Community Psychology: What It Is And How It Transforms Societies

Community psychology

Psychology is a discipline as diverse as it is ancient that has helped us generate many ways of understanding both our individual behavior and interpersonal relationships.

One of the branches of psychology that is especially oriented toward producing social changes and transformations from the perspective of the actors themselves is community psychology In this article we will explain what it is, where it comes from, what are the main objectives and the field of action of this branch of psychology.

What is Community Psychology?

Community psychology, or community social psychology, is a theory and methodology that arises in American countries, both in the north, the center and the south, and its main objective is to produce transformations in communities by seeking the strengthening and participation of social actors in their own environments.

Where does it come from?

It is an interdisciplinary theory because it includes an organized set of ideas and knowledge that come not only from psychology, but from other sciences, especially human and social, such as anthropology, sociology or philosophy.

It is also nourished by the political activity of transformative disciplinary movements, such as anti-psychiatry or community mental health, which emerged in Italy and the United States in the mid-20th century and which pointed out or denounced some limitations of traditional ways of doing psychology. .

Similarly has important influences of Latin American revolutionary thought such as the militant sociology promoted by the Colombian O. Fals Borda, or the popular education model of the Brazilian Paulo Freire.

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As a theory, community social psychology is responsible for studying psychosocial factors, that is, both psychological and social elements specifically involved in the control and power that people exercise over ourselves and our environments.

For this reason, community psychology is closely related to the concepts of power, self-management and empowerment, and is part of a current of critical transformation that assumes that society is a collective construction of the people who make it up, in turn influenced by that construction, susceptible to criticism and changes (Montero, 2012).

From the theory to the practice

That is to say, community psychology is also a methodology: based on its theoretical approaches we can develop intervention strategies that promote people to be agents of change in our own environments and active agents in detecting our needs and solving our problems.

This is where we can see a difference or even a distancing from traditional social and clinical psychology: it is not the intervener, the technician, the state, religious, political or private institutions, but the social agents of the community itself who recognize themselves as the protagonists, specialists and producers of change.

For this reason, community psychology is also considered as a developmental psychology project; a development that goes beyond the individual dimension, since its objective is not only to modify the psychology of people, but also to impact the habitat and individual-group relationships. to achieve qualitative changes both in that habitat and in the relationships

Key concepts: empowerment, community…

Community social psychology considers that the space where a transformative relationship is needed and can be established is the one in which people carry out daily life that is, the community.

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Since the community is the space where social transformations can occur, it is the actors that make up that community who would have to manage and produce these transformations: They are the ones who experience both conflicts and agreements every day.

But this often does not happen, rather the responsibility and ability to generate solutions is frequently delegated to people or groups that are external to the communities, generally institutions or agents that are considered experts.

What community psychology proposes is that the approach of those considered experts or social institutions, although necessary at first, cannot remain in the community as the only agent of change, but rather It is about promoting that the people of the community are the ones who strengthen self-management and promote transformation. That is to say, the intervener would have to promote his own withdrawal from the community, as long as he is external.

Thus, the purpose is to develop, promote and maintain control, power, active participation and decision-making of the people who make up a community (Montero, 1982). From this approach arises the concept of strengthening or empowerment, a word that later became “empowerment” because the Anglo-Saxon concept “empowerment” was transferred.

The problem with the latter is that it literally means “endowment of power”, which leads us to mistakenly think that a community psychologist is the one who “has the power”, and is in charge of “distributing” that power to people who do not they got it.

Empowerment or strengthening? Power and participation

In reality, the proposal of community psychology is closer to the strengthening process, where power is not a gift or donation, but an achievement that arises from reflection, awareness and action of people according to their own interests, That is, power and empowerment are collective processes.

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This means that research in community social psychology is participatory and the development and implementation of intervention projects take into account many (psychosocial) factors that go beyond the psychology or personality of individuals.

Some examples of elements to take into account are: geographic location, demographic data, sociocultural characteristics the history of the community, daily activities, education, characteristics of institutions, health and disease processes, resources, problems and needs, which are detected through participatory diagnoses.