Careers in community psychology focus on the broader environment rather than the individual. Instead of the one-on-one framework that clinical psychology favors to interface with clients, community psychology takes culture, economic and political factors, health care considerations and other environmental influences into consideration when developing social action programs that will benefit individuals and the community as a whole. Community psychologists encourage collaborative social action by promoting individual well-being and empowerment, supporting social justice and drawing attention to prevailing issues, according to the American Psychological Association. This field of study is research and solution-oriented, fostering community support to promote change and community-based initiatives for sustainable solutions.
Careers in community psychology can take shape in various ways, and one of the clearest choices involves heading a task force or a social service agency to provide services and advocate for a particular group in the community. These groups may include homeless persons, teenage mothers, HIV-affected individuals and their families and many other groups. As program administrator for one of these groups, you are expected to have the expertise on the specific issues faced by the group. You should have some knowledge of research-based solutions while finding new ways to address current and emerging challenges.
Federal or Local Government Executives
Many of the programs involving community and social justice issues are directed by government agencies tasked with health or human services-related services. These agencies may be local, state or federal agencies. Your focus may be on geographic groupings instead of specialized community groupings. This means that you should be prepared to tackle different issues affecting various groups of people.
A large number of the advocates for community initiatives are not-for-profit agencies. These agencies evaluate organizations and community groupings to identify the most efficient and effective ways to promote participation and support diversity.
Careers in community psychology may involve counseling services through community health clinics. Specific issues that are of concern to community psychologists include mental health and behavioral issues that stem from environmental factors. Individual counseling is the purview of clinical psychologists, and the role of the community psychologist may be more of a mentor, coach or group facilitator.
As a community psychologist, you have the option of working for yourself and offering your expertise to client agencies as a contract-based arrangement. A consultancy in this field can take the specialized-services approach where you establish your expertise in a narrow field and build your career around this expertise. By becoming a consultant for human services agencies, nonprofit and public-sector organizations, you can work with various organizations throughout your career.
As a consultant, you will have to develop a resume to establish your accomplishments and credentials as a consultant. Progressive employment with organizations that support the causes you support, establishing grass roots social service programs and conducting grant-based social research are just some of the things you can do to prepare for a consultancy position.
Related Resource: 5 Great Careers in Child Psychology
Clearly, careers in community psychology require a high level of expertise and credentials. A four-year degree from an accredited university is a start, but it is not enough. Most community psychologists pursue a master’s degree to gain greater insight and exposure into the issues and solutions that concern this field. A few will pursue a doctorate in psychology, human services or interdisciplinary studies. Entry-level positions available to fresh graduates of bachelor’s programs are mostly about providing administrative support to the team or senior-level executives. If you plan on direct involvement with the community, developing programs and leading community advocacies, plan on developing your expertise in this field.