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Community Psychology


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Table of contents Introduction………………………………………………………………………………………3 History and core concepts……………………………………………………………………...3 Similarities and differences…………………………………………………………………….5 Strengths and weaknesses…………………………………………………………………….6 Conclusion……………………………………………………………………………………….6 Reference list…………………………………………………………………………………….7


Critically compare and contrast community psychology with the public health approach Introduction In this essay, I will critically compare and contrast community psychology and the public health model in terms of their origins, core concepts, strengths and pitfalls of each approach, similarities and differences and in what way these approaches do or do not supplement one another. Community Psychology according to The Cambridge Dictionary of Psychology is defined as “a branch of applied psychology that focuses on person-environment interactions usually at the level of the community and is aimed at improving the general quality of life within a community” (Matsumoto, 2009). The Public Health model also consists of efforts to improve the health of communities and according to The Acheson Report, is defined as “the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health through the organised efforts of society” (Department of health, 1998). History and core concepts Community psychology in South Africa followed a very close development likened to the American development and gained its momentum at a time where social disorder was present due to the lack of credible resources and treatment facilities. A shift in attention displayed the effects of social variables like “…poverty and alienation on mental health” (Butchart & Seedat, 1990). Mainstream psychology is challenged due its elitist and selective nature which automatically excludes the majority of South African people and failed to address their needs. The central concern of this era is how to address issues pertaining to the community rather than that of the individual. The foundation of community psychology consists of the concern and need to address problems of a community that affects the society, like poverty. It is seen as a discipline that seeks to give light to social problems which have been excluded in mainstream psychology research. In addition to the new branch of applied psychology, four models of community psychology were developed in order to collectively address the neglected


issues of the majority. The two that I will discuss are the mental health model and the social action model. The intention of the mental health model is to “prevent mental illness amongst individuals who live within a clearly defined catchment area” (Butchart & Seedat, 1990) while identifying the location of mental illness at the boundary between the individual and environmental factors, whereas the social action model “attempts to radicalise conceptions of social problems” (Butchart & Seedat, 1990). It identifies the location of mental illness within oppressive and exploitative social and economic structures. Both models define their focus area as a geographical community which requires the core principle of community psychology, empowerment and mobilisation from further mental illness where an expert needs to intervene. The public health model’s main area of impediment was to manage human waste products, otherwise known as “sanitary science”. Laws and rules were passed governing where a person was permitted to urinate and defecate, but failed to control the waste from the human body because it fails to target the private or intimate incidents of individuals such as sexual intercourse or toilet hygiene. The second model of public health, namely, “social medicine” attempts to be the metaphorical bridge for this void. It was concerned with persuading, informing and training individuals to take an interest in personal body hygiene and care for their health. Unlike the sanitary science regime, it was more sensitive to the already stigmatised non-Europeans. Unfortunately, the second model was also not able to overcome the cultural sensitivity between western scientific beliefs, ideals and traditional cultural beliefs. Community health is the third approach that viewed the stigmatised, non-western ideals and practices, as important as those of western beliefs and focuses mainly on the understanding of the behaviour of individuals in a broader spectrum of their cultures and values specific to their communities. The fourth and final regime of public health has been labeled the “New Public Health: A socio-ecological model.” This model developed in response to many limiting factors of community health. The specific problem would be that “in treating communities as self-


contained entities, it failed to analyse the effects of broader political and environmental forces on the community as a whole.” (University of South Africa, 2014) With this in mind, public health is now concerned with the public and context in which people live and the changing of the behaviour of the individual and at community level. Similarities and differences The similarities of the two approaches are that they both acknowledge and support the impact of socio-political, as well as socio-cultural factors on general well-being and health. In particular, the mental health model and public health, attempts to make available limited services to the community, all the while, including the individual member. Another similarity is that both approaches acknowledge and emphasise the important role of prevention. Even though the definitions of each may differ in their target area, prevention is still the main focus of both in order to increase and empower the community, enhance the well-being of the community and the affluence of individual members which form part of the community as the whole. A difference between community psychology and public health is embedded within the methods of intervention as the community psychology approach requires an active and expert participant, known as the psychologist. The psychologist can either render a service or act as an advocate in mobilising a specific community. Examples of this would be, citizen mobilisation, mentoring or after school recreation programs. The public health approach relies fully on scientific examination in order to understand relationships between the individual and the broader level of the socio-environmental context. Once this is done, these findings are then generalised and applied to the larger populations. An example of this would be interventions and strategies that are used to reduce smoking. In turn, they also reduce the diseases that are coupled with this habit. The most significant difference of these two approaches is that community psychology is said to be, “…stuck in a curative mode of operation” (University of South Africa, 2014) and gives no real indication of how to implement and maintain its objectives, whereas


public health is able to provide substantial and comprehensive evidence of its intervention strategies. Strengths and weaknesses A strength of community psychology is that it innately promotes social justice in the sense that it attempts to provide services to the community in terms of what is relevant to them. It does not only include the elitist and therefore is not selective. A major pitfall of community psychology is that it is unclear on how it mobilises its theory into practice. The mental health model is still ingrained in the individual model and ignores the communal, social and organisational processes and the social action model does not take into account the aspect of personal responsibility and action. An advantage of the public health approach is that it is functional and also practical. Its goals are measurable in forms of tangible objectives. An example would be that it can provide concrete evidence as to whether the infant mortality rate has increased or decreased after an intervention program has been put into place. A significant disadvantage of the public health approach is that it is still based on the western model of illness. It often is in conflict with the traditional and religious beliefs of non-scientific approaches, for example, Catholicism prohibits the use of contraceptives and in turn is unable to reduce or prevent HIV/AIDS by making use of condoms. Conclusion Ultimately, I believe that community psychology and the public health approach may have a few differences, but more significantly, have more similarities. Their goals are both, prevention and empowerment of not only the individual, but the community as a whole. They both stress the importance of primary prevention and even though they may be separate approaches, they cannot function independently. They may have short comings, but as it is a relatively new discipline, much research is being done in the efforts to rectify these and better these approaches respectively.


Reference list 1. Butchart, A., & Seedat, M. (1990). New Perspectives in Community Psychology (Vol. 31). University of South Africa. 2. Department of Health. (1998). Public health in England (The Acheson report). London: HM Stationery Office. 3. Matsumoto, D. (2009). The Cambridge Dictionary of Psychology. Cambridge University Press. 4. Novick, L., & Morrow, C. (n.d.). Retrieved April, 17, 2014, Defining Public Health: Historical and Contemporary Developments (p. 1). Jones and Bartlett Publishers. 5. Tutorial letter 102, PYC4811 (2014). Department of Psychology (p. 5), University of South Africa, Pretoria. 6. Tutorial letter 102, PYC4811 (2014). Department of Psychology (p. 11), University of South Africa, Pretoria.

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