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The
Community
Psychologist

Volume 55, Number 3 Summer 2022

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From Our Members

Edited by Dominique Thomas, Morehouse College

An Ecology of Scripts: Bringing Together Script Theory and the Ecological Model

Written by Raphael M. Kasobel (National Louis University; rkasobel@my.nl.edu)

Scripts are predictable if/then psychological consistencies, patterns of behavior and cognition which remain constant the majority of the time (Alexander, 1990; Demorest & Alexander, 1992; Demorest & Slegel, 1996). As such, scripts fall neatly within community psychology’s ecological model, illustrating a vision of the human psyche as an ecology of scripts. Just as Kelly’s (1966) ecological model denotes several levels of analysis from the macrosystem to localities, organizations, and microsystems; so too exist macroscripts, large umbrella scripts which encompass broad consistencies in an individual’s cognition (Alexander, 1994). Likewise, there are increasingly smaller and more specific levels of scripts dealing not with broad ideas, but with specific response patterns to individual people or unique events.

In the same manner that every biological ecosystem has keystone species, which once removed cause ecological collapse; so too do human beings have keystone scripts. These are psychological consistencies which support our self-concepts, the ideas we hold about ourselves and how the world works (Demorest & Alexander, 1992). When compromised these keystone scripts may have a cascading effect causing the collapse of multiple fundamental ideas about who we are and how the world works. One of the clearest examples of this is acute adult trauma leading to PTSD. A traumatic experience can lead to the destruction of an individual’s scripts regarding the safety of the world and themselves, or their ability to keep themselves safe (Litz et al., 2018). This in turn may have cascading effects whereby positive notions about personal competency, adaptability, strength, self-worth, and the safety of the world are shattered, leading to a radically altered self-concept, and potentially a significant decrease in an individual’s ability to function adaptively within the world.

Scripts & Kelly’s 1966 Ecological Model

While Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory provides a basic framework for understanding the layering of scripts within the psyche, Kelly’s expansion of these ideas helps elucidate their interconnected nature and functioning. Beginning with Bronfenbrenner’s model, scripts can be understood as psychological consistencies of varying magnitude extending from macroscripts, which reflect broad consistent patterns in cognition, to microscripts which deal specifically with constant responses to unique individuals, and circumstances. Kelly’s four principles (interdependence, cycling of resources, adaptation, and succession), reflect the relationships in many biological ecosystems, as well Bronfenbrenner’s ecological model and its application to script theory.

Interdependence, the first of Kelly’s four principles, is also the most obviously biological. The common representation of biological ecosystems as a food web denotes an interdependent system reliant on the functioning of multiple components. In the case of biology this functioning is the continued existence of keystone species, in the case of Bronfenbrenner’s model functionality means the continuing adaptive operation of the systems which effect an individual’s life. For example, if discriminatory laws are passed at the macrosystem level, this is likely to affect the workplaces, neighborhoods and community health centers of the targeted minorities, the exosystem. The decreasing functionality of the exosystem will in turn effect the Microsystem, this could include effects on the health of immediate family, the quality of education and access to schooling, and homeownership among others.  Thus, the effects of laws passed at the macrosystem level gradually move through each level of the ecological model finally landing on the individual. This cascading interdependency is as true of ecological systems as it is of scripts. For example, a keystone script might be someone’s presumption of safety with a romantic partner: If I am with my partner, then I am safe. If this script is violated by domestic or sexual abuse for example that violation may extend well beyond this one microscript. Safety with a single romantic partner, may extend to the broader notion of safety in romantic relationships, and then safety in social relationships in general, and finally safety in the world at large. The violation of a potentially keystone script like the assumption of safety with a particular romantic partner can lead to cascading effect, just like the passing of bigoted legislation trickles down from the macro level to the individual level. First the microscript is violated and that extends to the ideas of safety in romance, which in turn calls into question the ideas of safety in any intimate social relationship, this subsequently sabotages broader notions of safety within the world potentially leading to hyper vigilance, wide-ranging difficulties with trust and intimacy and a decrease in overall day to day functionality.

Kelly’s second principle, the cycling of resources defines systems by how they use resources. Likewise, keystone scripts are defined as points of particular psychological emphasis; scripts which serve as the foundation for many other scripts. As noted above these are not necessarily macro-scripts nor are they necessarily ideas to which a great of psychological resources are devoted, rather they are the underpinnings or fulcrum of many other important scripts. For example, scripts which denote personal goodness are often keystones. Acts which violate an individual’s script about their own goodness can create moral injury, meaning that along with the trauma concomitant with such acts, individuals now believe themselves to amoral, or a bad human being by dint of committing such an act (Litz et al., 2018). The violation of scripts about personal goodness can lead to self-hatred which in turn greatly increases the psychological toxicity of any trauma. Moreover, self-hatred, and shame lead to isolation which leaves an individual stewing in their traumatic memories and self-loathing without outside perspectives to break to cognitive cycle.

Adaptation, the third of Kelly’s principles, describes the manner in which an individual fits within their environmental context. Within this definition scripts may be understood as the product of the relationship between the individual and the environment. Kelly’s principles elucidate the nature of scripts as learned responses to the environment, which become psychological consistencies with repeated reinforcement. Traumatic triggers for example, originate as a learned response to a particular environmental threat, but with time and psychological reinforcement the triggers grow to encompass a wide variety of additional stimuli cognitively related to the original threat. When taken in the context of Bronfebrenner’s model a trigger originates as a microscript dealing with a specific individual or circumstance, but with time enlarges to become exoscript, mesoscript, or macroscript affecting whole categories of experiences, individuals and cognition.

Kelly’s fourth and final ecological principle, succession describes the manner in which the other three principles must be understood in the context of change over time. Just as the ecologies of a given community change with time, so too do individuals and their scripts. As noted above the nature in which scripts develop relies on reinforcement over time. An initial traumatic incident is reinforced by its emotional salience and the amount of cognitive weight the memories hold. The initial and often highly specific triggers can expand with time to include far generalized categories which are loosely cognitively related to the original trigger. Moreover, keystone scripts are the direct result of change over time. An ecosystem of psychological consistencies is built as a result of lived experience, and the scripts which are most foundational to the functioning of that ecosystem are the keystones. In short, keystone scripts can be keystones only because so much of the psyche has been built upon them over time.

Bronfenbrenner’s model explicates the manner in which scripts are layered throughout the psyche ranging from broad macro scripts describing consistencies in how a person views themselves or the world, to micro scripts which govern an individual’s reaction to specific people and circumstances. Kelly’s four principles expand on these ideas in context of script theory; describing the manner in which scripts function within a human psyche, and how they are formed. When applied to script theory the ecological model illuminates an ecosystem of scripts within the psyche, an internal ecology which is just as vital to the functioning of the individual as the external ecology which Kelly and Bronfenbrenner originally explicated.

Community Psychology came about in part as a reaction to the individualism of clinical psychology. The exclusive focus on groups and communities has also failed to shed light on the way in which the principles and theories endemic to community psychology may be of service in a clinical setting. In an inversion of community psychology’s original trajectory this paper applies the oft used ecological model to a clinical theory of personality in order to demonstrate how principles typically applied at the community level can aid and illuminate clinical practice.

 

References

Alexander, I. E. (1990). Personology: method and content in personality assessment and psychobiography. Duke University Press.

Demorest, A. P., & Alexander, I. E. (1992). Affective scripts as organizers of personal experience. Journal of Personality, 60(3), 645–663. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-6494.1992.tb00924.x

Demorest, A. P., & Slegel, P. F. (1996). Personal influences on professional work: An empirical case study of b. f. skinner. Journal of Personality, 64(1), 243–261. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-6494.1996.tb00821.x

Litz, B. T., Lebowitz, L., Gray, M. J., & Nash, W. P. (2018). Adaptive disclosure: a new treatment for military trauma, loss, and moral injury. The Guilford Press.

Community psychology in context: A call to expand the field

Written by Raphael M. Kasobel (National Louis University; rkasobel@my.nl.edu), Yamini Patel (Georgia State University; ypatel9@gsu.edu)

Introduction

Though over half a century has passed since the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s, we are still faced with challenges that mirror, if not extend beyond, those faced during the Civil Rights movement and the need to extend scholarly activism. Recent events have reignited discussions that professionals faced in the 1960s: the COVID-19 virus and its disproportionate impacts on people who are poor or already underserved have worsened health disparities between white and BIPOC citizens even further; growing divides among political party lines leading to civil unrest and violence.

Just as community psychology began as a reaction to the inefficiencies in the broader field of psychology, this paper argues that the traditional bounds of community psychology should be reconsidered for expansion to meet the needs of today’s world. [DT1] We review the state of our current political environment, and suggest the expansion of community psychologists to consider their roles as possible political organizers at a federal level. Considering the current context of rising political tensions and its potential for civil unrest at a national level, we call for the discipline to expand its domains to include political strategizing that will prevent further undermining of already underserved communities by working towards political stability beyond the local community.

Community Psychology’s Origin Story

The establishment of community psychology as a discipline in the U.S. was, in part, a response to the civil unrest that rocked the 1950s and 60s and psychology’s limitations in addressing the broader influences of society on behavior. Psychologists at the Swampscott conference acknowledged these limitations and their inability to create community level health improvements (Bennett, 1965). Research collected from individuals were analyzed and results published in empirical journals and other outlets whose intended audience was limited to other academics. Practice focused too much on the individual’s behavior and habits, with little room for context of the broader environment. The discipline did itself no favors by skating the rising racial tensions and other social justice issues at the time; psychology’s “objectivity” and removal from any political involvement or influence did nothing to serve any higher purpose. Thus, community psychology was founded as a response to psychology’s habitual oversight of the group in favor of the individual.

Since the Swampscott Conference, Community Psychology has been formally recognized by the American Psychological Association, and offers many masters and doctoral track educational programs for training new theorists and practitioners into this professional field. No longer shying away from involvement in current affairs, community psychology promotes policy as one of its four domains of action alongside research, education, and practice (Society for Community Research and Action, 2016). With the expanding political divide in the United States, including the increased visibility of white supremacy and insurrectionism by the American Right Wing, community psychology is faced with the question of how to bring our policy and organizing focused to bear on this new reality?

Re-defining CP in current times: COVID, political extremism

Both global and American history reveal a clear connection between nondemocratic governance and race. Most imperial economies throughout history were unable to maintain themselves (i.e. Rome, Greece, Japan, Russia) without a subjugated class that labored to sustain the empire for little to no profit (Bradley, 2011; Thucydides & Smith, 1996). This includes the plebeians of Rome, the surfs of feudal Europe, and later the enslaved Africans of the antebellum United States. [DT2] To maintain the subjugate class, different societies constructed unique means of oppression, designed to maintain a strict hierarchy. Among these methods are the invention of race as a marker of superiority and inferiority, and the use slavery as a punishment for a crime (Bradley, 2011; Richardson, 2021). The idea of representative government is diametrically opposed to the idea that one group of people should serve another group; yet, this was the foundation of most imperial economies, including the American colonies (Richardson, 2021). Race buttressed the institution of slavery, which in turn created the antebellum southern American economy (Richardson, 2021). While the protection of slavery and property was enshrined in the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence declared that “all men are created equal” (referring only to white property-owning males); thus, creating a schism between America’s two founding documents that exists to this day (Adams et al., 2022; Richardson, 202). Defenses of civil rights have rested predominantly on the Declaration of Independence. Paradoxically, defenses of racialized hierarchy have couched their arguments in terms of the individual liberties protected by the Constitution (Richardson, 2021). The effects of systemic and institutionalized racism evident in the tensions between our founding documents are felt throughout the architecture of American society (Richardson, 2021).

There are lasting effects of a system built upon the exploitation of entire groups of people. For example, in congruence with evidence of health inequities by race, racial and ethnic minorities in the U.S. have been disproportionately burdened by the recent COVID-19 pandemic (Fouad et al., 2020; Kantamneni, 2020). Disparities in wealth by race have changed little in the past two decades; in fact, the average White family has eight times the wealth of the average Black family in the U.S. (Bhutta et al. 2020). These examples are representative of healthcare and political institutions that perpetuate the marginalization of already oppressed groups. These and many other effects are the echoes of the institution of slavery through policy and economics which are designed to subjugate the group of people that were once enslaved in the United States.

Specific events in recent history point towards the burgeoning divide between party lines that reflect an unstable and potentially chaotic political environment. On January 6th, 2021, a mob, including large groups waving confederate battle flags and Swastikas, inspired by the words of former president Donald Trump, assaulted the capitol with the intention of overturning a democratic election. A moment in American which General Mark Milley called a “Reichstag moment”, referencing the manner in which the Nazi party took power in Germany (Woodward & Costa, 2021). On February 25th, 2021, speakers at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) stood on a stage shaped like the divisional insignia of the Waffen SS, a division of the Nazi military apparatus responsible for many of the worst atrocities of the second World War, including the running of the concentration camps (Peiser, 2021). On April 6th, 2021, conservative commentator Kevin Williamson published a piece in the National Review suggesting that “the republic would be better served by having fewer but better voters” (Williamson, 2021). Just as Hitler looked to Jim Crow America when devising strategies about how to alienate and isolate Europe’s Jews, now America’s own right wing, is looking to Hitler for direction on how to turn a democracy into an autocracy (Shirer, 1995; Richardson, 2021). Heather Cox Richardson, a Professor of American history at Boston College and cohost of the Podcast, Now and Then, ends her substack about-page with the words: “history doesn’t repeat itself, it rhymes” (Richardson, 2021). We are not living in a replay of the 1860’s or the 1920’s, but the resonance between past and present is all too clear.

While local organizing is often the bedrock of systemic change, we must remember that bedrock is only the foundation on which to build, not the culmination of a project. Too often, organizing and activism targeting systemic change halts at the local level. In the face of increasingly dire systemic threats, from COVID-19 to the growing political schism, it is no longer sufficient simply to build a firm foundation. Local organizing and activism are necessary components of any systemic change, yet they are two of many components.

We find community psychology equipped with the tools, though not the precedent, to face the present moment. Historically, the field has focused on local issues; problems at the level of the neighborhood, the municipality, county, or even state. Such local activism has historically produced federal change. However, in a political environment where federal change threatens to render local activism impotent, community psychology must move beyond its normative borders in order uphold the ideals and promises of the field. In the context of rising American white supremacist authoritarianism our local activism has been rendered as little more than first order change. In seeking to live up to the lofty ambitions of our field we must stretch further; asking ourselves at every juncture how can local change be used as a launching point for systemic transformation?

Conclusion

Even at the conception of community psychology as a discipline, there was hesitancy towards psychologists becoming involved in political affairs, as some psychologists argued that activism would compromise scientific objectivity (Bennett, 1965). While an understandable concern for a newly minted field seeking to establish itself; political hesitancy is at odds with the ideals upon which community psychology is founded. 

The founding principles of community psychology include social justice, respect for diversity, promoting wellness, and policy. These are among the bulwarks of our field, and place community psychology starkly at odds with the white supremacy, and Christian nationalism which have come to dominate the contemporary right wing in America. Respecting diversity means standing against white supremacy; just as social justice means standing against Christian nationalism. The field of community psychology may not have been envisioned as a force for national change, yet the social, political, and psychological moment in which we find ourselves demands that we rise to the occasion.

 

References

Adams, J., Jefferson, T., Franklin, B., Sherman, R., & Livingston, R. (2022, January 10). Declaration of independence: A transcription. National Archives and Records Administration. Retrieved April 2, 2022, from https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration-transcript

Bennett, C. C. (1965). Community psychology: Impressions of the Boston conference on the education of psychologists for community mental health. American Psychologist, 20(10), 832–835. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0022589

Bhutta, N., Chang, A. C., Dettling, L. J., & Hewitt, J. W. (2020). Disparities in Wealth by Race and Ethnicity in the 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.https://www.federalreserve.gov/econres/notes/feds-notes/disparities-in-wealth-by-race-and-ethnicity-in-the-2019-survey-of-consumer-finances-20200928.htm

Bradley, P. K. (2011, February 17). History - ancient history in depth: Resisting slavery in Ancient Rome. BBC. Retrieved April 2, 2022, from https://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/romans/slavery_01.shtml

Fouad, M. N., Ruffin, J., & Vickers, S. M. (2020). COVID-19 Is Disproportionately High in African Americans. This Will Come as No Surprise…. The American Journal of Medicine, 133(10), e544–e545. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amjmed.2020.04.008

Kantamneni, N. (2020). The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on marginalized populations in the United States: A research agenda. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 119, 103439. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jvb.2020.103439

Peiser, J. (2021, March 1). As CPAC dismisses claims that its stage resembled a Nazi insignia, Hyatt calls hate symbols 'abhorrent'. The Washington Post. Retrieved May 3, 2021, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2021/03/01/cpac-stage-nazi-symbol-hyatt/

Richardson, H. C. (2021). To make men free: A history of the Republican Party. Basic Books, A Member of the Perseus Books Group.

Shirer, W. L. (1995). The rise and fall of the Third Reich: a history of Nazi Germany. Folio Society.

Thucydides, & Smith, C. F. (1996). Thucydides: History of the Peloponnesian War. Harvard University Press.

Williamson, K. D. (2021, April 7). Why not fewer voters? National Review. Retrieved April 2, 2022, from https://www.nationalreview.com/2021/04/why-not-fewer-voters/

Woodward, B., & Costa, R. (2021). Peril. Simon & Schuster.

Society for Community Research and Action. (2016). Society for Community Research and Action Strategic Plan 2016 - 2018. https://www.scra27.org/who-we-are/scra-strategic-plan/