What is the Role of Community Psychology?

Rappaport (2005) states that while community psychologists can and do use science, community psychology is not just a science.  This statement leads to an important question.  What role does community psychology play not only within the scientific realm but also in the larger society?

Revenson and Seidman (2002) contend that there were several roles critical to the activities of a community psychologist.  These functions include being social systems analysts, consultants in communities, and change agents.  The role of being social activists is still not resolved, likely because while community psychology has social change as one of its principles, psychologists must not go too far in their efforts and must also make sure that the individuals they helping also have an active role.  This ties into another role that community psychology plays and that is the empowerment of others. A quote by Julian Rappaport (1981) explains empowerment by saying “our aim should be to enhance the possibilities for people to control their own lives.”  Empowerment became integrated within many of community psychology’s other concepts as well more precisely defining community psychologists’ relationships with individuals, professionals, policies, and programs.

Rappaport (2005) states that community psychology is more than just a science and that it is just as much social criticism as it is science.  Also in this article, are the difficulties that arise when outside sources such as corporations and the government fund science.  He contends that this is one of the biggest dangers to freedom: the union of science and state.  Many times when such entities fund science, there is little room for science to critically evaluate things and to be completely creative due to pressure to adhere to guidelines tied to the funding.  Similar sentiments are shared by Sarason (1981) when he critiques the partnership of clinical psychology and psychiatry.  He states that this union had adverse consequences for the field of psychology because it became integrated with the medical field and began to abide similar guidelines that included an emphasis on clinical treatment and assessment rather than prevention.  Also stated is how there was virtually a complete disregard for social factors and how the previous history plays a role in mental health outcomes. Rappaport also says that because community psychology is not only a science, it can use other methods of attaining knowledge that the paradigms of other sciences will not allow them to use, affording community psychology the abilities to influence different areas and to make unique contributions that conventional science may not allow.

Each author makes very compelling arguments for their cases.  Sarason’s assertion that clinical psychology’s partnership with psychiatry had many adverse outcomes may have been too harsh.  While certain mistakes were made and some concepts were not considered, this connection was a serious turning point in psychology.  If this did not happen, would psychology as a whole be able to make such contributions or secure support and legitimacy?  Would community psychology have been able to build a foundation from what other areas of psychology were lacking?  The union of clinical psychology and psychiatry eventually brought into sharper view the flaws of the individual based concepts and mental health care.  Community psychology emerged as a product of its time and place, which had a large impact on its goals and roles as an agent of social change and a promoter of empowerment of marginalized groups.  Rappaport made more other valid points to support his claim that community psychology is more than a science.  For community psychology to abide by its own principles, it has to transcend the realm of science and become an interdisciplinary field.  People typically view science as an unbiased and neutral search for knowledge, but for community psychology meet such goals as social change and empowerment, it has to take a vested interest in the welfare of people and their communities.  Community psychology also provides a more balanced and full view of behavior and how it is not only affected by social situations, but also relationships between communities and societies.  Perhaps the role of community psychology in both science and society is to change the status quo and to provide new and creative methods in attaining knowledge.


Rappaport, J. (2005). Community psychology is (thank God) more than science. American Journal of Community Psychology, 35(3-4), 231-238.

Revenson, T. A., & Seidman, E. (2002). Looking backward and moving forward: Reflections on a quarter century of community psychology. In A quarter century of community psychology (pp. 3-31). Springer US.

Sarason, S. B. (1981). An asocial psychology and a misdirected clinical psychology. The American Psychologist, 36(8), 827-836.

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