Volume 47 Number 3 
Summer 2014

Joint Column:  Community Practitioner and Education Connection

Guest Editor:  Sharon Johnson-Hakim

Competencies for Practice: Perspectives on Training and Education

Overview and Commentary

Written by Sharon Johnson-Hakim, Ph.D., Atlantic Health System; Christian Connell, Ph.D., Yale School of Medicine, Division of Prevention and Community Research; Ashley Anglin, MA, University of Hawai’i Manoa; Kyrah Brown, MA, Wichita State University

In 2012, a joint SCRA Practice Council and the Council of Education Programs workgroup identified and published a list of 18 competencies for Community Psychology practice (Dalton and Wolfe, 2012). In 2013, two parallel surveys were conducted to assess how and to what extent the graduate programs cover these competencies for practice; program representatives and current graduate students were surveyed separately. Both groups rated each of the 18 competencies in terms of expertise; programs reported on the levels of mastery that most students attain, and students reported the level of skill that they expected to achieve. The results of both surveys were presented at the 2013 SCRA Biennial (Lewis et al., 2013; Lemke et al., 2013) and published in The Community Psychologist (Connell et al., 2013; Brown et al., 2014).

The goal of this article is to advance the discussion on training for the identified practice competencies by comparing and contrasting the perspectives of the community psychology (CP) training programs with those of students. It is our hope that this analysis, along with included commentaries from students, faculty, and practitioners, will help identify workable steps towards improving graduate education for practice within the field.

Two Perspectives: Comparing and Contrasting Responses from Students and Programs

Overall, when comparing the perspectives of graduate programs and students, graduate programs reported providing training at a higher level of expertise than students perceived they would attain in their respective programs. A majority of programs reported that for each of the 18 practice competencies, their students will attain a level of “proficiency” or higher on a 5 point scale (ranging from Not readily Available, Exposure, Experience, Proficient, Expertise). Students, in contrast, rated their expected level of expertise upon graduation at the "exposure" level across the majority of the competences using a similar 4-point scale (ranging from Not readily Available, Exposure, Experience, Expertise).

A consistent finding from both student and program responses was the high level of success in training and educational attainment for the foundational competencies “Ecological Perspectives” and “Ethical, Reflective Practice.” This success could be due to the pervasiveness of these competencies in the work of Community Psychologists -- although they are listed as competencies for practice, their application and use spans the entire field from applied practice settings to academia and research. Unfortunately, another foundational principle, “Socio-Cultural Perspectives," received very divergent ratings, with programs reporting training at a significantly higher level than students reported receiving.

In general, students and programs agreed on the practice competencies that receive the least attention in practice-related academic training. These include the competencies that fall into the “Community and Organizational Capacity Building” and “Community Social Change” categories, and include: Small and Large Group Processes, Capacity Building, Public Policy Analysis and Advocacy, Community Organizing and Advocacy, and Consultation and Organizational Development. Arguably, the competencies that are the most lacking are the ones most closely identified with the community-action domain of the field -- thus representing a critical training gap. Their applied nature is also likely what makes these competencies more challenging to teach, as, opportunities for training may rely heavily on the availability and type of community partnerships with which students can work to attain these skills. An interesting finding from the student survey was that Masters students reported higher levels of anticipated training in the practice competencies compared to their doctoral student counterparts (see Brown et al., in press). A similar pattern was also observed in program ratings for some of the competencies (see Lewis et al, 2013).

Given these findings, it is clear that programs may benefit from including students in curriculum discussions and evaluation of program content. This is crucial because the level of training that programs would like to provide (based on their overall ratings of effectiveness; no program rated themselves as less than "moderately successful" at training students for practice) may not ideally match student needs and expectations.

Moving Forward

 Moving forward, a dual focus should be: 1) making graduate programs and SCRA as a whole, accountable for providing training opportunities for each of the 18 competencies; and 2) ensuring transparency in what programs offer, so that students can better match their desired training goals to program offerings. Although no program should be expected to teach all 18 practice competencies at the expertise level, each of the competencies identified as necessary for community psychology practice should be supported and taught by the field. This commitment requires a broadening of learning opportunities outside of graduate programs to include offerings such as webinars, summer training sessions, sponsored practica, internship or postdoctoral opportunities, and through direct learning opportunities with community practitioners, and interdisciplinary coursework. Additionally, if graduate programs and students are willing to undergo collaborative self-assessment and curriculum mapping, they could identify the competencies in which their programs specialize and provide this information to potential students. Efforts to begin the process of curriculum mapping have been initiated (Sarkisian and Taylor, 2013) and should be supported and broadened to foster greater student and faculty involvement. Through this and other processes, programs can strengthen their ability to promote stronger development of competencies integral to the practice of community psychology and better meet the expectations of students for training to enter the field.


Brown, K. K., Cardazone, G., Glantsman, O., Johnson-Hakim, S., & Lemke, M. (in press). Examining the guiding competencies in community psychology practice from students’ perspectives. The Community Psychologist, 3-9.


Connell, C. M., Lewis, R. K., Cook, J., Meissen, G., Wolf, T., Johnson-Hakim, S., Anglin, A., Foden, C., Gu, B., Gutierrez, R., Hostetler, A., Peterson, J., Sasao, T., & Taylor, S. (2013). Graduate training in community psychology practice competencies: Responses to the 2012 survey of graduate programs in community psychology. The Community Psychologist, 46 (4), 5-8.

Lewis, R. K., Wolff, T., Connell, C. M., Meissen, G., Cook, J., & Sarkisian, G.V. (June, 2013). CEP-CPPC town hall discussion: Current trends and future directions in the education of community psychologists. Symposium presented at Society for Community Research and Action Biennial Conference in Miami, Florida.

Lemke, M., Glantsman, O., Brown, K. K., Nettles, C., Cardazone, G., Johnson-Hakim, S. (June, 2013). Guiding competencies: Critical skills to engage in community work from the perspective of students. Symposium presented at Society for Community Research and Action Biennial Conference in Miami, Florida.

Sarkisian, G. V., & Taylor, S. (2013). A Learning Journey I: Curriculum Mapping as a Tool to Assess and Integrate Community Psychology Practice Competencies in Graduate Education Programs. Global Journal of Community Psychology Practice, 4(4), xx-xx. Retrieved 3 January 2014 from

The following commentaries represent reactions to the comparison between student and program perspectives from around the field and are intended to advance the conversation.

The Community Psychology Practice Council Perspective

Written by Tom Wolff, Ph.D., Tom Wolff & Associates, Founding Co-Chair of the SCRA Practice Council

From the perspective of the Community Psychology Practice Council (CPPC), we care about the quality and comprehensiveness of graduate training in the community psychology practice competencies. The CPPC focus on competencies began in 2007 in Pasadena at the first Practice Summit where a group worked to create a first draft of Community Psychology competencies.

The data from these two surveys raise questions that are of vital interest to the CPPC. The first major observation is on what the two studies agree on: of all the competencies there is much less focus on the competencies that address community organizing and community social change. However, this must be reconciled with the original definition of community psychology practice: “we aim to strengthen the capacity of communities to meet the needs of constituents and help them to realize their dreams in order to promote well-being, social justice, economic equity and self-determination through systems, organizational and/or individual change.” (Julian, 2006, p.  68).  This then is a significant problem that cannot be ignored. Present training does not prepare students for the existing definition of CP practice. So what do we do?

Here we have a dilemma. SCRA has usually taken a laissez faire attitude to what is taught or not taught in the graduate programs of its members. This is partly due to a fear that if we would set expectations, standards, or norms that it would become as oppressive as “accreditation” is for clinical programs. The lack of action is also due to a deep rooted sense of autonomy by the graduate programs.

Yet how can we be a legitimate field Community Psychology if Community Psychology is defined as anything that a Community Psychology program wishes to use as their definition, and anything they wish to teach or not teach. Complacency as a response to these findings is not acceptable in the view of the Practice Council. So what changes could address these issues:

a) Transparency: We propose that every graduate program faculty in collaboration with their students do an internal accounting of how well they address the 18 competencies, and share this so it is clear to graduate students and applicants.

b) Programs need to create opportunities for students to access the competencies that are less available in the program. Increased access to Community Psychology practitioners may be one path to accessing these skills. The Practice Council will soon provide useful tools for graduate programs through a Directory of Practitioners who are willing to be available to graduate programs (by visit, Skype, webinars, etc.) to share their experience and expertise.

c) Creation of a Summer Institute by SCRA (Professional Development Committee in collaboration with the Practice Council). The first years of the Institute would focus on the competencies that these surveys indicate are generally less available to graduate students and new graduates.

A final important issue that emerges from the surveys is the great advantage that the field has when we tackle issues like this in partnership with graduate students as our equal partners. For a field like community psychology that is based on the concept of empowerment we seem often quite reluctant to empower the future of our field – our own graduate students. The Practice Council has certainly found that empowering students has led to many of our greatest achievements as a Council.


Julian, D. (2006). Defining Community Psychology practice: Meeting the needs and realizing the dreams of the community. The Community Psychologist, 39, (4) 66-69.

The Student Perspective

Written by Norma Seledon, MA and Rafael Rivera, MBA, Doctoral Students at National Louis University

We believe that given the nature of Community Psychology, the 18 practice competencies will likely be considered organic and adaptable moving forward. We would like to add recommendations from our graduate student perspective that we feel are critical for Community Psychology programs to live up to a cornerstone principle, research for action's sake. The following are our reactions and observations to the results of the two surveys.

Reflection on the Academia/Community Action Paradox

The survey results for both programs and students may be a reflection of a field whose principles create a paradox. The differences between the academic world and community action, the rigor of science while demanding community action, is reflected in the competencies. Paradox may be what is essential for the Community Psychology field to flourish; trying to address both sides through a purely academic approach may not be enough. Our recommendation is for programs to develop intentional connections between practicing Community Psychologists and students to enhance action research training.

Absence of Community

While the focus is on program efficacy and honing student skills it was surprising that in the review of competencies “community” seemed absent from the discussion. Skills being developed are for use in community so why not ask community stakeholders for their feedback? A third survey might have been created that would ask community what type of skills they would find significant, suitable or indispensable in future professionals. It seems that the community perspective in the development and implementation of competencies is critical. And after all, as Community Psychologists, we are ultimately accountable to the community.

Directing the passions related to community work

There may be an assumption that students’ passion for the principles of the field would translate to action once social justice and ecological theories are taught. Both survey results indicate a need to help students identify assets, desires, and practical applications for their developing skills in addition to helping them with pathways to convert passion to action, practice, and advocacy efforts.

Advocacy training

The program survey results suggest that there is an absence of advocacy training in curricula. As doctoral students with personal experience in various advocacy movements, we can now see how the involvement of experts trained in community psychology values and methodologies could have been beneficial to the development and strengthening of advocacy efforts. We agree and encourage the development of advocacy application training and opportunities both formally and informally.


Programs rate themselves highly in socio-cultural competence capacity yet low on actual action domains.  How can programs ensure that students not only gain knowledge of socio-cultural issues, but also have a chance to practice these skills?  One way might be for the programs themselves to increase their efforts to recruit a diverse student body and faculty.  While the survey did not address the issue of diversity in the programs themselves, surely this is a valuable asset for building cultural competence.

Resource Directory Expansion

Suggestions born out of the student survey results include the development of a directory of practitioners. It is recommended that the directory be expanded to include community leaders and activists who are an untapped resource.

An International Perspective

Written by Toshi Sasao, Ph.D., International Christian University, Japan and University of Opole, Poland

Now that two datasets on perceived discrepancies are available separately from the CP graduate programs (Lewis et al., 2013) and the currently enrolled graduate students (Brown, Cardazone, Glantsman, John-Hakim, and Lemke, 2014), we can draw some implications for incorporating 18 CP competencies in our current and future training programs, and perhaps evaluate their relevance to CP training beyond the U.S.  The significance of Brown et al.’s (2014) article on graduate students’ perceptions lies in empirically demonstrating their perceived discrepancies or gaps in what they would prefer to receive as part of their CP training and what they actually receive through their own programs. Often, the program administrators tend to see the design of curricula in CP or any other field as their own responsibility based on their own training experiences, often overlooking the needs of current graduate students. Drawing on the findings in both surveys, my comments are related to the future of CP training for the changing and diversifying populations and communities beyond the global boundaries.

First, since the majority of the respondents in the Brown et al. survey were based in the U.S. institutions (77%), we must be aware that the students have had more than several choices of their place for CP training, whereas other students in non-U.S. locations did not have many options. Some of the international students may be in a CP program of their first or second choice; others are in a program they did not choose, but their program was chosen, in addition to their academic qualifications for admissions, by an attractive offer with financial support, by geographical proximity, by language preference (English or otherwise), or by any mixture of these or other reasons thereof. Therefore, the discrepancies described as difference-scores may necessarily represent the artifacts or anomalies resulting from any of these factors noted above. As such, caution is called for when interpreting the findings from the two surveys and generalizing them to non-U.S. graduate students and programs.

Second, we need to take into consideration program history (i.e., clinically-oriented, focus on action research), socio-cultural context (e.g., economy and job availability in a particular country), and program ambience (e.g., racial and ethnic composition of enrolled students, gender and gender orientation, disability, faculty background) within each program before we interpret the findings on perceived discrepancies for 18 CP competencies. Third, CP competencies may not be “linearly” understood or simply not familiar among those graduate students outside the U.S., since most of the university courses or opportunities in community psychology outside the U.S. are presented often by someone who is not even trained in community psychology principles..

Fourth, in assessing the relevance and applicability of the findings from Connell et al. (2013), and Brown et al. (2014) in international and domestic (U.S.) settings, it should be noted that sociocultural and cross-cultural competence as a foundational principle or CP competence could be viewed as a boon or a bane in our field, depending on different cultural contexts or countries where students actually receive their training. The field began with cultural diversity and empowerment as emerging and immediate social concerns in the 60s that had to be addressed (Bennett, Anderson, Cooper, Hassol, Klein, & Rosenblum, 1966) in the U.S. However, it still continues to be a very sensitive and politically-charged competency in CP training program with respect to student and faculty recruitment, curricular matters, and/or practice issues. Many graduate programs in the U.S. still struggle with defining cultural diversity in training and research whereas it is not necessarily considered as critical to the CP or psychology training in some other countries (e.g., Japan, Korea, China).

In sum, the findings on the divergent perceptions on CP training programs represent a significant step in delineating perceived discrepancies in competence for CP practice issues with an eye toward training programs responsive to students’ needs. Perhaps, innovative approaches including online learning would advance our field by opening up for more dialogue, and collaborating on 18 CP competencies in our training programs beyond the U.S. and across regions and countries even with linguistic and cultural barriers, for example, with institutional support for faculty and student exchange.


Bennett, C.C., Anderson, L.S., Cooper, S., Hassol, L., Klein, D.C., & Rosenblum, G. (1966). Community psychology: A report on the Boston Conference on the Education of Psychologists for Community Mental Health. Boston: Department of Psychology, Boston University.

Brown, K. K., Cardazone, G., Glantsman, O., Johnson-Hakim, S., & Lemke, M. (in press). Examining the guiding competencies in community psychology practice from students’ perspectives. The Community Psychologist, 3-9.


Connell, C. M., Lewis, R. K., Cook, J., Meissen, G., Wolf, T., Johnson-Hakim, S., Anglin, A., Foden, C., Gu, B., Gutierrez, R., Hostetler, A., Peterson, J., Sasao, T., & Taylor, S. (2013). Graduate training in community psychology practice competencies: Responses to the 2012 survey of graduate programs in community psychology. The Community Psychologist, 46 (4), 5-8.

Dalton, J., & Wolfe, S. (2012). Competencies for community psychology practice. The Community Psychologist, 45(4), 8-14.

Kloos, B., Hill, J., Thomas, E., Wandersman, A., Elias, M.J., & Dalton, J.H. (2010). Community psychology: Linking individuals and communities (3rd ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning.

Lewis, R.K., Wolff, T., Connell, C.M., Meissen, G., Cook, J., & Sarkisian, G.V. (June 2013). CEP-CPPC town hall discussion; Current trends and future directions in the education of community psychologists. A symposium at the Society for Community Research and Action biennial conference, Miami, FL.Montiel, C.J., & Noor, N.M. (Eds.). (2009). Peace psychology in Asia. New York: Springer.

Continuous Quality Development: Education and Training in Community Psychology

Written by Bret Kloos, University of South Carolina

I want to thank the Practice Council and the Council of Education Programs for their critical reviews and interest in promoting discussion of training and professional development.  In particular, the reports by Brown, et al. (in press) and Connell, et al. (2013) provide data and pose recommendations that can stimulate our discussions. The surveys involved a substantial effort to include so many programs and students.  While it is not clear what the experiences were of people who did not respond, I hope that the findings reported can generate similarly substantial dialogue about training models and how to create more training opportunities. 

In reading the overview for this section and the two survey reports, I am reminded that discussions and debates about training have been foundational to development of community psychology in the U.S.  The event often pointed to as a marker for when community psychology began in the U.S. was the “Boston Conference on the Education of Psychologists for Community Mental Health” (Bennett, et al., 1966), otherwise known as “Swampscott”.  Ten years later community psychologists gathered in Austin, TX for a follow-up conference on training for the emerging field of community psychology (Iscoe, Bloom, & Spielberger, 1977).   Since then, there have been books, articles, symposia and pre-conference days devoted to discussions about how our training models are falling short of our goals for community research and action and how they might be improved.  The education and training of community psychologists has been an engine for the development of our field.

These survey efforts are noteworthy for greater inclusion of student voices in the evaluation of training.  While students have been involved in discussions at conferences, inclusion in asking questions and evaluation of training is important for the continued relevance of our field.  The reports cover some of the potential reasons for the expected differences in perspective. The calls for more transparency and description of curricula will be helpful for our development.

The reports are a beginning point for discussion.  Future work could include more information about the ecologies of training settings; this was not the focus of these surveys.  There are additional questions that will be important for considering changes in training.  What resources do programs have?  What pressures or concerns do they have in changing curricula?  What resources are available for training locally, outside of the program?  How might these vary by program emphasis: clinical-community,  interdisciplinary, or free-standing community program; masters or doctoral programs?  With wide variation in the ecologies of our training settings, I expect that we will need to develop many pathways for improving our training.  Some programs and curricula will “fit” better for individual students (and faculty).  Most, if not all, of our programs can do more.

I also want to highlight a concern for this dialogue that has been raised by others and is raised in these findings.  There could be instances where our training in community practice skills and community research are conducted with limited discussion about values and ethics. A recent article in the Global Journal of Community Psychology Practice raises important questions about how we conceptualize our development and training (Dzidic, Breen, & Bishop, 2013).  The student and program survey results reported relatively low levels of training in ethics. This suggests that we need more discussion about how we teach and discuss ethics and competencies; this is a major concern for the integrity of our field. 

Finally, the reports identify opportunities for SCRA to support these efforts as an organization.  By sponsoring training opportunities similar to our pre-conference institutes and creating online resources, SCRA can support training programs and students in ongoing development. Programs can provide exposure to skill areas, experiences, and the foundations for developing expertise. SCRA can help students and professionals develop these skills outside of their programs by being a catalyst in creating training opportunities across these levels of expertise and in connecting resources in our membership.  I expect that many students, training programs, and professionals would appreciate the development of such resources. 


Bennett, C., Anderson, L., Cooper, S., Hassol, L., Klein, D., & Rosenblum, G. (1966). Community psychology: A report of the Boston Conference on the Education of Psychologists for Community Mental Health. Boston: Boston University.

Brown, K. K., Cardazone, G., Glantsman, O., Johnson-Hakim, S., & Lemke, M. (in press). Examining the guiding competencies in community psychology practice from students’ perspectives. The Community Psychologist, 3-9.


Connell, C. M., Lewis, R. K., Cook, J., Meissen, G., Wolf, T., Johnson-Hakim, S., Anglin, A., Foden, C., Gu, B.,Gutierrez, R., Hostetler, A., Peterson, J., Sasao, T., & Taylor, S. (2013). Graduate training in community psychology practice competencies: Responses to the 2012 survey of graduate programs in community psychology. The Community Psychologist, 46 (4), 5-8.

Dzidic, P., Breen, L.J. & Bishop, B.J. (2013). Are Our Competencies Revealing Our Weaknesses? A Critique of Community Psychology Practice Competencies. Global Journal of Community Psychology Practice, 4 (4).  

Iscoe, I., Bloom, B.L. & Spielberger, C.D. (1977). Community psychology in transition. Washington, D.C.: Hemisphere Publishing Corporation.

You must be logged in to leave a reply. Login »

You must be logged in to the website in order to leave a comment.