From Our Members



Volume 51 Number 2 
Spring 2018

From our Members

Action or Inaction in the Wake of Parkland Florida Tragedy?

Preventing Gun Violence Through Model Legislation

Op Ed Written by Christopher Corbett



As the nation reels from another mass shooting that has killed at least 17 people and injured at least 15 more (Everytown Research, 2018), we can only face up to the harsh reality as to how preventable this shooting was--and also how culpable as a society we all are. Whether through obstruction, such as by the Congress who includes the “Dickey Amendment” every year in spending bills to prohibit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from conducting gun violence research (Radelat, 2018), or by neglect, we, the citizenry, fail to demand reasonable firearm restrictions-- there is plenty of guilt to go around. We can take action now to prevent such future tragedies.

Points of Intervention

While many points of intervention exist, given our national elected leaders’ incapacity, or refusal, to work together, intervention at state level has immediate prospect of success. Real progress has already been achieved by several states to impose “red flag” laws that allow suspending rights to gun ownership where a significant risk to self or others is shown. For example, five states have such legislation: Connecticut, Washington, Oregon, Indiana, and California (Radelat, 2018). This is not done thoughtlessly but rather with significant protection of due process rights of individuals by its temporary nature and with right to a hearing (Everytown Research, 2018). Moreover, state level intervention is ideal as all citizens can act immediately to contact their local legislators whether in person, by letter or electronically. Further, some responsible legislators have proven the complex issues can be practically resolved, while balancing the rights of individuals against greater societal interests. Five states have already proven that such legislation can be drafted, approved and signed into law (Radelat 2018).

Model Legislation

In the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy the State of Connecticut took aggressive and prompt action becoming the first to pass a “red flag” law (Radelat 2018). Its provisions are thorough, address and balance all constituent issues while ensuring protection of the public. The full wording of the legislation, is shown in Figure 1 and can be found at:  

Figure 1. General Statutes of Connecticut, Volume 9, Title 29, Chapter 529 Division of State Police



Connecticut, after the Sandy Hook tragedy, possessed the political will to develop thorough and effective legislation. Its legislation appears model and is an excellent starting point for devising state by state interventions. As its provisions demonstrate, the law effectively balances individual rights with the rights of the citizenry.

Model legislation provides great opportunity for Community Psychologists to intervene. It falls well within the skills of all bachelors’, masters’, and doctoral degree levels. To develop or propose model legislation, one starting point is to first, conduct legislative bill analysis (Corbett 2013) and secondly, apply your CP values and principles (Corbett 2015). This is clearly a fitting issue for CPs to take on now, especially in the wake of the Parkland, Florida tragedy, by intervening at the state level to prevent gun violence-- given the opportunities presented by the Model legislation from Connecticut as well as the four other states that have successfully implemented “red flag” legislation.


Connecticut Legislation (2017). Seizure of firearms and ammunition from person posing  risk. Section 29-38c. Accessed from

Corbett, C.J. (2015). Model legislation: Public Policy 501. Workshop presented at SCRA’s Biennial Conference held in Lowell, Mass. Accessed from .

Corbett, C. J. (2013). Legislative bill analysis: Public Policy 401. Workshop presented at SCRA’s 2013 Biennial Conference held in Miami, Fla. Accessed from

Everytown Research (2018, February 15). Red flag laws: Helping prevent mass  shootings. Accessed from

Radelat, A. (2018, February 16). School massacre provokes calls for ‘red flag’ laws like one CT pioneered. Accessed from

Christopher Corbett, MA, is a member of the SCRA Practice Council, Policy, and Investment Committees. Corbett 2015 and 2013 are available on the Policy Section of the SCRA website at the links provided above.

Scientific Paradigms in Community Psychology: Perceiving Power and Liberating the Ecological Model

Written by C. A. R. Hawkins Lewis, Pacifica Graduate Institute,

Introduction: The Primacy of Paradigms in Community Psychology

All community psychologists can agree there is a crucial relationship between personal and collective well-being; that is, perhaps, the binding paradigm that delineates our field. Nevertheless, within this agreement there are many competing ideas and ways of researching said relationship. For example, in their Community Psychology textbook, Nelson & Prilleltensky (2010) outlined three dominant paradigms—post-positivist, constructivist, and critical—which each establish a respective scientific ontology, epistemology, axiology, ideology, and methodology. Given this pervasiveness, it is disappointing that all researchers are not held accountable to announce and reflect on their paradigms of practice. As a “move to innocence” (Tuck & Yang, 2012), there is evidence that omitting an analysis of paradigms serves to sustain the dominion of scientism in academia and the legacy of coloniality across global systems.

In response, I propose that community psychology (CP) adopt a paradigmatic praxis to enhance its historical duty of addressing social injustice. Moreover, CP is distinctly positioned to pioneer this approach because paradigms have a unique affinity for science, psychology, and community. As a scientific term, scrutinizing paradigms might resolve CP’s tension between critiquing traditional science and being preoccupied with empirical credibility (Wolff & Swift, 2008). As a psychological term, paradigms reveal that all thought and experience are processed through some personalized perceptual frame in the psyche. And as a communal term, paradigms are co-constructed with society and ideologically envelope the groups to which we feel belonging.

Part-Whole Assumptions in Kuhn’s Paradigm and Sense of Community

Most broadly, paradigms are what weave life’s patterns of perception and praxis— “people’s thinking about reality and peoples action upon reality” (Freire 1989, p. 106). However, paradigm is a problematic word, and Thomas Kuhn is mostly to blame. In addition to his in-text confessions of linguistic appropriation, Kuhn added a postscript in 1969 to The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (2012) to clarify the two main ways he defined paradigm. The first denotation has strong parallels with psychological sense of community (SOC; Fisher, Sonn, & Bishop, 2002): “the entire constellation of beliefs, values, techniques, and so on shared by the members of a given community” (Kuhn, 2012, p. 174). The second definition focuses only on “one sort of element in that constellation, the concrete puzzle-solutions which, employed as models or examples, can replace explicit rules as a basis for the solution of the remaining puzzles of normal science” (Kuhn, 2012, p. 174). In this second meaning, paradigm stands for a single yet exemplary element in the composition of a community, similar to the key variables of SOC that some researchers seek to isolate, such as social capital or support (Fisher et al., 2002).

Re-reading this postscript again exposes that the term paradigm simultaneously signified the whole and the part: “on the one hand, it stands for the entire constellation… On the other, it denotes one sort of element in that constellation” (Kuhn, 2012, p. 174). In this double entendre, Kuhn affirmed a central metaphysical law of his modernist paradigm: part and whole can be substituted for one another. Mainstream science is infused with this contradiction. For instance, in a part-whole debate in CP, positivist practitioners reduce the SOC phenomena into quantifiable parts stand in contrast to critical community psychologists who are holistically-oriented (Fisher et al., 2002).

The Limitations and Structure of the Ecological Model

Although it is intended to engender interconnectivity between individual and collective spheres of being (Nelson & Prilleltensky, 2010), CP’s ecological model can cultivate a similar distortion of part and whole. For example, the partial overlap between levels of analysis could mislead one into perceiving “culture” as “an add-on rather than…fundamental and pervasive” to a community’s psychology (Trickett, 2015, p. 201). Similarly, Fisher et al. (2002) observed that the ecological orientation to CP “directs our view to gaps and boundaries between groups and systems,” thereby sacrificing individual dimensions of community, such as “interpersonal bonding” (pp. 69-70). We can further explicate these limitations by examining the part-whole dynamics within the architecture of the ecological model.

A holarchy is a structure of nested spheres (like Russian dolls or concentric circles) in which each sphere or level is called a holon. A holon is colloquially understood as being both a part and a whole (Koestler, 1967), paralleling how Kuhn (2012) equated them. However, a holon is distinctly a “whole that is a part of other wholes” (Wilber, 2000, p. 7); it is a systemic and complex concept which exists outside of modernist reality. I call Kuhn’s equation modernist in that it privileges the individual part with as much or more power as the collective whole. The modern definition of holon achieves this power play by dissolving the part-whole polarity, thereby forfeiting a dialectic. In contrast, the postmodern interpretation accommodates dialogue and cultivates criticality through a unique, even paradoxical, juxtaposition of part and whole.

Analyzing Paradigms Using the Ecological Model

To illuminate this ontological variation, we can use the holarchical structure of ecological metaphor to further dissect paradigms. By breaking down paradigms into levels of analysis, or holons, this model proves suitable for resolving ambiguity and differentiating each paradigm’s scope and scale. Here is a sample ecology of a paradigm holarchy using CP as the midpoint and giving examples referenced in this paper so far:

  • Microparadigm is a distinct theory or approach of CP, such as SOC, post-positivist, constructivist, or critical methodologies.
  • Mesoparadigm is an overarching methodology or distinct school of psychology, such as psychometric testing, community psychology, or clinical psychology.
  • Macroparadigm is an academic system of knowledge or transdisciplinary epistemological framework, such as modernism, postmodernism, or decoloniality.

This simple sketch is intended to demonstrate the dramatic variation of the thought-formations that we call a paradigm. As holons, we see that each paradigm contains diverse sub-expressions of its ethos and simultaneously manifests a partial aspect of some supra-perspective. Applying this model to its fullest would require additional intricacy and lexicography; this example is a snapshot of just one network within a vast web of network webs (looking something like the fractal metaphor of Indra’s Net). In addition to this global application, investigating paradigms in a local context could prove particularly relevant for CP’s research communities. Following an observation phase, for example, CP practitioners could meticulously map out a community’s complexity of paradigms across the levels of analysis in an attempt to reveal the community’s perceptual contradictions, ideological struggles, and beliefs about what is real, all of which might meaningfully inform strategies of prevention and intervention.

Community psychologists can also place themselves at the center of this paradigm ecology to inspect the explicit and implicit paradigms that inevitably guide the research process. This recommendation resonates the call for critical reflexivity (Nelson & Prilleltensky, 2010), postmodernism’s contextualization of knowledge (Fisher et al., 2002, and the feminist-decolonial praxis of geographical and political embodiment (Roshanravan, 2014). However, simply reflecting is not enough. Langhout (2016) clarified how one’s metaphysical paradigm determines modes of positionality: in modern physics, energy particles replace and displace one another like colonization; in quantum physics, energy waves move in patterns, causing ripple effects and creating entanglements of relationships. The latter view—a quantum ontology known as diffraction (Langhout, 2016)—deciphers the mechanics behind the entangled holarchy of paradigms.

Confronting Power Amidst Scientific Subversions

Fisher et al. (2007) echoed the relational waves of CP paradigms in this vocational description:

As researchers and practitioners, we are embedded in a complex web of special interests and socially conditioned theoretical concepts that determine what it is to be studied, how is the area to be defined, what knowledge is privileged, and whose interests are served by the particular definition of a social problem. (p. 261)

Cognizance of this complex web of institutional restrictions and power dynamics prompted clinical psychologists to found CP in the U.S. beginning with Swampscott (Wolff & Swift, 2008). Affirming this history, Fisher et al. (2007) also declared that CP, “by definition, is interested in the power differentials inherent in societies” (p. 258) and that “the selection of any particular theory, narrative or perspective in community psychology is an exercise of power—to exclude certain possibilities from thought and to authorize others” (p. 263). So, if CP is to aspire toward transformation or liberation, then we require the utmost accuracy in our comprehension of paradigms and a magnified awareness of their power.

Seymour Sarason, who inaugurated the idea of SOC, also detailed pitfalls of CP projects. He employed the French aphorism “plus ça change, plus c’est le même chose” to describe a phenomenon where well-intentioned change efforts “are often implicitly framed in ways that either do not address, disguise, or indeed prevent the kinds of change touted” (Trickett, 2015, p. 200). Sarason intended this subversion to draw attention to the collusion of power between science and the state. In its more covert forms, this corruption upholds the status-quo by supporting “those interventions that will least disturb the system” (p. 200) and sustains the dominant scientific paradigm by passing blame to superficial elements (i.e., a statistical measure or some technological apparatus) so that the underlying theories remain unaffected (Trickett, 2015). This same phenomenon could explain how CP’s initial radicalism has developed factions that are complicit with system demands, such as to acquire funding or academic support.

Sarason’s insight also generates implications for the CP discourse about transformative vs. ameliorative change. Nelson and Prilleltensky (2010) explained amelioration as “changes that do not challenge fundamental structures of injustice and inequality” and transformation as “structural changes that go to the root of the problem” (p. 149) while arguing that both can foster well-being. However, what net sum of amelioration can grow in the soil of structures that actively move toward injustice by evading transformation? Compromising transformation in the face of growing oppression allows the state to gain power, thusly diluting SOC further (Trickett, 2015) through colonial forces that profit from community degradation, such as gentrification and development (Fisher et al., 2002; Nelson & Prilleltensky, 2010).

Conclusion: Shifting Paradigms to Liberate Community Psychology

My evaluations of SOC, the ecological metaphor, and transformation vs. amelioration in light of paradigms is intended to show how well-intentioned theories that can be infiltrated with covert assumptions from modernism and yield to colonial agendas that disfigure community well-being. Early in my studies, this is reminder that there are immensely powerful forces working to subtly subvert CP’s liberatory potential. And while “many community psychologists recognize the need for social change and liberation” in communities, “we should think deeply about the liberation of community psychology” (Langhout, 2016, p. 324). To do so, we need to go beyond critical reflection and embrace praxes that map the threads of corruption across entangled worldviews, connect the dots between disparate theories to illuminate blind spots, and work directly with the substance of perception to make waves in what conventional reality deems possible. Diffraction and paradigmatic praxis have the potential to shift the CP mesoparadigm by changing “some of the field's most elementary theoretical generalizations as well as many of its paradigm methods and applications” (Kuhn’s definition of paradigm shift, 2012, p. 85)


Fisher, A. T., Sonn, C.C., & Evans, S. (2007). The place and function of power in community psychology: Philosophical and practical issues. Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, 17, 258-267.

Fisher, A. T., Sonn, C.C., and Bishop, B. J. (2002). Psychological sense of community: Research, applications, and implications. New York, NY: Plenum Publishers.     

Freire, P. (1989). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York, NY: Continuum.

Koestler, A. (1967). The Ghost in the Machine, First Edition. London: Hutchinson.

Kuhn, T. S. (2012). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, fourth edition. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. (Original work published in 1962).

Langhout, R. D. (2016). This is agitation: A call for a methodology of diffraction in community psychology. American Journal of Community Psychology, 58, 322–328.

Nelson, G., & Prilleltensky, I. (Eds.). (2010). Community psychology: In pursuit of liberation and well-being. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Roshanravan, (Winter, 2014). Motivating coalition: Women of color and epistemic disobedience. Hypatia, 29(1), 41-57.

Trickett, E. (2015). Seymour Sarason remembered: “Plus ça change…”, “psychology misdirected”, and “community psychology and the anarchist insight.” American Journal of Community Psychology, 56(3-4), 197-204.

Tuck, E., & Yang, K. W. (2012). Decolonization is not a metaphor. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, 1(1), 1–40.

Wilber, K. (2000). Integral Psychology: Consciousness, Spirit, Psychology, Therapy. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications.

Wolff, T., & Swift, C. (2008). Reflections on “real-world” community psychology. Journal of Community Psychology, 36(5), 609-625.

Participation experiences of a community psychologist: Lessons learned about volunteering, civic involvement, personal competencies and local cohesion

Written by Isidro Maya Jariego, Universidad de Sevilla (Spain),


During the last year I have participated as a volunteer in the "Ask an Advisor" section of the Community Tool Box ( One of the recurring themes in user questions is how to increase community participation. Participation is a central aspect of community psychology (Chavis & Wandersman, 1990, Dalton, Elias & Wandersman, 2001, Rappaport, 1987, Zimmerman, 2000). Associations and grassroots organizations offer opportunities to develop relationships, exercise personal commitment to social causes and deploy different forms of collective action (Christens & Speer, 2011, Florin & Wandersman, 1990, Wandersman & Florin, 2000).

Community psychologists tend to accumulate experiences of participation throughout their personal and professional lives. Empowerment and community involvement appear transversally in all types of social change initiatives. Over the years, I have been involved in different community and professional organizations. It all started when together with a group of friends, we founded a youth cultural association. Since then, I have been involved in a local newspaper, in funding community causes and in contributing to an environmental association, to mention a few.

Most of these experiences were carried out outside my profession as a community psychologist. However, they have been fundamental in my understanding of community organization processes and practices that promote social cohesion. In the next part, I will provide a brief personal reflection on these experiences. I want to show how participation has a direct relationship with the development of personal competences and improvement of community integration. Through different examples, we will see how effective participation is based on persistence, progressive development of relationships and administration of incentives which maintain involvement over time.

Participation as a learning tool

My first volunteer experience entailed classifying medicines that would be sent to African countries. I was about six or seven years old. I would accompany my mother to a Christian organization that collected food and medicines to distribute them to development cooperation initiatives in the field. The task was so simple that even a child could do it. First, we checked the expiration date, to ensure that the medication was not in poor condition and still had a few months ahead to be used. Then, we separated the antibiotics and organized them according to a list of priorities. Over time, regulations were introduced in the distribution of medicines, with criteria from public health and pharmaceutical control, which eventually led this type of association to cease this type of activity. I was very young. Classifying boxes of pills and syrups two afternoons a week was like a game for me. However, those initial experiences of selfless collaboration (to meet the social needs of unknown others), were possibly, unknowingly, an important antecedent for later civic participation. Community psychologists have shown that early participation in volunteer actions predicts community involvement during adult life (Guillaume, Jagers & Rivas-Drake, 2015, Lawford & Ramey, 2017).

Years later, I coordinated international cooperation projects in Colombia and Peru. "Edúcame Primero" is a project for the prevention of child labour. It is implemented in schools and consists of developing psychoeducational actions with children at risk of psychosocial difficulties, together with their families (Maya Jariego & Holgado, 2014; Maya Jariego, 2017). With the help of solidarity training scholarships from the University of Seville, small groups of students participated in the implementation of the program over some years. The international volunteering gave them an intercultural experience and allowed them to experience first-hand the conditions of exclusion in neighbourhoods in the outskirts of large Latin American cities. When the program ended in Lima (Peru), we visited each participating school in the program to deliver a batch of children's reading books, with stories and classics of literature in Spanish. Giving the books directly to the children for their school library was one of the most rewarding experiences of community intervention. I started reading books by Mario Vargas Llosa, Pablo Neruda, Gabriel García Márquez, Julio Cortázar and other classics of the Latin American literary boom when I was a teenager. Delivering books in Latin American schools, that is, bringing literature back to the other side of the Atlantic, felt like giving back what I had received. For me it was a gesture of great poetic justice.

Third places in the local community

Apart from these incursions in international cooperation, I have devoted more time towards local initiatives with special intensity in two different stages. At the beginning of the 1990s, we founded a newspaper in Alcalá de Guadaíra, a medium-sized city in the metropolitan area of ​​Seville. "La Voz de Alcalá" (The Voice of Alcalá) emerged as an independent community-based medium, in a context in which the first important cases of political corruption in Spain emerged. We considered it necessary to give a voice to the groups with less power in the local community. The newspaper elaborated its editorial around the value of citizen participation. We created a section, called "Tribuna Abierta” (Open Tribune), in which four guests were invited to debate each week on a topic of local interest. Combining open participation with a broad representation of diverse points of view contributed effectively to the public debate, generating a shared vision of local problems.

The "Forum Oromana”, a cultural association which I co-founded a decade later, was based on the same philosophy. In this case, the main activity was to organize conferences and debates about the city. The topics ranged from strategic urban planning sessions to round tables with mayors. The citizen forum was defined from its beginning as "a meeting place between people of Alcala". We conceived the association as a "third place" (Oldenburg, 1989) in which the neighbors could meet and converse informally. Such public spaces tend to be very effective in contributing to an active community life, given they facilitate connection between citizens of different ideology or condition and promote a sense of community. For both cases - the newspaper and the forum - we relied for a long period merely on voluntary participation. Eventually, over time, their operation became institutionalized and, hence, improved. The initial voluntary participation, which contributed to form a core of committed participants, has possibly had an influence, along with other factors, that two or three decades later both associations are still active.

As can be seen in any local scenario, community studies have shown that participation in associations is linked to improved ​​socialization and personal transformation. It provides opportunities to unfold values ​​and critical awareness on an individual level and is a catalyst for the sense of collective efficacy (Chavis & Wandersman, 1990, Florin & Wandersman, 1990).

The transparency of participation in virtual communities

I have also had the opportunity to be actively involved in several virtual communities, and at specific moments I have volunteered online. Although there is nothing "virtual" about online participation (Cravens & Ellis, 2014), I like to use this term, popularized by Howard Rheingold (1993), for its evocative value. Since 2002, I have been the administrator of "E-Voluntas", an email list that brings together volunteers, volunteer managers and researchers. This email list started with the aim of creating an Ibero-American space for volunteering, civil society and community intervention. The content revolves around the exchange of experiences in the region and the systematization of volunteering practice. During the first year, a collaborative translation of "the virtual volunteer guide" (Ellis & Cravens, 2000) was produced. For all participants, it was the first online volunteering experience. This allowed us to explore the potential of information technologies for network collaboration and citizen mobilization. Through this pioneering experience, we not only verified that volunteering could be done effectively remotely, but also revealed the potential of virtual spaces for community action.

Before Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp transformed the ecosystem of online communication, some mailing lists acquired a prominent role among the most active computer-mediated communities (Rheingold, 1993, 2000). Virtual forums provide a transparent medium, which facilitates observation, monitoring and recording of the bulk of the interaction that takes place among its members. In my opinion, this makes them a good context to learn strategies about group dynamics and community management. For instance, when you manage a mailing list, you realize that it is important to receive at least one message per week, to maintain the subscribers' continued attention. Responding to any contribution, no matter how incipient, and reinforcing small achievement is necessary. Participation in mailing lists is a medium and long-term process, which requires persistence. The administrator exercises a leadership that establishes the initial tone of the mailing list and contributes decisively to the culture of the group. Little by little, a nucleus of active participants is generated that provides a core-periphery structure, effective in forums. The forum reaches its maturity when the members in the periphery start reinforcing the active nucleus, so that the global dynamic is maintained even when one of the central members adopts a more passive role. Participatory action is characterized by its sustainability. With the prolonged interaction over time, the shared history and the development of the sense of community, a system of exchange of generalized support is generated, based on reciprocity, which benefits both the participants and the passive observers. This becomes a resource of public value.

Increasing participation

Promoting community participation is a very complex task. When the users of the Community Tool Box ask me about this topic, I try to avoid providing theoretical answers and instead transfer some of the lessons learned in my own experience of participation (summarized in Table 1).


My recommendations are to pay attention to the competences of the participants, their interaction and the formation of a cohesive group with a sense of belonging. Both leaders and organizations have a fundamental role in effective community participation. In addition, the spaces that bring together individuals and diverse groups have a valuable potential for community building. Finally, it is a process that is constructed progressively, through a shared history by the participants, and which requires a minimally structured network, through which a psychological sense of community emerges (Maya-Jariego, 2004).

Since participation has a transversal value in community action, the lessons can possibly be transferred to any field, regardless of the social problem or the population with which one works. Irrelevant of the context, participation is a long process, sustained by tenacity, development of personal relationships and through building shared experiences.


Chavis, D. M., & Wandersman, A. (1990). Sense of community in the urban environment: A catalyst for participation and community development. American Journal of Community Psychology, 18(1), 55-81.

Christens, B. D., & Speer, P. W. (2011). Contextual influences on participation in community organizing: A multilevel longitudinal study. American Journal of Community Psychology, 47(3-4), 253-263.

Cravens, J., & Ellis, S. J. (2014). The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook: Fully Integrating Online Service into Volunteer Involvement. Philadelphia, PA: Energize.

Dalton, J. H., Elias, M. J., & Wandersman, A. (2001). Community psychology: Linking individuals and communities. Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.

Ellis, S. J., & Cravens, J. (2000). The Virtual Volunteering Guidebook: How to Apply the Principles of Real-World Volunteer Management to Online Service. Impact Online.

Florin, P., & Wandersman, A. (1990). An introduction to citizen participation, voluntary organizations, and community development: Insights for empowerment through research. American Journal of Community Psychology, 18(1), 41-54.

Guillaume, C., Jagers, R., & Rivas-Drake, D. (2015). Middle school as a developmental niche for civic engagement. American Journal of Community Psychology, 56 (3), 321-331

Lawford, H. L., & Ramey, H. L. (2017). Predictors of Early Community Involvement: Advancing the Self and Caring for Others. American Journal of Community Psychology, 59(1-2), 133-143.

Maya-Jariego, I. (2004). Sentido de comunidad y potenciación comunitaria. Apuntes de Psicología, 22(2), 187-211.

Maya-Jariego, I. (2017), “But We Want to Work”: The Movement of Child Workers in Peru and the Actions for Reducing Child Labor. American Journal of Community Psychology, 60: 430–438. doi:10.1002/ajcp.12180

Maya-Jariego, I. & Holgado, D. (2014). From Barranquilla to Lima in Reducing Child Labor: Lessons in Community Action. Global Journal of Community Psychology Practice, 5 (2), 1-6.

Oldenburg, R. (1989). The great good place: Café, coffee shops, community centers, beauty parlors, general stores, bars, hangouts, and how they get you through the day. Paragon House Publishers.

Rappaport, J. (1987). Terms of empowerment/exemplars of prevention: Toward a theory for community psychology. American Journal of Community Psychology, 15(2), 121-148.

Rheingold, H. (1993). The virtual community: Finding connection in a computerized world. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Longman Publishing.

Rheingold, H. (2000). The virtual community: Homesteading on the electronic frontier. Cambridge, MA: MIT press.

Wandersman, A., & Florin, P. (2000). Citizen participation and community organizations. In Handbook of Community Psychology (pp. 247-272). Springer US.

Zimmerman, M. A. (2000). Empowerment theory. In Handbook of community psychology (pp. 43-63). Springer US.

Using a Community Psychology Approach to Challenge the Stereotypes Associated with People with Intellectual Disabilities.

Michael Richards, Edge Hill University, Ormskirk, United Kingdom


In the United Kingdom, community projects and services for people with intellectual disabilities have been closing for the past ten years due to austerity cuts (Power et al, 2016). This is coupled with people with intellectual disabilities receiving a negative press coverage with accusations of disability benefit welfare fraud (Inclusion London, 2011; Briant et al, 2013). This is concerning because there are expected increases in the number of adults with intellectual disabilities that will become known to services from 2001-2021 (Emerson & Hatton, 2008). In other words, support and care will need to become broader and will need to emerge in ordinary spaces within the community, beyond the traditional ‘day centres’ (See Power & Bartlett, 2015). In addition, despite there being a plethora of evidence showing that health promotion interventions, including physical activities, may be beneficial for people labelled with disabilities (Durstine, 2000; Allen, 2004; Fragala-Pinkham et al, 2006), health promotion activities still infrequently target people with intellectual disabilities, and so they experience numerous barriers to participation. Additionally, people with disabilities can expect to find barriers in relation to health service providers’ attitudes, knowledge and skills that ensure health practices are in conflict (although they may not realise that they are and should not be) with the rights of people with disabilities (Alborz et al, 2004; Disability Rights Commission, 2006). Therefore, people with disabilities may be hesitant to seek health care because of experiences of stigmatisation and discrimination.

Overview of the Study

Previous research relating to community projects have highlighted that they are usually top-down and formulated around targets and objectives (Perez et al, 2009; Laverack & Labonte, 2000), whereas, when community projects are bottom-up and participatory, collective action is likely to have a greater impact on well-being (Campbell & Murray, 2004). With this in mind, the aim of the research associated with this article involved working with a group of adult men with intellectual disabilities (aged 21 – 68, with approximately 30 participants) to explore their experiences of working on a health promotion project they helped to create. The project incorporated forty-five workshops that engaged the men in creative and visual activities, which took place in a museum in the North West of England, UK, in partnership with an intellectual disability charity. The project ended with a six-month community exhibition at the museum, which showcased the work of the men including the presentation of films, art, poetry, sculpture and a giant comic strip, depicting their understanding, knowledge and experiences of health (Richards, 2014).

Key Findings

Witnessing the men engage with creative and visual methods to explore concepts of health in the heart of their local community was powerful. The men engaged in debate and discussion, and by doing so, they made choices, shared knowledge and participated in a range of activities, which suggested that making choices that represented their perspectives was important to the men, and is likely to be important for all people with intellectual disabilities (Richards, 2016). In addition, this implied that it is not the individual(s) (the men in this research) who are problematic, but instead the problems can be strongly connected to the men’s contexts (Oliver 1990; Goodley et al. 2003). Hence, the discrimination that people with intellectual disabilities face on a day-to-day basis lies in their surrounding contexts, meaning that the contexts need to change, not the individuals. This is important because the risk of health inequalities will become more widespread, particularly for people with intellectual disabilities as they are at greater risk of health inequalities. However, by working harder to listen and engage with people with intellectual disabilities, similar to the men in this research, who had knowledge to share about health, a better understanding for health and disability may emerge, because the focus will be on the knowledge and experiences of people with intellectual disabilities. Thus, people with intellectual disabilities should be making choices, sharing knowledge and participating at every level to ensure that they have control over their lives and their health (Richards, 2016). For example, in Figure 1, some of the participants spent one workshop talking about male cancers, asking questions and sharing knowledge.


Figure 1 – A comic strip relating the men’s discussions relating to male cancers.


Kagan, et al (2011) argued that community psychology aims to address social and individual change, in conjunction with the people of a community. On the other hand, in relation to disability, Finkelstein and French (1993) maintained that most people remain confused about defining disability, not least psychologists and this may affect the way in which disability is conceptualised, determining the type of interventions used by psychologists. This can lead to the development of stereotypes and unwanted labels for people with intellectual disabilities. In this respect, psychology needs to align itself collaboratively with the progress and development of the disability movement concerned with political change (Campbell & Oliver, 1996). Indeed, one of the tenets that sets out community psychology to be different, when compared to other forms of psychology, is that of it being value-based. For example, Kagan (2004 in Lawthom, 2011; Kagan et al, 2011) conceptualised community psychology as being focused around a set of values that underpin community psychology. Kagan et al (2011) have distinguished between the core values of ‘justice’ (i.e. equal rights and self-determination), ‘stewardship’ (i.e. help people gain a sense of belonging) and ’community’ (i.e. respect diversity and be accepted for who we are). Therefore, the value-laden epistemology of community psychology, complements ideals such as standing up for peoples’ rights, making changes, resisting oppression, and challenging power, which are important values for people with intellectual disabilities and other marginalised groups (Aspis, 1997). In this respect, community psychology approaches may contribute to a strong partnership with people with intellectual disabilities. In doing so, it challenges the stereotypes and conditions of being labelled with intellectual disabilities and may enable more research to be done with people with disabilities as co-researchers (Goodley & Lawthom, 2005).


Alborz, A. & McNally, R. (2004). Developing methods for literature reviewing in health services delivery and organisation: an example from a review on access to healthcare for people with learning disabilities. Part 1. Identifying the literature. Health Information and Libraries Journal, 21(4) pp. 227-236.

Allen, J. (2004). Strength training can be enjoyable and beneficial for adults with cerebral palsy. Disability and Rehabilitation, 26(19), pp. 1121-1127.

Aspis, S. (1997). Self-advocacy for people with learning difficulties: does it have a future? Disability and Society, 12(4) pp. 647-654.

Briant, E., Watson, N. & Philo, G. (2013). Reporting disability in the age of austerity: the changing face of media representation of disability and disabled people in the United Kingdom and the creation of new ‘folk devils’. Disability and Society, 28(6) pp. 874-889.

Campbell, C. & Murray, M. (2004). Community health psychology: promoting analysis and action for social change. Journal of Health Psychology, 9(2) pp.187-195.

Campbell, J. & Oliver, M. (1996). Disability politics: understanding our past, changing our future. London: Routledge.

Disability Rights Commission (2006). Equal treatment: closing the gap. Health formal investigation report. London: Disability Rights Commission.

Durstine, J.L. (2000). Physical activity for the chronically ill and disabled. Sports Medicine, 30(3) pp. 207-219.

Emerson, E. & Hatton, C. (2008). Estimating future need for adult social care for people with learning disabilities in England. Lancaster: Centre for Disability Research.

Finkelstein, V. & French, S. (1993). Towards a psychology of disability. In, Swain, J. (ed.) Disabling barriers - enabling environments. London: Sage Publications, pp. 26-34.

Fragala-Pinkham, M.A., Haley, S.M. & Goodgold, S. (2006). Evaluation of a community-based group fitness program for children with disabilities. American Physical Therapy Association, 18(2) pp. 159-167.

Goodley, D. (2003). Structures, social constructions and stories: The debate thus far. Working draft: University of Sheffield.

Goodley, D. & Lawthom, R. (2005). Disability and psychology: critical introductions and reflections. London: Palgrave.

Inclusion London (2011). All in this together? The impact of spending cuts on deaf and disabled people in London. London: London Councils.

Kagan, C. (2004). What are community psychologists? Community psychology UK website. (Online) (Accessed 21st April 2014)

Kagan, C., Burton, M., Duckett, P., Lawthom, R. & Siddiquee, A. (2011). Critical community psychology. Chichester: Blackwell Publishing.

Lawthom, R. (2011). Developing learning communities: using communities of practice within community psychology. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 15(1) pp. 153-164.

Laverack, G. & Labonte, R. (2000). A planning framework for community empowerment goals within health promotion. Health Policy and Planning, 15, pp. 255–262.

Oliver, M. (1990). The politics of disablement. Basingstoke: Macmillan and St Martin’s Press.

Perez, D., Lefevre, P., Romero, M.I., Sanchez, L. & Van der Stuyft, P. (2009). Augmenting frameworks for appraising the practices of community-based health interventions. Health Policy and Planning, 24, pp. 335–341.

Power, A. & Bartlett, R. (2015). Self-building safe havens in a post-service landscape: how adults with learning disabilities are reclaiming the welcoming communities’ agenda. Social and Cultural Geography, pp. 1 – 22.

Richards, M. (2014). Confessions of a community psychology: the tale of a group of men challenging the perceptions of health promotion and learning difficulties. Unpublished PhD thesis, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK.

Richards, M. (2016). People with learning disabilities need a commissioner and a legal charter of rights’ – no they do not! Disability & Society, 31(3), pp. 426-430.