipline…,” says Dr. Perkins.

“Social justice”, “action-oriented research”, “reducing oppression”, “multidisciplinary”, “celebrating culture”, “supporting community strengths” and “global in nature” are just some of the phrases the SCRA uses to describe community psychology.

Career & Job Description

Simply put, community psychologists strive to explore and enhance community health (including physical, mental, economic, social and other forms of wellness).

According to the SCRA, known as the official organization for the field of community psychology, community psychologists may be:

  • Professors/educators
  • Consultants
  • Program administrators
  • Evaluators/analysts
  • Researchers

Community psychologists work in a range of workplaces, such as community and non-profit organizations, universities and colleges, government agencies (such as health and community service agencies), consulting firms, health authorities, private practices, advocacy organizations, schools, research centers and medical centers.

Some community psychologist career-specific tasks include:

  • Teaching and supervising undergraduate and/or graduate students (as a professor)
  • Conducting research. In the realm of community psychology, research may be qualified as “action-oriented,” “community-based” or an “ecological method”, characterized by interacting with members of a particular community
  • Developing and implementing programs that benefit the health and wellness of a sector of the community, such as an employment program for single mothers or a crime prevention strategy in a particular neighborhood
  • Evaluating the performance of or providing consultation services to agencies, services, workplaces and institutions that are serving a sector of the public
  • Communicating research results and expertise via presentations, reports, academic papers and other publications
  • Analyzing and advancing public policy
  • Advocating for disempowered groups
  • Determining the immediate and long term needs of a particular community or organization.
  • Collaborating with all relevant stakeholders, from scientists, social workers, faculty members and hospital specialists to psychiatrists, statisticians, service agencies, legal professionals and members of the community

Since this field of psychology emphasizes the community or a segment of the population rather than the individual, a community psychologist may never interact with a patient or client one-on-one for treatment/therapy purposes—but this is not always the case. For example, in an interview with the University of Hartford’s Graduate Institute of Professional Psychology, Cory Bridwell-Sells, PsyD, says she is a licensed community psychology whose job title is “clinical team leader” at an outpatient clinic. Dr. Bridwell-Sells says in her role she performs clinical duties working with clients with a range of mental illnesses, supervises staff and carries out administrative tasks.

Intriguingly, community psychologists can have multi-faceted careers, as illustrated so fittingly by Professor Perkins: “A community psychologist might find herself or himself conducting research in a mental health center on Monday, appearing as an expert witness in a courtroom on Tuesday, evaluating a hospital program on Wednesday, implementing a school-based program on Thursday, and organizing a community board meeting on Friday.”

“A community psychologist might find herself or himself conducting research in a mental health center on Monday, appearing as an expert witness in a courtroom on Tuesday, evaluating a hospital program on Wednesday…,” says Professor Douglas D. Perkins, PhD.

Specializations & Concentrations

The field of community psychology is extremely vast since it is interconnected with the social, economic, political, health, environmental and cultural, etc. worlds. Like for any psychologist, it is extremely beneficial to specialize to truly make a difference. Here are just some examples of community psychology concentrations:

  • Crime
  • Victimization from natural and human-made disasters
  • Healthy living (i.e. fitness and nutrition)
  • Educational/learning barriers
  • Violence or discrimination against a specific group
  • Addictions (root causes and solutions)
  • Unemployment
  • A specific illness/disease (i.e. social/behavioral actions for preventing and dealing with)
  • Cultural competence
  • Civil/human rights
  • Poverty
  • Community building
  • Issues that affect a particular age group
  • Inequities in community-based program offerings

The Educational Journey

Since community psychology is a relatively new field, some psychologists have gradually transitioned into this professional area. For example, the executive director of Voices for Virginia’s Children, Dr. John R. Morgan graduated with a Ph.D. in Clinical Child Psychology; but in his article “Psychology in the community: a community psychologist looks at 30 years in community mental health,” he describes his progression to becoming a community psychologist.

On the other hand, a number of universities are now offering community psychology programs. Some schools offer related programs, or some community psychologists have completed programs, under different names, such as social psychology, human services psychology, community and cultural psychology, community health psychology, community and ecological psychology and community research and action.
As you begin to research academic programs leading to a career in community psychology, you will undoubtedly realize there are numerous paths. As follows is just an example of educational programs at each degree levels and possible careers you can pursue along the way.

Bachelor’s Degree

Bachelor’s Degree: While some schools DO, not all colleges will offer a Bachelor degree in Community Psychology. If the community psychology major is not offered, some schools will offer an undergraduate certificate program, an internship or a concentration in community psychology. Additionally, if you are completing a general psychology degree, you can select courses related to the field, such as social psychology, community development, health psychology, research methods, social justice and prevention theories/practice (one course may even be called “community psychology”). You can also fulfill your work placement or volunteer opportunities at relevant settings, such as a human services organization or a community based research centre.

Relevant Careers

Relevant careers with a Bachelor’s Degree: Research Assistant, Health & Welfare Benefits Manager, Community Support Specialist, Grant Writer, Community Services Supervisor/Manager, Behavioral Management Specialist, Substance Abuse Counselor, Community Mental Health Assistant, Program Assistant at a Charitable Foundation, and more. (Note that some positions may require previous related experience—which you could gain from volunteering or internships—and/or licensure/certifications).

Master’s Degree

Master’s Degree: According to the SCRA, numerous universities offer Community Psychology programs, either specifically in Community Psychology, as a joint Community-Clinical or Community-Counseling degree, or as an Interdisciplinary program (such as in prevention science, social change or health behavior).

Relevant Careers

Careers with a Master’s Degree: Research Associate, Behavior Analyst, Director or Manager of a Community Services/Mental Health Agency, Crisis Evaluator, Community Program Evaluator, Rehabilitation Counselor, Public Policy Analyst, Mental Health Counselor, Hospital Program Manager and Public Health Administrator. (Note that some positions may require previous experience—gained during placements, volunteering or past employment—and/or licensure/certifications).

Doctoral Degree

Doctoral Degree: If you want to become an official psychologist (and wish to direct, research, teach, analyze, consult and/or practice as a community psychologist) you must complete a Ph.D. According to the SCRA, universities offer doctoral programs in Community Psychology, Clinical-Community Psychology and Interdisciplinary programs (such as in psychology & public policy, psychology & social justice and psychology & community health).

Certification & Licensing Requirements

In general, a psychologist must be licensed if they are providing direct services, such as clinical and counselling services. Licensure requirements vary by state—and these are outlined by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB)—but they usually include completion of doctoral degree, two years of supervised practice, passing exams, among other requisites.

However, some community psychologists may focus completely on research or teaching university students, without ever providing psychological services to the public. Does this mean they are exempt from licensure? Not necessarily.

According to the ASPPB, requiring a psychologist to be licensed depends on the jurisdiction and the employer, and there may be a trend to requiring licensure from those psychologists that provide indirect services.

Furthermore, there are many benefits to academic or scholarly psychologists to becoming licensed, such as if they are teaching prospective counselling psychologists or they wish to have a multi-faceted careers. Also you may notice that a range of employers that hire community psychologists will state that they prefer candidates to be licensed or that are on track to become licensed. Talk to your professors, mentors and supervisors hat have direct experience working in the field to ask them about their take on licensing.