What is Community Psychology?

Become a Community Psychologist

Community psychology is a field of psychology that focuses on how individuals relate to their communities and how community issues can be addressed to promote wellness. Community psychologists work with community members to empower them to make first-order changes, such as improving communication or organizational structures, and second-order changes, such as policy changes. The field of community psychology also includes research on how individuals relate to their communities and on community issues.

Closely related disciplines include community practice, ecological psychology, environmental psychology, critical psychology, cross-cultural psychology, social psychology, political science, public health, sociology, social work, applied anthropology, and community development.

Typical Job Titles

  • Academic Advisor
  • Activities Coordinator
  • Admissions Representative
  • Behavioral Interventionist
  • Benefits Analyst
  • Career Counselor*
  • Disability Specialist
  • Group Home Administrator
  • Human Resources
  • Human Services Technician
  • Mental Health Counselor
  • Personal & Home Care Aide
  • Preschool Teacher
  • Probation Officer
  • Residential Counselor
  • School Counselor*
  • Sexual Assault Advocate
  • Skills Trainer
  • Substance Abuse/ Recovery Counselor
  • Volunteer Coordinator
  • Youth Counselor
  • Youth Services Coordinator

Typical Skills and Traits

  • Ability to work with diverse individuals
  • Analytical skills
  • Communication skills
  • Compassion/empathy
  • Conflict mediation
  • Desire to help others
  • Listening skills
  • Organizational skills
  • Patience
  • People skills
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Stress management
  • Trustworthiness
  • Work well under pressure

What Do Community Psychologists Do?

Community psychology encompasses both applied and theoretical focuses, though it is often a combination of the two. Some community psychologists conduct research on theoretical issues while others take this information and use it to identify problems and develop solutions within communities. Some issues that can be worked on include:

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

Below are some examples of how a degree in community psychology can help prepare people to address many of the issues our communities face.


A community psychology degree can be beneficial for someone working in the school system, either at an administrative level or as an outside consultant. Conducting surveys or focus groups with students, parents, and staff in school districts can help to determine why students are not finishing.

The research can be used to present and make appropriate recommendations to local government and school board officials.


If you work in a homeless shelter or do street outreach, a degree in community psychology could help you understand the causes of homelessness better. This way, you can start treating the cause, not just the symptoms.

Through collaborative research and action, they would be able to identify reasons why people cannot find stable housing (for example, losing a job, addiction, mental health issues, or expensive housing). With this information, they could support solutions to the problem, such as increasing mental health resources, rent control, and affordable housing.

Mental Health

A degree in community psychology could benefit someone currently working as a hotline worker or at a community clinic. Through learning how to survey minority communities, these workers could help determine why below-average levels of participation in mental health services persist. They may discover that a certain community’s services don’t match the community’s needs or find that a distrust in the medical field.

By studying community psychology, hotline workers and clinic employees could learn how to better assess the needs of minority communities. This knowledge could help them determine why these groups tend to underutilize mental health services. For example, they may uncover disparities between available services and actual community needs or discover that mistrust of medical professionals is a barrier to care.


You can work as an environmental lobbyist, gather data on how the state’s pollution is affecting specific communities. You can use this research to potentially identify how certain zoning laws and regulations disproportionately place lower-income neighborhoods next to pollutant-producing factories. Or you may be able to use research to show a contrast in the availability of city resources such as street sweepers for lower-income neighborhoods to support the reallocation of city funds.


A community psychology can help people of all genders to better understand institutions that may be preventing them from reaching their full potential in both their personal and professional lives. With this understanding, they can help to make informed decisions and to advocate for injustices they may experience at work or in the community.

Social Justice

Community psychology strives to bring awareness to the movements that have shaped society. By highlighting these efforts in the classroom, you can help empower students by giving them a history lesson that not only recounts the struggles but also the successes and contemporary applications.

History of Community Psychology in the US

The history of community psychology in the United States can be traced back to the early 1900s. Community psychologists have worked to address problems in a variety of settings, including mental health clinics, schools, prisons, and social service agencies. They have also been involved in community organizing and social action efforts aimed at improving the quality of life for all members of society.

Community psychology has its roots in the work of early pioneers such as Kurt Lewin and Erving Goffman. Lewin was a German-Jewish émigré who came to the United States in 1933. He is considered the founder of modern social psychology. Goffman was a Canadian sociologist who also made important contributions to the field of community psychology.

In the 1950s and 1960s, community psychologists began to focus on community issues related to poverty and urban decay. They were also interested in understanding and addressing the psychological effects of prejudice and discrimination. In the 1970s and 1980s, community psychologists turned their attention to more global issues such as peace, justice, and the environment.

Today, community psychologists are working on a wide range of issues, including preventing problems in communities such as violence prevention, substance abuse, HIV/AIDS prevention, disaster relief, and immigrant rights. They are also engaged in research on a variety of topics, such as how to create more sustainable communities and how to promote positive social change.

Careers with a Degree in Community Psychology

Community psychology is a continuously developing field that is concerned with the psychological wellbeing of individuals and communities. If you want to use psychological knowledge to help people or groups, this could be the ideal area for you.

Social work

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the number of social work jobs will grow by 16 percent from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the national average. A degree in community psychology can prepare you for a career in social work.

You could look for a job as a residential caseworker, providing help and advice to people at places such as group homes or facilities for people with developmental disabilities.

Residential caseworkers are responsible for overseeing clients, helping them carry out their treatment and service plans, and providing assistance with daily tasks.

In addition to their daily life skills activities, residential caseworkers also use counseling techniques to promote positive behavior and perform crisis intervention. They must keep careful records with treatment notes, records, and incident reports.

A career in social work with a community psychology degree can place you into a variety of settings, including:

  • Child welfare and human service
  • Hospitals
  • Mental health clinics
  • Schools
  • Settlement houses
  • Community development corporations
  • Private practices


A degree in community psychology can prepare you for a career as a counselor, working in settings such as group homes, community organizations, prisons, and schools.

The job duties of an entry-level counselor can include:

  • Conducting group and individual meetings
  • Delivering treatment to participants
  • Evaluating participant progress
  • Developing and implementing treatment plans


Community psychology degrees prepare graduates to work with people of different temperaments, learning styles, and backgrounds. This may include individuals with special needs and from various cultural backgrounds. In some cases, additional licensure may be required.

Before- or After-school teachers generally work with younger students in elementary schools, charter schools, and preschools. These teachers can be responsible for coordinating a comprehensive program for children. This involves planning, supervising, and implementing age-appropriate activities.

Nonprofit Management

Community psychology degree-holders often go into careers in nonprofit management, such as community program director.

Community program directors typically work at schools, park districts, camps, and other organizations. They are usually responsible for planning a curriculum, marketing the program, and implementing its various components.

Program directors are responsible for the daily operations, community outreach and developing relationships with community members and parents (if it’s a program for children).

Typical Employers

  • Assisted Living Centers/Nursing Homes
  • Early Childhood Organizations
  • Group Homes
  • Hospitals and Clinics
  • Local, State, and Federal Government
  • Mental Health Private Practices
  • Non-Profit Organizations
  • Rehabilitation Centers
  • Schools, Colleges, and Universities

Theories and Concepts in Community Psychology

First-order and second-order change

Community psychologists often work on social issues to bring about positive social change. They can achieve this through either first-order change or second-order change., with the latter often being the focus of community psychology.

  • First-Order Change: individuals in a setting are changed in a positive way to attempt to fix a problem.
  • Second-Order Change: Attending to systems and structures involved with the problem to adjust the person–environment fit

An example of how these methods differ can be seen with homelessness. A first-order change would be to offer shelter to homeless people, while a second-order change would be to improve policy regarding affordable housing.

3 Steps to Become a Community Psychologist

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

Community psychologists typically start with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Although many psychology programs may provide the necessary training, some programs may be more focused than others.

A bachelor’s degree in community psychology can give students the specialized skills and knowledge they need to succeed in the field. Colleges offer both online and on-campus programs.

A bachelor’s degree in community psychology can set you up for success in a variety of fields, including education, government, and community development. It can also give you the skills you need to become a social worker, counselor, or teacher and prepare you to go on earn a master’s or doctoral degree.

Step 2: Earn Graduate-Level Degree

It is recommended that you continue your education by getting a graduate degree. A degree in community psychology will give you access to many different careers.

Community psychologists typically pursue a Doctorate. However, before earning a Ph.D. or Psy.D., students may sometimes choose to receive a master’s degree in community psychology. A master’s degree allows individuals to pursue careers in research and public policy but doesn’t allow them to be a clinical community psychologist.

Doctoral programs in community psychology typically provide students with internships and research opportunities that offer valuable hands-on experience. This prepares students to enter a career as a clinical community psychologist, where they can provide direct mental health services.

Step 3: Obtain Your License

To pursue a career in clinical community psychology, you must have a doctorate degree and be licensed by the state. If you pursue a related field, licensure may not be required. In addition, licensure is not usually required to conduct research.

Some licensed psychologists seek board certification from the American Association of Professional Psychology (ABPP). However, ABPP does not offer certification in community psychology.

If you are looking to become a clinical community psychologists, you must receive a doctorate that has been APA approved. Studying at an can help ensure graduates are well prepared to pass state licensure exams.

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