Volume 54, Number 4 Fall 2021

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Council for Cultural, Ethnic, and Racial Affairs

Geraldine (Geri) Palmer, Adler University, Community Wellness Institute

Should We Look at Virtue Rather than Procedural Competencies?

Written by Geraldine (Geri) Palmer,, Adler University

I was searching for articles relative to community psychology practice through a Google search which led me to Google Scholar. It was here that the first 11-12 articles that populated were not on community psychology practice, but on our existing community psychology practice competencies. This was indeed interesting. I think it speaks volumes to the need to increase the visibility of community psychology practice, and as I stopped to read one of the articles on the practice competencies (Dzidic, Breen, & Bishop, 2013), it seemed to also support the ongoing work SCRA leadership and members are doing on decolonizing our community psychology practice competencies. Dzidic, Breen, and Bishop (2013) proposed in “Are Our Competencies Revealing Our Weaknesses? A Critique of Community Psychology Practice Competencies”, that we should look at virtue competencies rather than procedural competencies. They explained: 

“Virtue competencies provide an orientation and value-base that may be applied to any context in which community psychologists work; in this way, competencies may be positioned as tools for understanding, rather than as understandings (p. 2). 

The article further discussed the authors’ views on competencies, and they used the term “contextualists” (p. 2) that illustrates a framework we should consider moving forward in our praxis of decolonizing our practice competencies. The authors shared:

“Recognizing that social settings are necessarily complex, and that intervention and practice are context-dependent is more than rhetoric. It requires us to let go the certainties of reductionist theorizing and methodology. It challenges us to think about complexity in terms that are determined by the setting and not necessarily endorsed or coveted in traditional psychology…” (p. 3). 

In one portion of the article the authors noted that community psychology is not a one culture discipline, and often traditional psychology is monocultural. Thus, competence in cross-cultural settings is dependent on contextualized thinking and action and I love where they point out that competency development is not a distinctly linear process with a discrete or binary outcome but is instead reflective of the practitioner’s response to the situation at hand and therefore, the notion of “competence” is far greater (p.6). 

The authors’ work prompts me to encourage all of us to think with Dzidic, Breen, and Bishop (2013). They offered three areas that demonstrate flaws in focusing on competencies for community psychology from a procedural lens: the limitations of the competencies, the division between competencies and ethics, and the disconnect between competencies and applied practice. An example of a procedural competency is “a focus on bureaucratic power, inequitable and hierarchical; where a virtue competency is decentralized power; engaging and participatory” (p. 7).  I ask all those engaged in our current work on decolonizing our practice competencies and others to read the article. Some may have read it, but we are all in different places with different thought processes than 2013 or before because much has happened in our nation, our communities, and our discipline, and a reread will not hurt. 

Moving back to my other point in the beginning of this discussion on the need to increase the visibility and work of community psychology practitioners, Todd Rogers, Judah Viola, Maronica Engel, and I (Editors) are launching, or will have launched our textbook Case Studies in Community Psychology Practice: A Global Lens (2021) at the time of this publication. Perhaps in our work decolonizing our practice competencies as Dzidic, Breen, and Bishop (2013) proposed, we might look to the 11 case stories captured from authors of diverse backgrounds, working in diverse spaces to garner what virtues look like in actual practice. We might use this information to help inform our competencies. In addition to the existing case stories we have in written form, we could also gather information from other practitioners whose stories aren’t presented in our book. Our work on reframing the competencies and using actual community engagement work to do so might be the key to avoiding procedural competencies or other “static targets” (p. 2). My position on the competencies aligns well with Dzidic, Breen, and Bishop’s (2013) views and I have attempted to articulate this through my thoughts on focusing on the “language of relationships”. In any case, the community psychology case stories textbook will be available and efforts to move forward with the decolonizing work will ensue as well. Dzidic, Breen, and Bishop (2013) ended their article with the following thought, “Virtue competencies provide a way forward by recognizing the values of community psychology, the diversity of practice settings, and the roles of reflexivity and humility” (p. 8).  Let’s at least consider this framework or something similar as a potential way forward. 



Dzidic, P., Breen, L. J., & Bishop, B. J. (2013). Are our competencies revealing our weaknesses? A critique of community psychology practice competencies. Global Journal of Community Psychology Practice, 4(4), 1- 10.

Palmer, G., Rogers, T., Viola, J. & Engel, M. (2021). Case studies in community psychology practice: A global lens. Rebus Pressbooks.