Community Psychology is based on the premises that we flourish as individuals when we are part of a community. Thus, in essence, it goes beyond an individual focus and integrates social, cultural, political and environmental influences. It does this to promote positive change, health and empowerment.
Fundamentally, we are unable to be entirely self-sufficient. And our inherent dependence on those around us extends to both our physical and emotional wellbeing.
Where did Community Psychology Originate?
Community psychology is a relatively new field of practice, developed in the United States during the 1960s. It was in response to the increasing gap between the scope of the country’s mental-health problems and its available resources. As well as a dissatisfaction with traditional modes of service delivery in mental health. It enabled the recognition of the importance of the social environment for the development of competence and wellbeing.
Similarly, it took root in South Africa in the 1980s. This was in reaction to the inability of mainstream psychology to address the ever-growing psycho-social needs of the country’s marginalised communities and groups.
Why is there a Need for Community Psychologists in South Africa?
The emergence of community psychology can be seen as a counter to the preoccupation of traditional psychology with the individual. Traditional psychology seeks to understand human behaviour through individual-oriented models. This approach has resulted in the majority of clinical psychologists working with a minority of private clients.
The South African public mental health arena is severely resource restrained. It doesn’t have the capacity to provide an opportunity for every individual who needs to, to see their own psychologist. The result is that the majority of the population aren’t in a position to access adequate mental health care. This situation is made worse by pressing social issues. For example, violence, crime, poverty and substance abuse. As well as the challenges of life-long diseases such as HIV. All of which put additional pressure on an already overburdened public health care system that’s trying to adequately meet basic health care needs.
What do Community Psychologists do?
The problems of an individual can so quickly become the problems of the whole group. Conversely, there exists a wealth of research to show that the support of a community improves both the physical and mental health of its members. It increases feelings of safety and security, producing better outcomes for children and helping economically through close local networks of contacts.
Nurturing and enhancing the many positive benefits of vibrant community life is one of the jobs of a community psychologist. They do this by working with social workers, educators, policy developers, researchers and government agencies to promote group mental health.
Community psychologists seek to better understand the multiple influences of the social environment on health and wellness. And, in so doing, aim to reduce social inequalities and to empower society’s most marginalised and oppressed people. They analyse government, civic life and workplace settings in order to understand and improve fair and diverse participation. Then collaborate with community members, groups and organisations to solve social problems. During this process, they provide tools to build the community’s capacity to address social problems such as exploitation and victimisation.
The Value of Specialist Psychologists
There is no denying the vital role these specialist psychologists can play within the South African Context. There is an urgent need for improved mental health at both an individual and a collective level. An understanding of the dynamics of a well-run community would allow us to make better decisions as a group. Additionally, community psychologists can also play a key role in developing the country’s future leaders.
How do You become a Community Psychologist?
The journey to becoming a community psychologist begins with obtaining a Bachelor’s Degree. Preferably with a major in Psychology, followed by an Honours Degree in Psychology. Alternatively, you could do a four-year Bachelor of Psychology Degree (which has a “built-in” Honours equivalent). After completing your undergraduate studies, you must then go on to get a Master’s degree. Your Masters needs to specialise in community psychology, social psychology or a very closely related field. Master’s Degree Programmes focus on more advanced studies in the field of community psychology. They also include internship requirements in which students must conduct research and clinical work.
If you have the ambition to affect societal change through the cultivation of mental wellbeing, then consider a career in psychology. The South African College of Applied Psychology ( SACAP) is an accredited private higher educational provider. It offers a range of vocational, academic and professional courses, including many within its Applied Psychology Faculty. For more information, enquire today.