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Volume 53, Number 4 Fall 2020
Edited by Vernita Perkins, Omnigi
Written by Michelle Abraczinskas, University of Florida; Ijeoma Ezeofor, TCC Group; Vernita Perkins, Omnigi Research; and Mayah Williams, Center for Disease Control and Prevention
This article is a collaboration between the SCRA Early Career Interest Group (ECIG) and the American Evaluation Association Community Psychology Topical Interest Group (CP TIG)
Every day the need for systems-level change to improve equity, access, and well-being is resounding. As community psychologists, we possess the values and skills to create change. Have we answered the call to action? Are we “walking the talk?” To answer these questions, we considered: 1) how could community psychology (CP) articulate its value-add; 2) how might the field grow its base by harnessing its appeal to both diverse, established professionals and a generation of new learners; and 3) how could the field take action today to demonstrate its uniqueness from other disciplines? The purpose of this article is to evoke reflection on our field; highlight its value add by comparing it to other fields; consider how we inspire and invite people to CP; and demonstrate how we must live our shared values.
CP has values of individual/family wellness, sense of community, honoring human diversity, social justice, citizen participation, collaboration, community strengths, and empirical evidence, and enacts them via research, scholarship, and practice. CP focuses on prevention, promotion, and improving quality of life of individuals, communities, and societies. CP examines the interrelationships of systems (e.g., neighborhoods) and individuals (Dalton, et al., 2007).
Counseling psychology works with individuals at all stages of their lives on a range of issues relating to their emotional, social, work, school, and physical health concerns (“Counseling Psychology,” 2008). Counseling psychologists also work with organizations to help them increase effectiveness by improving the work environment.
Public health is the science of protecting and improving the health of people and communities by promoting healthy lifestyles, researching disease and injury prevention, and detecting, preventing and responding to infectious diseases (“What is Public Health?,” n.d.). For those working on social determinants of health, there is the added emphasis on social (e.g., education, neighborhoods, economic stability), not just medical or biological factors.
Prevention science is an interdisciplinary field. It applies basic research on risk/protective factors and problems affecting individuals, families, and communities to the development, evaluation, and dissemination of empirically based prevention and health promotion programs. Prevention scientists use research to influence policy and practice (“Human Development,” n.d.).
These disciplines focus on the well-being of people and communities through individual and/or systems interventions. Prevention science, public health, and CP share a focus on wellness via prevention and promotion. Counseling psychology, public health, and CP use participatory methods and focus on social justice. CP is unique due to the core tenet of social justice and the focus on the psychological well-being of communities.
There are multiple paths to CP. For some, the path is straightforward. For others, the path is a series of random opportunities. The following stories highlight our divergent journeys to CP. We hope they inspire reflection on the various pathways to CP and demonstrate how community psychologists can actively increase interest in our field.
Abraczinskas: My undergraduate institution did not have a CP course, and I had never heard of it. Post-graduation, I worked at a group home. On paper, its programming looked great, but its implementation and outcomes were not. I wanted to hold the organization accountable to its mission. Serendipitously, shortly thereafter, interested in clinical, I interviewed for the clinical-community psychology master’s program at UNC Charlotte. I shared that story and got the response “that’s what WE do as community psychologists.” That interview changed my career trajectory to CP. I could have easily gone a different route.
Ezeofor: My journey to CP was pretty indirect. I am a counseling psychologist by training, but after a series of twists and turns, I eventually found myself working within evaluation and learning. I joined the American Evaluation Association and sought out a topical interest group that would be my home within evaluation. I discovered the CP TIG, which led me to learn more about CP. With its focus on serving the community, and recognizing that individuals, relationships, and systems were all critical to the actualization of well-being, I realized that I had found my fit.
Perkins: My journey to CP launched with the world’s oldest question, why we exist? After witnessing social injustice in the private sector, I explored consciousness studies on my way to applied psychology degrees in organizational management and organizational leadership. Management scholars annoyed by my social justice queries, gently nudged me to social and personality psychology, and finally to CP. I strongly believe we are better psychologists in our specialty fields when we incorporate multiple fields. We socially support people, people experience a little bit of everything, and we should be prepared to address a lot of everything.
Williams: When I went to Spelman College, I knew two things: it was my dream school and I was going to major in Psychology. In my junior year, I was formally introduced to CP. On the first day of class, we introduced ourselves with where we were from, and dove deeper into how that contributed to where we were at that moment. I knew I had found my place. As a Black woman, I have felt the pain of being othered and having to exist in spaces that were not created with me in mind. Therefore, I committed myself to doing what I could to lessen that burden for others. I did not know there was a field for the work I was so passionate about until that course. I continued into a CP masters program at The University of New Haven. My love for the field
deepened and my understanding of its necessity grew.
Despite different paths, we arrived at the same place. Despite exposure to other helping fields, we found something more in CP. We hope that something more will challenge our colleagues to help those outside the field and those still deciding on a field, to find a home in CP.
As systems thinkers, we know there are structures that prevent equity-focused fields like CP from expanding. A new generation of learners is emerging, and searching for socially conscious, action-oriented careers to promote wellness for all. The world needs them. We must be intentional about inspiring, motivating, and welcoming these students to our field.
SCRA and the AEA CP TIG can expose students to and engage them in CP through partnerships within and outside psychology departments, such as: virtual panel discussions, talks by community psychologists, drop-in hours, mentorship programs, and college liaisons. These organizations can also increase social media presence with active and engaging accounts, and host live Instagram/Facebook conversations with community psychologists. These ideas are only a sample; there is so much more that we, SCRA, and the AEA CP TIG can do. When we invest in the next generation, we ensure the longevity of our field.
Community psychologists must accept the call to increase the visibility of the field. This call to action includes sharing information about CP in daily conversations with the general public and community collaborators, advocating for increased visibility, writing op-eds, interviews with news media, and communicating our unique impact to draw others to the field. As well as creating social change, our community partnerships may pique collaborators’ interest in joining our field.
This is our moment, during the worst global pandemic and racial crises in recent history, to emerge from our scholarly insulation into communities and collaborate with others who are actively engaged in reducing health and economic disparities. Community psychologists are most impactful when they are in communities healing historical trauma, ameliorating inequities, and envisioning a new way forward.
If you are interested in the ECIG, the AEA CP TIG, and/or increasing CP visibility, please contact: Michelle Abraczinskas, firstname.lastname@example.org; Ijeoma Ezeofor, email@example.com; Dr. Perkins, firstname.lastname@example.org; Mayah Williams, email@example.com.
Counseling Psychology. (2008). APA.org. https://www.apa.org/ed/graduate/specialize/counseling
Dalton, J., Elias, M., & Wandersman, A. (2007). Community psychology: Linking individuals and communities. (2nd edition). Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth
Human Development. (n.d.). Washington State University. https://hd.wsu.edu/preventionscience/
What is Public Health? (n.d.). CDCFoundation.org. https://www.cdcfoundation.org/what-public-health