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The
Community
Psychologist

Volume 52   Number 4 Fall 2019

Community Psychology Education: Clarifying our Vision

Written by Simon Coulombe, Wilfrid Laurier University and Mason Haber, Harvard Medical School

Since its establishment as a field and emergence of models of community psychology training from multiple perspectives including approaches to academic training (e.g., Iscoe, Bloom, & Spielberger, 1977) and training and support of practice (Meissen, Hazel, Berkowitz, & Wolfe, 2007), community psychology (CP) education has firmly established its role in training psychologists to address issues related to social justice and community well-being. CP educational opportunities include undergraduate and graduate training programs and other types of professional training opportunities such as workshops, professional conferences, and online training opportunities for beginning and later career professionals around the world.  Unfortunately, many programs and educators in community psychology face significant challenges in sustaining and continuing to develop and refine this important work. For example, recent findings published in The Community Psychologist from a survey by the SCRA Council on Education (COE; Haber et al., 2017, 2018) show that only a minority of community psychology programs are rating themselves as excelling, and many face significant challenges. 

The mission of the COE is to support and advocate excellence and visibility in education in community research and action. Our work does not only concern the health of community psychology-specific education and training programs, but it also includes a focus on broader issues related to education in our field. The COE and its previous iterations, known under other names but having related missions (e.g., Council of Graduate Program Directors in Community Research & Action, Council of Education Programs) have been in operation for decades (since the late 1970s). Despite this long history of efforts to address issues in community psychology education, our discussions with pioneers of these committees and with current members of the COE, as well as results from the program survey results (Haber et al., 2017, 2018), highlight a set of CP education challenges seemingly recurring through time. These challenges include, for example, poor visibility of community psychology and limited recognition of the field by the leaders of some educational institutions, a relatively small pool of students interested in our training programs and in our field, a lack of systematic partnership between community psychology programs and instructors nationally and internationally, and difficulties related to the hiring of community psychologists as faculty. Such challenges have yet to be addressed in a comprehensive way on a sustained basis. There is an urgent need for action to promote the health of CP education, to ensure that our field has the capacity to continue to train community psychology leaders and expand the impact of our profession around the world. Given its central focus in supporting CP education, the COE is well-positioned to play a critical part in helping to plan, organize, and carry out actions intended to address such challenges. 

In recognition of these pressing issues, the COE organized a workshop event on June 25, 2019, during the pre-conference day of the SCRA Biennial in Chicago. This event “Community Psychology Education Collectively Clarifying our Vision for the Next 5 Years,brought together 25 CP education program directors and representatives, instructors, students, CP practitioners and COE members to reflect on ways to promote the sustainability and growth of CP education and begin developing action plans. Participants from the United States, Canada, Africa and Europe took part in the one-day interactive event  including a/an: 1) presentation of survey results to better understand better the current state of health and challenges of CP programs, 2) World Café discussion allowing participants to discuss with each other opportunities and challenges faced by educators and programs in CP (see Figure 1 for a photo), 3) brief presentations by program directors sharing best practices for advancing training, 4) goal-setting and planning activities, including generating goal statements expressing what the COE, SCRA and the CP community should strive for in the next five years for the field of CP education, sorting the goals and selecting the most promising (see Figures 2 and 3 for photos), and identifying “next steps” towards achieving these goals. In addition, during the Biennial, the COE and its partners hosted a symposium, town hall meeting and round table to further develop some of the ideas generated during the pre-conference event. 

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Overall the participants to the pre-conference generated 70 goal statements that were thematically regrouped in five different topics (see Table 1 for definition): 1) Diversity and Identity, 2) Connections and Cycling of Existing Resources, 3) Quality, 4) Creation of Supports and New Resources, and 5) Pipeline Issues. For each of these topics, the participants collectively identified a few goals that should be prioritized given their perceived importance, including one goal that could be relatively easily achieved and a more ambitious goal. 

Examples of Goals

One goal per topic is presented here to help illustrate the types of goal statements and action steps identified to provide the basis for planning. For Diversity and Identity, one of the selected goals was to increase the diversity of students and instructors in CP, focusing on racial and ethnic diversity, but also sexual and gender diversity, and inclusion of people with other marginalized identities. Different actions steps were discussed in order to implement this goal over the next five years, such as reaching out and collaborating more with other SCRA committees and interest groups with shared interest in promoting diversity, such as the LGBT and the Disability interest groups, as well as the Council on Cultural, Ethnic and Racial Affairs. For Connections and Cycling of Existing Resources, participants identified the goal of restoring a program director group, alongside the current COE. A program director group would promote closer partnership and mutual support, provide a resource for establishing stronger networks among CP education programs, and identify opportunities to collaboratively address widespread challenges in CP training. One of the steps identified towards restoring this group was connecting with participants in the original program director group in order to learn more about the work of the program director group, and how the COE might further and build upon its accomplishments. For the Quality topic, an identified goal was to develop a clearer sense of quality in CP education. This could involve for example revisiting and/or operationalizing better the core CP competencies related to practice and research, published in earlier editions of the TCP (Christens et al., 2015; Dalton & Wolfe, 2012) to make sure that they are still aligned with the current values and principles in the field, as well as supporting programs in promoting skills related to these competencies among students. Concerning the Creation of Supports and New Resources, participants identified several priority goals, including developing more supports for programs facing struggles and new programs, and creating more connections among programs. An initial step to help achieve that latter goal would be to perform a social network analysis to better understand the existing relationships between programs. Relative to Pipeline Issues, a goal was to increase the visibility of the range of CP careers within and outside of academia in order for students at all levels of education to be aware of the existence of CP as a promising career choice. Increasing the number of CP-related courses in undergraduate curricula was mentioned as a promising strategy for greater visibility and awareness among potential future graduate trainees. 

Next Steps

As evident by the few examples given above, the goals identified during the pre-conference events were wide-ranging, concerning diverse challenges and opportunities related to sustaining and furthering CP education. They are also ambitious. The COE now needs a blueprint or a framework to help organize efforts to achieve some or all of these priority goals. As suggested by several pre-conference attendees, the COE is now working on articulating how the priority goals relate to one another through a theory of change and strategic plan. We also intend to consult other SCRA committees and groups working on intersecting issues, to ensure that our planned work complement similar efforts by other councils, committees, and interest groups in SCRA. The outputs from this work will be communicated to the broader SCRA membership when they are available in the next few months.

We hope that our efforts to clarify the vision of the field for the future of CP training through developing goals and incorporating these into a broader framework to drive action will provide the foundation for an invigorated, productive COE. However, given the breadth of activities identified as important to the future of training in the field, the COE cannot handle the burden of advancing CP education on its own; they require the participation of other SCRA committees and groups and all members throughout the society. Sense of community and collaboration are key principles in our field; they can naturally serve as the motor towards achieving our goals and to help ensure the health sustainability of CP education. We need to practice what we preach. Will you join us in this important work?

People interested in joining the COE or supporting the efforts described in this article are invited to contact S. Coulombe (chair) at scoulombe@wlu.ca. The COE meets online once per month, and meetings are advertised on the SCRA listserv. They are open to anyone interested in CP education, including instructors and program directors but also students and CP practitioners. All are invited to attend, with no obligation of continuing attendance or becoming a formal COE member. 

We want to thank other COE members for their assistance in organizing the pre-conference event, as well as the support of the SCRA Executive Committee and the biennial volunteer team. We also thank each of the 25 participants who generously participated to that meeting, as well as all the people who attended the COE-hosted sessions at the biennial. We will strive to carry these initial efforts forward to help to ensure the continuation and success of CP education well into the future. 

 

References

Christens, B. D., Connell, C. M., Faust, V., Haber, M. G., and the Council of Education Programs. (2015). Progress Report: Competencies for Community Research and Action. The Community Psychologist, 48(4). http://www.scra27.com/publications/tcp/tcp-past-issues/tcpfall2015/special-feature/

Dalton, J.  & Wolfe, S. (2012). Joint Column: Education Connection and The Community Practitioner. The Community Psychologist, 45(4). https://www.scra27.org/index.php/download_file/view/21/3101/266/

Haber, M. G., & Kohn-Wood, L, & Members of the SCRA Council on Education (2018). Understanding the Perceived Health of Graduate Community Psychology Programs and its Relationships with Indicators of Sustainability, Diversity, and Rigor: Findings from the 2016 Survey of Graduate Programs in Community Psychology. The Community Psychologist, 51(3). https://www.scra27.org/publications/tcp/tcp-past- issues/tcpspring20181/education-connection/ 

Haber, M. G., & Neal, Z., Christens, B., Faust, V., Jackson, L., Kohn-Wood, L., Bishop Scott, T., Legler, R., & Members of the SCRA Council on Education (2018). The 2016 Survey of Graduate Programs in Community Psychology: Findings on Competencies in Research & Practice and Challenges of Training Programs. The Community Psychologist, 50(3). https://www.scra27.org/publications/tcp/tcp-past-issues/tcpsummer2017/council- education/ 

Iscoe, I., Bloom, B., & Speilberger, C. (Eds.). (1977). Community psychology in transition: Proceedings of the national conference on training in community psychology. Washington, D.C.: Hemisphere.

Meissen, G., Hazel, K., Berkowitz, W., & Wolff, T. (2007). The story of the first ever summit on community psychology practice. The Community Psychologist, 41(1).