Community Psychology Explores How Individuals Relate to Society

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What Is Community Psychology?

Community psychology is a specialty area concerned with how individuals relate to society. Have you ever wondered how people can become more active contributors in their communities? Or do you ever think about how community issues can impact the health and wellness of individuals? These are both major topics of interest within the field of community psychology.

Community psychology is multidisciplinary. This is a fairly broad and far-reaching subject within psychology, synthesizing elements from other disciplines including sociology, political science, public health, cross-cultural psychology, and social psychology.

Psychologists working in this field look at the cultural, economic, social, political, and environmental that shape and influence the lives of people all over the globe.

Some of the disciplines that are closely connected to community psychology include community mental health, cross-cultural psychology, public health, social work, sociology, environmental psychology, and ecological psychology.

The focus of community psychology can be both applied and theoretical, but it is oftentimes a mixture of both. While some community psychologists conduct research on theoretical issues, others take this information and put it into immediate use to identify problems and develop solutions within communities.

Issues that community psychologists work on include:

  • Empowerment
  • Diversity
  • Civic participation
  • Building a sense of community
  • Problem prevention
  • Health promotion
  • Individual wellness

Community psychologists seek to create positive social change within a social structure. They can achieve this through either first-order change or second-order change.

  • First-order change involves fostering changes in individuals in order to prevent or fix a community problem.
  • Second-order change involves changing the social systems that contribute to problems in order to ensure that individuals fit better into their environments.


Community psychology began to emerge during the 1960s as a growing group of psychologists became dissatisfied with the ability of clinical psychology to address broader social issues. Today, many recognize a 1965 meeting of psychologists at the Swampscott Conference as the official beginning of contemporary community psychology.

At this meeting, those in attendance concluded that psychology needed to take a greater focus on community and social change in order to address mental health and well-being.

Since that time, the field has continued to grow.

Division 27 of the American Psychological Association, Society for Community Research and Action (SCRA), is devoted to the subject of community psychology. Several academic journals are also devoted to the topic, including the American Journal of Community Psychology, the Journal of Community Psychology, and the Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology.

Community Psychology at Work

Due to the nature of this profession, people who work in this field often perform a range of duties and take on a number of different roles. Some things that a community psychologist might do include:

  • Researching problems within a community and assessing individual needs
  • Finding ways to help disadvantaged or disenfranchised individuals feel more connected with their local communities
  • Understanding social issues among minority groups
  • Developing, implementing and evaluating action-oriented community-based programs
  • Building relationships between individuals and community groups
  • Evaluate organizations, governments, and communities in order to promote participation and diversity

Community psychologists can be employed in a number of areas including education, government, nonprofit groups, community organizations, and private consulting.

Within the educational system, community psychologists often work at colleges and universities to teach courses and conduct original research. In a government setting, they may work in health and human services for local, state and federal governments.

Related Fields

People sometimes confuse community psychology with related fields such as social work, cross-cultural psychology, and social psychology. While community psychology has many similarities to related fields and often draws upon these disciplines, it is important to note some major distinctions.

Compared to Clinical Psychology

For example, community psychology is centered on action and solving problems much like clinical psychology. However, clinical psychology tends to have a greater focus on solving individual problems, while community psychology is devoted to understanding the underlying social issues that contribute to these problems.

Compared to Social Work

Community psychology also takes a holistic, systems-based approach to understanding behavior and how people fit into society, much like related fields such as sociology and social psychology. Community psychology tends to be more centered on applying psychological and social knowledge to solving problems, creating real-world solutions, and taking immediate action.

Compared to Public Health and Counseling

Like public health and mental health counseling, community psychology is also focused on the prevention of problems and the promotion of health and well-being. It also has a very strong research-oriented component. Community psychologists often perform original research, develop theoretical frameworks, and then apply this knowledge directly within public and private communities.

As you can see, community psychology overlaps with a number of other disciplines. However, it has its own unique and important contributions to make.

The major goals of this field are to create new ways to empower people within their communities, promote social change and diversity, promote individual and community well-being, and prevent disorder.

Educational Requirements

Most community psychologists hold at least a master's or doctorate degree in psychology. There are some community psychology programs available, but other students opt to earn an interdisciplinary degree or a general degree with a focus on community psychology topics.

Some of the coursework that an aspiring community psychologist should take includes:

  • Social behavior
  • Research methods
  • Statistics
  • Public health
  • Organizational development
  • Grant writing
  • Developing prevention programs
  • Developmental psychology
  • Sociology
  • Social problems
  • Community development

Training and education in community psychology focus on both research and application. Graduate students receive extensive training in research methods and social statistics, as well as how to put this information to practical use through developing action-oriented community programs.


Salaries for community psychologists vary depending on their level of education and where they work. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median annual wage for psychologists was just over $79,000 a year in 2018.

A Word From Verywell

Community psychologists play an important role in protecting the health and wellness of individuals and communities. By working to design programs and implement interventions, these professions help ensure that people are able to access the resources they need in order to reach their full potential.

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Society for Community Research and Action. What is Community Psychology?

  2. Kaufman JS, Connell CM, Crusto CA, et al. Reflections on a community psychology setting and the future of the fieldAm J Community Psychol. 2016;58(3-4):348–353. doi:10.1002/ajcp.12108

  3. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Occupational Outlook Handbook: Psychologists.

By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is the author of the "Everything Psychology Book (2nd Edition)" and has written thousands of articles on diverse psychology topics. Kendra holds a Master of Science degree in education from Boise State University with a primary research interest in educational psychology and a Bachelor of Science in psychology from Idaho State University with additional coursework in substance use and case management.