Community Practice Vignette - Al Ratcliffe

SCRA Community Psychology Practice Council

Community Psychology Practice Profile

Background Information


Your Name:   Al Ratcliffe

 Address:  PO Box 7558.  Tacoma, WA 98417-0558

 Phone numbers: 253.376.4893

 Name and website of workplace(s): Tacoma-Pierce County, WA.  No website.

Title(s):  Community Psychologist


 Website: None


How would you prefer to be contacted?  (Please mark all that apply)

[ X ]  E-mail                

[ X ]  Telephone                      

[ X ]   Snail Mail                      

[   ]   Other                                          


Please list professional affiliations that relate to community psychology practice. 

  • Washington State Psychological Association
  • Community Psychology Practice Council

In which of the following formats would you be interested in sharing your account?  (Please mark all that apply)

Website            Book                Journal             Article in "The Community Psychologist"__


Would you be willing to participate in longer interview or answer more questions via e-mail or a longer questionnaire?  (Please mark all that apply)

[ X  ]  Telephone Interview                  

[   X]  Video Interview 

[   ]  Longer Questionnaire       

[   ]  No           

  Please describe the work you do, for pay, as a community psychologist, including the setting(s) where you work. 

Currently, I only do two tasks for pay:

  • Psychological evaluation of homeless persons seeking financial assistance from the State of Washington because of mental/emotional disability;
  • Psychological first aid to law enforcement officers following officer-involved shooting incidents.

 Over the course of my career since 1964, I have worked for pay as:

  • Clinical psychologist in the US Army providing consultation to local school districts regarding military dependents,
  • Clinical and community psychologist in a "consultation-oriented" community mental health center on the Minnesota Iron Range, delivering clinical consultation services to a wide variety of primary service providers.  In that capacity, I also consulted to a group that developed the first outpatient alcoholism treatment program on the Minnesota Iron Range.
  • Interim Director of an Ecumenical Metropolitan Ministry in Tacoma, WA.
  • Executive Director of a comprehensive community mental health center here in Tacoma, WA.  In that capacity I carried out a major restructuring of the center and forced the State of Washington to begin paying Medicaid for community mental health services.
  • Consultant to three organizations (2 in OR and 1 in AK) to assist in development of community mental health programs.
  • Behavioral Health Surveyor for the Joint Commission (on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations).
  • Clinical and Community Psychologist in solo practice in Tacoma, WA.
  • Consultant to NIMH Region X to assist in evaluation of federally funded community mental health centers, and to facilitate planning for Vietnamese Refugee Resettlement in this region.
  • Consultant to a minority-owned and staffed counseling program.
  • Consultant to a minority-owned and staffed halfway house for persons exiting the state correctional system.
  • Consultant to evaluate existing Seamen's Centers in the ports of Tacoma and Seattle, and to define a model program for linking community services with ministry to visiting seafarers in those ports. 
  • Consultant to King County Department of Human Services to design and conduct a "client flow audit" study of human services provided to chronic mental patients residing in Seattle and King County.  Its purpose was to describe the actual service delivery system by identifying reliable linkages and recurring gaps in continuity of client movement among community services.  Findings contributed to establishment of case manager services.
  • Instructor (on behalf of San Francisco Theological Seminary) for two Doctor of Ministries classes on Parish Planning for pastors; one conducted in Tacoma and one in Centralia, WA. 
  • Lobbyist for Western Washington Council of Mental Health Programs.  Lobbyist.  Implemented the first formal lobbying effort by this coalition of mental health centers and clinics, developed a statewide communications network, and communicated with legislators on behalf of the coalition.  I wasn't very good at it, but I learned a lot.
  • Consultant to RasmussenHobbs Architects and Planners.  Designed and conducted a major demographic needs assessment as one element of a comprehensive Human Services Facilities Plan for Tacoma and Pierce County land use plans. 
  • Consultant member of architectural design team for Pearl Street Center, a residential treatment facility for emotionally/behaviorally disturbed adolescents located in Tacoma. 

What training/education do you have in community psychology?  None in graduate school, as Community Psychology hardly existed in 1959-1964; or at least was unknown to me as a graduate student.

 Please describe how your training/education contributed to your work as a community psychologist.  What do you view as the most important skills you learned in your training as a community psychologist?  I first learned about community psychology (as distinct from community mental health) at a seminar hosted by Don Klein and James Rouse during the early life of Columbia, MD.  From that point, I "learned by doing."  My experiences in the Army at Madigan General Hospital and at Range Mental Health Center helped prepare me for consultant roles in community and program development and implementation.

 What other experiences or training have contributed to or enhanced your ability to work as a community psychologist?  I find very few formal continuing education opportunities on topics relevant to community psychology practice that I can apply to psychology licensure continuing education requirements in WA State.

My most beneficial experiences have involved active collaborations with citizens, other relevant professional disciplines, policy makers, governmental staff persons.  I believe strongly that the ability to bring what I know and help integrate it with what others know adds great value and increases the probability of success in community psychology endeavors.

 Are there other ways you use your community psychology background and training, either unpaid or in paid roles other than your primary work? 

I have always done a lot of volunteer work, some of which could have been done for pay if I had taken the trouble to find grant funds or formal contracts.  Examples:

  • Pierce County Homeless Coalition.      
    • Homeless Continuum of Care Work Group.  Vice Chairperson and member of Steering Committee.  May 2010 to June 2011.  Chairperson June 2011 to June 2012..
  • OptumHealth Pierce Regional Support Network Mental Health Advisory Board.  Tacoma.  July 2009 to present.  Member and Vice-Chairperson.  Interim Chairperson 2010-2011. 
    • This is a for-profit arm of United Behavioral Health Group and the first for-profit RSN in the State of Washington to administer county-wide community mental health services.  I help shape policies, outcome evaluation, linkages, and community acceptance.
    • Member, Optum Health Pierce RSN Quality Assurance/Performance Improvement Committee.  2010 to present.
  • City of Tacoma Human Services Commission.  Member.  April 2005 to present.  Vice Chairperson 2008 to 2010.  This commission receives and reviews funding requests from local nonprofit human service organizations and makes funding recommendations to Tacoma City Council.
  • Pierce County AIDS Foundation:  1990 to present.  Volunteer clinical consultant to PCAF case managers.             
  • Tacoma Urban Network:  Board Member: June, 1997 - June, 2006.  March, 2008 to present.  Vice Chairperson December 2010 to June 2012.
  • Hospitality Kitchen, Catholic Community Services of Western Washington.  Tacoma.  January, 2004 to present.  
    • Volunteer psychologist, food server and whatever else is needed (one day per week) in this homeless kitchen that feeds approximately 1200 meals per day. 
    • Consultation to staff, brief solution-oriented advice for guests, and psychological evaluations for those who are applying to the State of Washington for financial assistance because of age, blindness, or disability.
  • Pierce County Critical Incident Stress Management Team.  Tacoma:  Volunteer Psychologist and a founding member.  Clinical Director, 1987 - 1999; 2005 through June, 2009, when the Team disbanded.
  • Pierce County Regional Support Network (Community Mental Health) Governing Board.
    • Citizen Member-At-Large, June 30, 2006 to December 31, 2007.  One of three citizen members selected by the County Commissioners.
  • Pierce County Juvenile Court Corrections Department.  2000.  Consultant to help design and implement a critical incident stress management program for staff of the juvenile detention facility.
  • Chamber of Commerce, Tacoma-Pierce County.  Member.  1994 to 1996.
    • Member, Government Relations Committee.
    • Representative to Tacoma Urban Network Board.
  •  Martin Luther King Ecumenical Center.  Tacoma.  Board of Directors, Secretary.  1991 and 1992.
    •  Volunteer consultant to Homeless Mentally Ill Outreach project.  1991 and 1992.
    • MLKEC was a key service provider for low-income persons in the Hilltop neighborhood of Tacoma.  The neighborhood in those days contained a high concentration of social service needs and gang activity.
  • United Way of Pierce County.  Tacoma.  1991.  Consultant to assist with separation of Crisis Clinic and Information & Referral telephone services.
  • Tacoma Fireboat Marine Museum Foundation, Tacoma, WA.  President.  1984 to 1987. 
    • Worked with other community volunteers, maritime business community, and City of Tacoma to preserve the city's historic Fireboat #1, place it on display on the Ruston Way waterfront, and win its placement on the National Register of Historic Places.
  • Tacoma Landmarks Preservation Commission.  Member.  1981 to 1984. 

 What advice might you give to students or people considering community

psychology as a career?

If you are interested in community-based practice, as distinct from academic practice, try to find a few opportunities to volunteer and participate in community cleanups or improvement efforts.  Try to meet community/neighborhood leaders and learn what they are trying to accomplish.  I believe strongly that learning to collaborate as partners is a key skill in achieving a successful community psychology practice.

 One alternative: Take a class or two in another department teaching topics such as community planning and development, community organization, demographics, public health, introduction to business administration.  Learn to "Think outside the community psychology box."  Ultimately, the skills you learn, rather than your professional title, will generate your successes.

Is there anything else you would like to say about your role as a community psychology practitioner?

It has been a very satisfying career, and I wish the same for you.

Community psychology practice works best when done in collaboration with other stakeholders who also care about the issue. 

Our values and skills are not unique.  They overlap with and complement those of a number of other professions.  If we try to see and present ourselves as unique, we risk building walls that will make us less effective, indeed less relevant, to community and system improvement efforts.

 In order to make these profiles searchable, please include a short number of Key Words that would help people find you:

State/Country: Tacoma, WA/USA

Primary Place of Employment:  Mission: "To deliver psychology by walking around."

Areas of Practice Expertise: Community and system development and improvement.


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Post Date:
February 1, 2012
Posted By:
Rachel Smolowitz

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