Community Psychology: Definition and Meaning

In South Africa, the phrase "community psychology" is fairly new to the language of psychology and the social sciences. Its formulation is obviously complicated and perhaps illogical. The word is a combination of two widely used concepts, community, and psychology, each of which has a variety of interpretations and definitions. In the past, psychology has been supported by a scientific quest for explanations of unique behavior in a range of circumstances.

The individual is always the focus of the investigation and the intervention. However, community-based studies prioritize communities as their main emphasis and constantly take into account people and their psychological contexts. Therefore, community psychology is a difficult field that, in some ways, provides a novel approach to understanding how human existence works.

What is Community Psychology?

A new method of thinking about behavior and well-being in the context of all the social systems and communal contexts in which individuals live is represented by community psychology. Our goal in writing this book is to advance that line of reasoning and demonstrate how it may be used to approach a huge variety of modern issues.

The fact that community psychology is continuously evolving and self-definition is one of its most intriguing features. For a number of reasons, it is difficult to restrict to the standard subfields of psychology. First, community psychologists place equal emphasis on theory-based research and practical treatment delivery to the community. Second, they examine a variety of levels of analysis, ranging from people and groups to particular programs to organizations and, ultimately, to entire communities, rather than merely the psychological makeup of an individual.

Third, a wide range of contexts and substantive domains are covered by community psychology. A community psychologist may find themselves conducting research in a mental health facility on Monday, testifying as an expert witness in court on Tuesday, assessing a hospital program on Wednesday, putting the program into action in schools on Thursday, and planning a neighborhood association meeting on Friday. Community psychologists have a strong feeling of urgency and distinctiveness for all the reasons listed above, as though they are just as much a part of a social movement as they are in a professional or scientific field.

The complex interrelationships between people, groups, and societies are the focus of community psychology. "Community" is defined broadly here. A person interacts with numerous different communities throughout their life, including their family, social networks, employment, school, volunteer organizations, neighborhood, and larger locality—even cultures. They are all part of bigger communities and, eventually, of a global setting. The person must be understood in light of these connections rather than in isolation.

The focus of community psychology is not just on the person or the community, but also on the connections between them. The area also investigates how social institutions interact with one another, such as how citizen organizations affect the larger community. Community psychology, however, emphasizes people and their intricate relationships with the social system more so than sociology does. In order to enhance community life, community psychology is dedicated to doing research and creating sound psychological knowledge. According to the community psychology viewpoint, knowledge is created via investigation and application.

History of Community Psychology?

It first appeared in the United States in the 1950s, and the sociopolitical environment of the 1960s and 1970s had an impact on its growth. The backdrop for defining the area was supplied by civil rights, peace action, feminism, the anti-poverty movement, and environmental consciousness. The notion that psychology should play a significant role in resolving societal issues (such as poverty and racism) that raise the risk of sickness and suffering was fundamental to the development of the field.

It has a clear set of guiding concepts that serve to define and steer the industry. A sense of community and connectedness, multiple dimensions of diversity (such as gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and disability), and community collaboration, participation, self-determination, and empowerment are among these principles. Personal well-being and access to resources are also included. Community psychology seeks to foster interactions between people and their environment that avoid dysfunction, support empowerment, and social justice, and promote wellbeing out of concern for the interconnectedness and interaction of individuals and groups.

Research must result in action or have obvious consequences for action, and it is built on a collaborative approach in which the researcher collaborates with the community to meet their needs. Primary preventive programs, empowerment interventions, mutual support groups (self-help), and social action tactics are some intervention options (eg, organizing and advocating for the community). Through tactics that address antecedent and enabling variables, interventions' main objective is to treat the causes of sickness and distress.

Many consider the Swampscott Conference in 1965, where psychologists met, to be the official birthplace of modern community psychology. Participants at this meeting came to the conclusion that for psychology to address mental health and well-being, it needed to concentrate more on social and community changes.

Principles of Community Psychology

  • Social and environmental variables have a crucial role in influencing and shaping behavior.

  • Social and community interventions (system-oriented as opposed to person-oriented treatments) can be successful in improving the health of social institutions (such as families and schools) as well as in easing individual suffering.

  • These therapies ought to focus more on preventing emotional illnesses than on treating or rehabilitating them. Community psychology should focus on the population at risk as well as the person in need.

  • Instead of just reducing psychological distress, intervention should also aim to improve social competence. Community-focused programs ought to place more emphasis on social behavior that is adaptive than pathological.

  • When assistance is offered close to the locations where problems occur, it is most effective. Therefore, rather than working in settings that are socially and geographically alien to the person in need, community clinicians should do so in familiar environments close to them.

  • Instead of passively waiting for clients to approach him, the community therapist should make an effort to connect with them. Such services must to be adaptable, easily accessible at the location and time of need, and provided in a setting that lessens rather than heightens the social gap between helping and helping. Not just those who seek it out, but also those who need it most, should have access to assistance.

  • The professional should cooperate with non-professional coworkers and community resource persons (caretakers) to maximize the utilization of existing resources and to maximize his potential effect. His role could entail more advice than direct assistance.

  • Role expectations and professional conventions from the past need to be relaxed. Innovative programming and fresh conceptual frameworks are necessary for community services, and innovation should be promoted.


In today’s world, the significance and scope of community psychology are very wide and crucial, as it help in maintaining the well-being of both individuals and entire communities. The researchers and other experts in community psychology scientifically study the targeted regions and try to find a feasible and viable solution for the deprived class.

Updated on: 27-Apr-2023


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