The Business of Practice

Community Psychology

Community psychology focuses on the processes that link social systems (and situations) with individual behavior. The goal is to focus on health and empowerment and prevent community and individual problems. Although community and social psychology share an interest in the person and environment, community psychology is oriented more toward the social forces in the outside world and how they affect individuals, families, and communities. For example, for some community psychologists, the law represents the social institution that reflects and promotes the values and norms of a community, serving as both facilitators and barriers to social change efforts. 

Like other psychologists, many community psychologists interested in psychology and law teach and conduct research in higher education settings. Unlike other areas of psychology, however, several community psychologists work outside academia in government agencies (e.g., General Accounting Office, state health and human services agencies), non-profit organizations (e.g., domestic violence shelters, child advocacy groups), or other community-based advocacy and service settings.

Community Psychology

Community Psychologist Employment

The community psychology approach uses an ecological perspective to examine the individual, social system, societal and global issues. For example, a psychologist interested in juvenile delinquency prevention could investigate characteristics and circumstances (e.g., mental health problems), family dynamics (e.g., conflict and parenting skills), neighborhood parameters (e.g., social support systems), economic influences (e.g., stresses of poverty) and societal norms (e.g., emphasis on materialism).

For community psychologists in academic and applied settings, activities span the range of policy and law formulation, implementation, evaluation, and change. For example, they might design and evaluate juvenile delinquency prevention and treatment programs, research adolescents’ competence to participate in legal proceedings, investigate the impact of court involvement on the functioning of crime victims or evaluate the effects of health care and welfare reform, such as those seen in Trauma-Informed Integrated Behavioral Health Care.

Community Psychology Educational and Training Requirements

Community psychologists working in law-related areas are typically trained in community psychology graduate programs, several of which emphasize law or policy. During graduate school, students usually work with a faculty member on research projects relevant to psychology and law. Several community psychology programs emphasize field placements integrating research and action. Experience is often obtained in state or local government, non-profit, or advocacy settings and researching policy and intervention issues. Some graduate students develop additional expertise in other areas of psychology, such as integrated behavioral health, developmental, social, and quantitative. A few obtain law or policy degrees, but they are not required. A Ph.D. is required for employment at a college or university and some jobs in other settings. Students who obtain a master’s degree may be able to find jobs in advocacy, policy, service, or community action settings. 

Additional Resources on Community Psychology



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