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Community Psychology: what it is and how it transforms societies

Community Psychology: what it is and how it transforms societies

March 25, 2023

Psychology is a discipline as diverse as 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 specially oriented towards producing changes and social 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.

  • Related article: "What is Social Psychology?"

What is Community Psychology?

Community psychology, or community social psychology, is a theory and methodology that arises in the American countries, from the north, as well as from the center and the south, and its main objective is to produce transformations in the communities, seeking the strengthening and participation of the 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 especially human and social sciences, such as anthropology, sociology or philosophy.

It is also nourished by the political activity of transformative disciplinary movements, such as antipsychiatry or community mental health, which emerged in Italy and the United States in the mid-twentieth century and which pointed or denounced some limitations of traditional forms of psychology. .

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

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

This is why 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 that make it up, in turn influenced by that construction, susceptible to criticism and changes (Montero, 2012).

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From the theory to the practice

That is to say that community psychology is also a methodology: from its theoretical expositions we can develop intervention strategies that promote that people are agents of change in our own environments and active agents in the detection of our needs and the solution of 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 are recognized as the protagonists, specialists and change producers.

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

Key concepts: empowerment, community ...

Community social psychology considers that the space where you need and can establish a transformative relationship is the one in which people develop daily life , that is, the community.

As the community is the space where social transformations can take place, it is the actors that make up this community who would have to manage and produce these transformations: they are the ones who experience conflicts and agreements day after day .

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

What community psychology proposes is that the approach of those who consider themselves experts or of social institutions, although it is necessary at first, can not remain in the community as the only agent of change, but rather it is about promoting that the people of the community strengthen the self-management and promote transformation. That is to say that the interventor would have to promote his own withdrawal from the community, as long as it is external.

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

The problem with the latter is that it literally means "endowment of power", which leads us to think erroneously that a community psychologist or 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 fact, the proposal of community psychology is closer to the process of strengthening, where power is not a gift or a 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.

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

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

Bibliographic references:

  • Montenegro, M., Rodríguez, A. & Pujol, J. (2014). Community Social Psychology in the face of changes in contemporary society: From the reification of the common to the articulation of differences. Psycho-perspectives, 13 (2): 32-43.
  • Montero, M. (2012). Theory and practice of community psychology. The tension between community and society. Paidós: Buenos Aires.
  • Mori, M.P. (2008). A methodological proposal for community intervention. Liberabit, 14 (14): 81-90.
  • Montero, M. (1984). Community psychology: origins, principles and theoretical foundations. Latin American Journal of Psychology [Online] Retrieved April 6, 2018. Available at // ISSN 0120-0534.

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