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The
Community
Psychologist

Volume 54, Number 4 Fall 2021

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Early Career

Edited by Vernita Perkins, Omnigi Research

The Early Career Interest Group Quarterly Column

Edited by Vernita Perkins, Omnigi Research

Meet the Early Career Members

Each quarter, we will continue to introduce members of the ECIG, so readers can learn more about our members and explore opportunities for research and practice collaborations.

Kristen Faye Burda, MA (kburda@wi.edu)

Community psychology resonates strongly with me, given my background in participatory action research and my integrative theoretical orientation of contextual behavioral science, feminist psychology, and narrative therapy. I studied theater at Yale University and am now a doctoral candidate at The Wright Institute, pursuing specialized training in first responder psychology, evidence-based treatment of post-traumatic stress, and drama therapy. I am completing quantitative dissertation research evaluating treatment effectiveness for women first responders served by the First Responder Support Network. In the context of current events pertaining to gender-based discrimination, the fire service, and law enforcement, community psychology research is especially vital.

Juliet Makondora (jullzcourtney@gmail.com)

I studied Community Psychology at the Master’s level and immediately developed an interest, this was definitely the path I wanted to pursue. I joined SCRA this year and attended my first Biennial conference, which left me enthralled at the amazing work that was being done. I recently registered as a community psychologist, and I am looking forward to getting full sponsorship for a Ph.D. program. I have done research work, advocacy, preventions programs, stakeholder mobilizations, and empowerment programs for sex workers and the LGBTQ in Zimbabwe. During the pandemic, I raised awareness on the effects of Covid-19 on mental health through radio programs. I am developing my research interest, understanding social issues amongst minoritized groups.

Emily Schkeryantz (emily.schkeryantz@gmail.com)

I graduated with my Master’s in Conflict Resolution from the University of Massachusetts - Boston in 2016, and have been advocating for worker’s rights in various settings for nearly a decade, most recently as an organizer with the United Auto Workers. My professional and research interests intersect in the development of effective coalitions between labor and community organizations, civic engagement and democratic processes among communities, and how all of these can affect social change—which brought me to SCRA. I am also interested in the various relationships between people’s work, identity, and mental health outcomes, especially in light of the increase in precarious employment due to the pandemic.

Expanding Community Psychology

Written by Juliet Makondora, Midlands State University - Zimbabwe, Vernita Perkins, Ph.D., Omnigi Research, Shereé Bielecki, Pacific Oaks College

There is no question within the discipline of Community Psychology (CP) that there are not enough CP programs in higher education and across community colleges. Many community psychologists are making great efforts to change this disparity. As the field of Psychology seeks to diversify and include global research and scholarship, this article takes a closer look at one African country’s potential to invigorate CP and draw attention to other fields close to CP that may create new opportunities for students with a passion for Psychology and a commitment to communities to enter the field of Community Psychology.

Community Psychology in Zimbabwe

The very first time Juliet Makondora heard of Community Psychology was during her second year at college. It was a compulsory module that had no option, but to study. Makondora sat for the examination, passed, and forgot all about community psychology. After attaining her Psychology Honors degree, Makondora found herself searching for a Master’s program to enroll in, and to her surprise, Community Psychology was among the options available. Makondora enrolled in the program and received an opportunity to learn more about the subject matter. The most interesting part was derived from a quote by Naoto Kan, former Prime Minister of Japan, “If you are unable to understand the cause of a problem, it is impossible to solve it.” For Makondora, finally, there was a paradigm shift. Instead of saving individuals from drowning, we can go up the stream to check what the problem is and then come up with intervention strategies to extricate the problem.

Maseko, et al. (2017) posit that “Psychology has remained elitist, far detached from our local realities and invisible (seemingly irrelevant) to the ordinary Zimbabwean. When psychology was launched in then Rhodesia, it was classified as a ‘white’ profession. Today it has become a Black profession, but ironically the discipline has failed to reach out to the ordinary Zimbabwean and thus remained inconspicuous.” The fact that mainstream psychology is not understood by most Zimbabweans, and getting psychological help is considered exclusive to the elite, leaves other disciplines unattended. Community psychology, however, is not quite popular in Zimbabwe and Africa as a whole, and yet the African context silently promotes community psychology.

Zimbabwe currently has less than ten registered community psychologists and only one state university offering a Master’s program in Community Psychology. The industry, at large, does not recognize the importance and impact that community psychology has in the Zimbabwean context. Canning (2011) suggests that “the assumptions and values commonly agreed upon in community psychology are; the ecological perspective as a lens for viewing human behavior; the adaptation as the means of development and change; wellness a focus over psychopathology; prevention and promotion as priorities over treatment; collaborative, empowering helping relation; social justice as a prominent goal of action to research as wedded to action; and lastly, human diversity reflected theories and methods” (p. 186).

Community psychology is founded in its diversion from the tendency to locate a problem within the individual. An example of such a problem is mental health issues, and community psychologists can locate the problem within a lack of fit between individuals and their environments, advocating for social rather than individual change. An instance of where community psychologists’ expertise could have been utilized was in the incidences of mass hysteria at boarding schools in Zimbabwe. The approach is aimed at addressing the collective and locating the problem within the collective rather than an individual person. South Africa, a neighboring country to Zimbabwe, is famous for xenophobic attacks on foreigners, which probably suggests that they do not have respect for human diversity. This is where community psychologists should seek to point out how this problem could have emanated from the apartheid period or some behavior that occurred in that nation, and in turn, come up with interventions in order to extricate that kind of behavior.

As a discipline and profession, CP is not fully acknowledged. Its role can be easily confused with that of other disciplines, such as social work and sociology. There is so much confusion on where to draw the line and how to differentiate the disciplines. Community mental health issues in Zimbabwe, and Africa as a whole, are not met with urgency and they barely receive any form of funding. Focus is on other forms of responses; for example in 2019, when a part of the nation was hit by Cyclone Idai, the response teams provided food aid as well as temporary shelter, and nothing at all was channeled towards the mental wellbeing of the survivors. It goes back to policymaking and budget allocations, as well as the very strict measures and resistance when registering for higher education, that hinder aspiring community psychologists from enrolling. The country has only one Master’s Program in Community Psychology, which is offered by the Midlands State University and has only one intake in a year. The program is for two years and requires an internship before starting on the thesis. The department can only admit a certain number of students, hence not everyone who applies will be accepted for that particular intake. The program specifics also require that a person has some work experience before being accepted for the program. This has proven to be somewhat difficult for some aspiring community psychologists because jobs are hard to come by due to Zimbabwe’s economic state, hence those without the work experience are left out. Financial constraints are real in Zimbabwe. Some students enroll but fail to complete their education due to the lack of college affordability, especially at the Master’s level, and the lack of financial support or any forms of bursaries, hence this stands as a barrier. This has resulted in aspiring community psychologists shifting their focus to other disciplines. They end up focusing on acquiring a certificate in counseling services from Connect Zimbabwe (https://connect.org.zw), an organization that provides counseling and therapeutic services to individuals, families, and communities, along with training, consulting, research and evaluation. While some students focus on venturing into social work because they know that after completing their studies they can get a job anywhere in the world, some also focus on lecturing in the Psychology departments of the different state universities, while still others focus on working in the NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) settings and some focus on just becoming mental health advocates. All this is good, but it limits the aspiring community psychologists from pursuing their profession.

A lot needs to be done in order for our profession to be recognized. According to Lazarus et al. (2006), in a study aimed at assessing the visibility of CP in Africa, study participants recommended that community psychology be infused in the training and practice of all psychologists. Actually, it is necessary for all community psychologists around the globe to promote and encourage the visibility of our profession. Visibility should be cascaded down to all nations, Zimbabwe included. Capacity building and empowerment should be facilitated in aspiring community psychologists through mentorship and exchange programs. More CP programs need to be developed in Zimbabwe and other African countries, which can bring about significant development in the field. Community psychology in Zambia has many challenges to overcome, including the lack of trained manpower and the availability of funds (Chamvu, et al., 2006). It is highly recommended that financial assistance be provided for students studying for their post-graduate programs. This will allow passionate individuals the opportunity to acquire more knowledge in the field and encourage them to develop intervention strategies that can change the world. Makondora feels the work being done in SCRA should be shared with the rest of the world; noting we can all start by liking the pages on all social media platforms and sharing the content that is created on those pages. 

Can Community Psychology Help Decolonize Psychology?

Community psychology has the potential to influence mainstream psychology and can be used as an approach to decolonize research. During this continued global pandemic, CP’s strength in prevention can be a cornerstone, addressing the pandemic at primary, secondary, and tertiary levels. Community mental health is being promoted as all communities are faced with the Covid-19 pandemic reaching beyond individualizing the pandemic response. Raising pandemic awareness on how to cope mentally revisits the principles of community psychology.  The relevance of CP has long been recognized (Seedat, et al., 1988), and CP is more relevant now than ever as CP has the potential to contribute to the wellbeing of many different communities worldwide. 

Community Psychology Interventions for Psychology

As calls continue for Psychology to be decolonized, one of the top requests is to increase the number of Community Psychology programs across U.S. universities and academic institutions, as well as around the world. Currently, there are less than 16 undergraduate and 39 graduate Community Psychology programs in the United States (SCRA website). The centerpiece of community psychology, to move beyond the individual and focus on positive change within communities, is crucial as we continue through this pandemic, developing new normals for communities and individuals. Hoping to increase the number of community psychologists counts on creating and increasing the number of academic programs.                                

Since community psychology is not offered at many community colleges or four-year public and private universities, many students do not find out about Community Psychology until they get to graduate school. In the United States, about half of undergraduate students are educated at community colleges and many of the students are first-generation, low-income, Black, Latinx, and non-traditional (DeLoach, 2019). Acting on this information would be a great opportunity to introduce Community Psychology, starting at the community college level. Community college values and missions align with the principles of Community Psychology, such as access to resources, connecting to community, advocating for justice, etc. (Dougherty, et al., 2017).

Conclusion

Not at all unfamiliar to many mid-and late-career community psychologists, Community Psychology needs to be much more integral in community interventions to address the systemic structures that regularly oppose community-building, resource sharing, and social justice. Leaving readers with this challenge, what can we each do to 1) increase the visibility of Community Psychology, 2) advocate for more Community Psychology programs at community colleges and in higher education, and 3) apply community psychology principles and practices in systems, organizations, and communities where CP is a giant question mark?

For more information, contact Shereé Bielecki, sbielecki@pacificoaks.edu or Juliet Makondora, jullzcourtney@gmail.com.

 

References

Canning, S. S. (2011). Core assumptions and values in Community Psychology: A Christian reflection. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 39(3), 186-199. https://doi.org/10.1177/009164711103900302

Chamvu, F., Jere-Folotiya, J., & Kalima, K. (2006). Development of Community Psychology. Journal of Psychology in Africa, 16(2), 191-195. 10.1080/14330237.2006.10820122

DeLoach, C. (2019). Community Psychology in the community college setting: Strengths and challenges. Global Journal of Community Psychology Practice, 10(2), 1-20. 

Dougherty, K. J., Lahr, H., & Morest, V. S. (2017). Reforming the American community college: Promising changes and their challenges. CCRC Working Paper No. 98. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED579007.pdf 

Lazarus, S., Bojuwoye, O., Chireshe, R., Myambo, K., Akotia, C., Mogaji, A., & Tchombe, T. (2006). Community psychology in Africa: Views from across the continent. Journal of Psychology in Africa, (2), 147-160.

Maseko, M. M., Maunganidze, L., Mambende, B., & Maphosa, S. (2017). The third mental health revolution: Themes, values and methods of Community Psychology and its relevance in Zimbabwean and African cultural contexts. Psychology in Society, 54, 67-89. https://doi.org/10.17159/2309-8708/2017/n54a5

Seedat, M., Cjoete, N., & Sochet, I. (1988). Community Psychology: Panic or panacea. Psychology in Society, H, 39-54.