Community psychology (CP), as a discipline, began in 1965 in Swampscott, Massachusetts, during a meeting of psychologists discussing training for community mental health. This group identified CP to be distinct from clinical psychology and community mental health. The original focus was on social and cultural influences on mental health, and it has since widened, with CP now being a discipline within psychology that examines ecological issues beyond the individual level, explores the value of diversity, challenges narrow unidimensional measures of health, and validates psychologists as agents of social changes. A public health approach was used to help provide the burgeoning field with an alternative to the medical model used in clinical psychology that focuses on illness, treatment, and recovery. This helped establish prevention as a founding principle of the field. CP has become a science of prevention, community intervention, and social epidemiology. Themes of the field include ecological perspectives, cultural relevance and diversity, and empowerment. Ecological perspectives emphasize social and environmental contexts at the individual, organizational, and community levels of analysis, and apply principles of resource mobilization, interdependence, and adaptation.
The following intervention and evaluation projects exemplify efforts in community psychology that have contributed to public health and welfare. The community lodge system was an alternative community living and employment setting for individuals with serious mental illness. The setting provided residents an opportunity to progressively operate and own their lodge including their own janitorial business. Another example is the Juvenile Diversion project. This project provided an alternative program for youth who would have otherwise entered the juvenile court system or a social service agency. The youth in the program were connected to a college student who worked with each youth to help them with school, social relations (peer and family), and accessing community resources. These projects are two examples within the field of community psychology designed to encourage consumer participation, build on their strengths and competencies, and promote health. Other research in community psychology has also helped provide public health with an empirical and theoretical basis for much of its work on community involvement and lay helpers, empowerment, and social capital.
COMMUNITY PSYCHOLOGY AND PUBLIC HEALTH
Community psychology has many methods, topics, theories, and values in common with public health. Both fields emphasize skill development and utilize an approach that involves participants in program planning, implementation, and evaluation. They also employ qualitative and quantitative methods for process and outcome evaluation. Methods such as advocacy, community organizing, policy influence, and dissemination are used by both fields. Community psychologists focus on social determinants of health, including interpersonal support, stress and coping, citizen participation, social capital, wellness and health promotion, and social change in individuals, families, schools, churches, workplaces, and communities. Mutual and self-help approaches also overlap the two fields.
Community psychology and public health apply similar theories and conceptual models, including empowerment theory, social change theories, dissemination of innovation, and ecological theory. CP addresses cultural issues and diversity in both the application of theory and research and in intervention design. This is consistent with public health approaches because programs are developed and modified to match the values, norms, and beliefs of the audience, whether the focus is on ethnic, behavioral (e.g., homosexual, intravenous drug use), gender, or cultural differences. Both CP and public health consider social relationships, involve diverse community members, and study
Community psychology also differs from traditional public health in some ways. Much of the focus of CP is on mental health issues while public health stresses more traditional health concerns such as communicable diseases, cardiovascular disease, asthma, diabetes, and cancer. CP tends to focus more on behavioral aspects of health such as alcohol and drug use, risky sexual behavior, teen pregnancy, and violence. CP also includes topics that are considered fringe public health topics, such as homelessness, school dropout, and unemployment. Public health has a more practice-oriented approach to social problems, while CP emphasizes theory and social research. Both CP and public health, however, stress prevention, empowerment, promotion of healthy behaviors and contexts, and creating settings for community involvement and improvement.
COMMUNITY PSYCHOLOGY VERSUS HEALTH PSYCHOLOGY
Community psychology differs from health psychology in several ways. CP focuses on social change and social factors related to health outcomes, and pays more attention to context and change at organizational and community levels, while health psychology emphasizes individual health behavior and change. Theories applied in health psychology also focus on factors that predict behavior change, such as the health belief model, the theory of reasoned action, and stages of change. CP examines multiple determinants of health and the context in which behavioral choices are made, while health psychology focuses on individual motivation and cognitive factors associated with health behavior. Health psychology also tends to use approaches to intervention where participants are passive recipients of programs. CP approaches, like public health approaches, are more participatory in nature and involve program recipients in the design, implementation, and evaluation of programs. These two fields, however, overlap in some ways. Health psychology and community psychology include studies of social support and interventions to enhance support, and they both stress skill building, competence, and self agency. They also examine similar topics, but community psychology includes a broader array of issues that may extend beyond traditional definitions of health.
(SEE ALSO: Antisocial Behavior; Behavioral Determinants; Community Health; Community Mental Health Services; Ecosystems; Environmental Determinants of Health; Health Belief Model; Prevention; Social Determinants; Transtheoretical Model of Stages of Change)
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Kelly, J. G. (1986). "An Ecological Paradigm: Defining Mental Health Consultation as a Preventive Service." Prevention in Human Services, 4:1–36.
Meritt, D. M.; Greene, G. J.; Jopp, D. A.; and Kelly, J. G. (1999). "A History of Division 27 (Society for Community Research and Action)." In Unification through Division: Histories of the Divisions of the American Psychological Association, Volume III, ed. D. A. Dewsbury. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
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