Volume 48 Number 1
Winter 2015

Special Feature

Community Psychology as a Value-Added Proposition for Students

Written by Maurice J. Elias (RutgersMJE@AOL.COM), Aishah Manuel (, Marguerite Summer (, & Daniel Basch ( School of Applied and Professional Psychology, Rutgers University

Community psychology students often end up in job titles that say something other than, “community psychologist.”  In a chapter in the forthcoming handbook, Community Psychology:  Foundations of Practice, Elias, Neigher and Johnson-Hakim (in press) put forward an advance on the crucial concept of a Value Proposition for Community Psychology advanced by Bill Neigher and Al Ratcliffe (2010) on behalf of the Practice Council.  That advance is the Value-Added Proposition.  This version of the Value Proposition articulates how a community psychology perspective and skill set creates added value to other fields and positions within those fields.

In the Community Psychology course at the Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology at Rutgers, students in the Clinical and School PsyD programs are introduced at the outset to Value Propositions tailored to their respective fields (enclosed below).  They are then asked to proceed through the course with a mindset of seeing how the concepts, methods, values, and approaches of CP can create value-added in their future roles as clinical or school psychologists.  At the end of the semester, students were asked to write their own value-added propositions, i.e., how did they believe that Community Psychology would lead them to be different practitioners than they otherwise might have been.  Of course, this is a work in progress, but it is a useful activity to include in Community Psychology courses, including those in other fields such as health and public policy (Elias et al., in press).  Below are samples of students’ responses to how Community Psychology provides value-added to their future roles as school and clinical psychologists.

This is important because, as Snowden (1987) noted almost 3 decades ago, and is equally true today, the field finds itself at the mercy of centripetal forces that draw our students outward and into the disciplinary contexts of their particular workplaces and professional titles.  So community-clinical and school psychologists are as likely to be active in Divisions 12 or 53 or 16 as they are in Division 27.  Likewise, community psychology students that find themselves involved with education, health, policy, or program evaluations may well find themselves at least as engaged in the professional worlds of those fields as with community psychology. 

One way to keep the connection is to make it clear, both to our students and to their employers, that it is in fact the community psychology connection that gives these students added value over those who might be trained “only” as clinical, school, health, etc. psychologists.  The idea of a value-added proposition also allows student to create and put forward their unique combination of community psychology values, perspectives, and competencies, without making the impossible claim to embody them all. 

The Value-Added perspective also recognizes that our audience is not the “choir,” but rather potential consumers or purchasers of our services who may know little or nothing about community psychology as a field.   So it’s up to our students to be able to articulate what it means to be a community psychologist, how that influences the way in which we go about our profession, the tools and concepts we use, and the values that drive our work.  In so doing, our students can differentiate themselves from seemingly similar competitors by speaking directly to the point expressed by Jim Kelly (1979) when he identified our field with the song lyric, “T’aint what we do, it’s the way we do it.”  It is the combination of our values and our competencies that make us distinctive and allows community psychologists to keep connected to a common core no matter where they are or what jobs they have.

Helping Students Identify their Value-Added Proposition

At the start of my graduate community psychology class, taken by School and Clinical Psy.D. students at the Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology at Rutgers, I assigned students to read their respect Value Propositions, below.  At the end of the semester, I asked them to create their own Value-Added propositions, i.e., to modify the generic statement and create their own statement about how what they learned about community psychology will give them added value as school or clinical psychologists.  The responses of one School Psy.D. student, one Clinical Psy.D. student, and one student weighing his role in both programs are included below.


Elias,  M. J., Neigher, W., & Johnson-Hakim, S. (2015).  Guiding principles and  competencies for community psychology practice. In V. C. Scott & S. M. Wolfe (Eds.),   Community psychology: Foundations for practice (pp 35-62).   Thousand Oaks, CA:  SAGE.

Kelly, J. G. (1979). Tain't what you do, it's the way that you do it. American Journal of Community Psychology, 7, 339-261.

Neigher, W., & Ratcliffe, A. (2010).  What is a community psychologist? Why should I hire one?  The Community Psychologist. 43,(2), 5.  

Snowden, L. (1987).  The peculiar successes of community psychology: service delivery to minorities and the poor.  American Journal of Community Psychology, 15, 575-586.                                           

How Does Community Psychology Add Distinctive Value for Me as a School Psychologist?

Written by Aishah Manuel

As a School Psychologist, adding the perspective and skills of community psychology will better help me serve the communities I work in and/ or are part of by enhancing my ability to initiate and evaluate preventive and strength-promoting interventions, with a special emphasis on helping youth identify academic and professional goals.  It is important to build and maintain relationships with key stakeholders and carry out consultation from an ecological, developmental, and systems perspective- considering how these transactional influences impact school engagement and performance. I will place further emphasis on bringing greater coherence to schools’ efforts to promote social-emotional and character development and academic improvement in students.  Essentially, focus should be on creating school environments in which students feel a sense of belongingness as well as a belief that someone truly cares about who they are, not just what they learn. A community psychology perspective also contributes to my having a realistic understanding of what is required to create school infrastructures and professional development needed for sustainable change. The collaborative approach of community psychology will help me, as a practitioner, to become an adaptive, values-based professional who thrives on working well with others in teams and task forces.  By modeling and teaching cultural competence and other key relationship skills to teachers, students, parents, and other constituencies, I may indirectly change the racial disparities in school outcomes (i.e. discipline and achievement gaps).  As a member of the school system, I, in my role as a school psychologist, should blend skill sets with those of other professions in the organization, and work collaboratively toward systems and community improvement.

How Does Community Psychology Add Distinctive Value for Me as a Clinical Psychologist?

Written by Marguerite Summer

Caring about individual clients cannot be complete without also caring about the ways that they are affected by social justice concerns, inclusiveness, and issues of diversity.  I have realized that it is not an either/or (individual vs. systemic perspective), but that seeing the whole person means seeing both at the same time.

I value the idea of building on individual, organizational, and community strengths as a stance for approaching client problems.  It can become too common, I think, especially when psychologists have been working for a long time, to become “jaded” and see all that is “wrong” with the client, rather than what strengths or resources he or she has access to that can serve as a jumping off point for positive, lasting change.

I feel strongly personally identified with the emphasis on assessment and asking a lot of questions and getting to know the community before problem solving or making recommendations and assuming no two communities/consultation situations (that may “appear” alike) are the same.  This approach requires constant awareness to monitor ourselves, not make assumptions about new or longtime clients, and to be deliberate about spending time to understand the person’s experience and contributing factors before making interpretations.

Other elements that community psychology has added to my Value Proposition include:

Demonstrating and teaching collaboration, cultural awareness, sensitivity and leadership to clients

Building and maintaining a collaborative working relationship with clients (individual, group, families, or organizations), with a little room for rupture and repair!

Communicating effectively in both technical and lay language, the latter in particular to help clients to understand interventions and feel included and not alienated by psychological jargon.

Finally, it is important as a clinical psychologist to evaluate, analyze, and interpret data from the programs/services in which we work, and contribute to organizational decision-making in order to make our own clinics/graduate schools better places for staff, students, and clients.  So often the students or staff leave this sort of engagement and advocacy to “the management” and are not involved in active quality improvement of the places where we do our learning and clinical work.

How Does Community Psychology Add Distinctive Value for Me as a School/Clinical Psychologist?

Written by Daniel Basch

Although I am in the school program, my passion right now is in the clinical work I do at the Rutgers Psychological Clinic and my second practicum at the Rutgers Counseling Center.  It has been in these locations where I have actively thought about the principles we have learned in class, and how they apply to the individual counseling sessions I have with my clients.  A confession: I started the year completely and wholly into the techniques of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.  I believed that if could teach patients a few different ways to think differently, their lives would fall into order and things would continue smoothly from then on out.  I think this type of thinking resembles first order change, a topic we have continuously come back to in community psychology class this semester.  It is the idea that the individual is the problem, and if we fix the individual then we fix the problem.  As I learned in class (and also experientially as most of my patients weren’t getting better), this is a particularly naive way of viewing a problem.  We need to consider the ecological levels that make up and influence a person’s life; we need to think about 2nd order change.  What I took from class is that second order change is about working with a larger system, allowing us to look more broadly in scope rather than at the individual level.

If this is so, though, there appears to be a problem with clinical psychology.  If the system is the problem, how is working individually expected to produce meaningful change?  At this point, I don’t think I have formulated a complete answer to this question.  I imagine it must be very hard to change a system when you’re working with individuals.  However, one thing community psychology has given me in relation to my work in clinical psychology is understanding.  I feel I can better relate and sympathize with my clients experiences.  I am teaching myself to see their problems in light of larger systematic problems, which has helped me feel closer to them.  It has also helped me abandon my original dogmatic stance as CBT as the answer to patient problems.  I have found that now I spend a lot more time listening to my patients describe their relationships with friends, partners, family, or otherwise, and try to understand the functioning of how these small systems operate.  I have talked about my own feelings and relationship with the patient in session, to try and understand how our shared micro system is organized.  It has been working in this relational way that I have found most rewarding so far.  I think I can thank community psychology for that.

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