Community Psychology

Community psychology focuses on the processes that link social systems and contexts with individual behavior with explicit attention to promoting health and empowerment and preventing problems in communities, groups, and individuals. Although community and social psychology share interest in the person and environment, community psychology orients more toward the social forces in the outside world and how they affect individuals, families, and communities. For some community psychologists interested in social change, the law represents the social institution that reflects and promotes the values and norms of a community, serving as both facilitator and barrier to social change efforts.

Like other psychologists, many community psychologists interested in psychology and law teach and conduct research in higher education settings. Unlike other areas of psychology, however, a number of community psychologists work outside academia in governmental agencies (e.g., General Accounting Office, state health and human services agencies), non-profit organizations (e.g., domestic violence shelter, child advocacy group), foundations, or other community-based advocacy and service settings.


Activities of Community Psychologists

The community psychology approach uses an ecological perspective to examine issues at the individual, social system, societal and global levels. For example, a psychologist interested in juvenile delinquency prevention could investigate individual characteristics and circumstances (e.g., mental health problems), family dynamics (e.g., conflict and parenting skills), neighborhood parameters (e.g., social support systems), economic influences (e.g., stresses of poverty) and larger societal norms (e.g., emphasis on materialism). For community psychologists in academic and applied settings, activities span the range of policy and law formulation, implementation, evaluation, and change. For example, they might design and evaluate juvenile delinquency prevention and treatment programs, research adolescents’ competence to participate in legal proceedings, investigate the impact of court involvement on the functioning of crime victims, or evaluate the effects of health care and welfare reform.


Educational and Training Requirements

Community psychologists working in law-related areas are typically trained in community psychology graduate programs, several of which have special emphasis on law or policy. During graduate school, students usually work with a faculty member on research projects relevant to psychology and law. A number of community psychology programs emphasize field placements that integrate research and action, so students often obtain experience in state or local government, non-profit, or advocacy settings on research, policy, or intervention issues. Some graduate students develop additional expertise in other areas of psychology such as developmental, social, and quantitative. A few obtain law or policy degrees, but they are not required. The PhD is required for employment at a college or university, and for some jobs in other settings. Students who obtain a master’s degree may be able to find employment in advocacy, policy, service, or community action settings.