Community Psychology Careers

What Is Community Psychology?

Group of Ten FriendsThe health of a community as a whole often affects each individual person in that particular community. If several individual community members suffer from a particular mental disorder, social problem, or negative economic status, the overall health of the community will often suffer as a result. These are the types of ideas that community psychologists focus on.

Community psychology is a branch of psychology that involves the study of how individuals relate to their communities and the reciprocal affect of communities on individuals. Researching unpleasant, undesirable, or problem situations in a community allows these psychologists to uncover ways to make improvements.

In general, there are a couple ways to change a community problem:

  • First-order change involves changing the individuals themselves. Treating each individual’s substance abuse problem, for instance.
  • Second-order change involves researching and changing a system or structure, more or less to help prevent problems before they start. In conjunction with the first example, this may involve researching and understanding why so many community members are abusing drugs or alcohol and working toward preventing it.

Community psychology started sometime around the middle of the 20th century. It was around this time that society as a whole was becoming slightly less conservative. This, in turn, made some less common social problems more prominent. Because of this, social psychologists at this time began to become more and more interested in certain social problems and community well-being.

In 1965, nearly 40 psychologists met in Swampscott, Massachusetts. The purpose of the Swampscott Conference was to discuss and consider the possibility of training professionals to focus on the mental and social health of communities. This conference was the beginning of community psychology as we know it today.

What Are the Education Requirements to Become a Community Psychologist?

Below is the complete educational path for the Psychologists:
Psychologist Educational Track
School Programs Average Education Length Choosing Online or Campus
1. Earn a Bachelor's Degree View Programs 4 Years Online or Campus
2. Earn A Master's Degree View Programs 2 Additional Years Online or Campus
3. Earn a PHD or PsyD View Programs 2-4 Additional Years Online or Campus

In order to start community psychologist careers, individuals will typically need to enroll in a four year psychology degree program. Some universities and colleges may even offer community psychology degrees for those interested in a more focused education.

Although a four year degree may open some career doors, more advanced degrees are usually recommended. After graduating from a four year psychology degree program, those looking to pursue community psychology careers should consider earning Master's degrees and a Doctorate degree.

Why Do We Need Community Psychology?

At times, the problems of the individuals in a community can quickly become the problems of the community. Problems such as homelessness, teen pregnancy, substance abuse, and AIDS or HIV can be very draining on a community's resources.

Community psychologists help keep prevent these problems by examining their causes. Without the help of these psychologists, community problems would most likely be much worse.

What Does a Community Psychologist Do?

In short, a community psychologist is a problem solver. These types of professionals are often presented with problems that are affecting certain communities. They will then research the problem and find out why it is a problem, and what the best way to fix it would be.

When solving community problems, community psychologists will often work closely with several important community members. This may include local government officials, law enforcement officers, social service employees, and school officials. During their research, community psychologists will also speak and interact with all types of other community members, from the "Average Joes" to the more down and out sorts.

Where Does a Community Psychologist Work?

A community psychologist might work in several different types of settings. In some cases, who a community psychologist works with may be determined by the type of problem a community faces.

Some may work directly for local governments, such as city councils or town board members. Others might work at local shelters, substance abuse treatment centers, or schools. Research centers might also have a need for community psychologists as well.

What is the Median Salary of a Community Psychologist?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary of a psychologist in 2010 was $86,510. Salaries of community psychologists, however, may vary depending on a couple of factors. More experienced and better educated psychologists will usually be able to command higher salaries, for example, as will those in urban areas.

The salary of a community psychologist is also partly determined by the type of work he does. Psychologists that work in substance abuse clinics, for instance, made slightly less than the national average for all psychologists in 2010, with a median salary of $69,150.

Influential Community Psychologists
  • Paul Watzalwick - along with John Weakland and Richard Fisch - explains first-order change and second-order change in the book Change: Principles of Problem Formation and Problem Resolution. In this book, it is also stated that the solutions to certain problems can usually be found by studying the problems themselves.
  • Robert Reiff was elected as the first president of the American Psychological Association's Division of Community Psychology in 1967. In 1974, the division awarded him for "distinguished contributions to community psychology and community mental health."

Additional Resources and Further Reading