Community Psychologists: What do they do and how to become one

Community psychologists work to solve community problems. There are two main types of community psychologists. Clinical community psychologists are mental health providers who work in community settings (generally, the public sector). They are qualified to provide mental health services directly. Their patients may be individuals who have few resources and/ or are not well integrated into the larger community. Community psychologists may develop programs or evaluate existing ones. They may carry out research.

Community psychologists may focus on particular populations: for example, rural populations or the elderly.

Nonclinical community psychologists do not treat individual patients. Instead they work on affecting change on a macro level. Social psychology and social action are often entwined. One resource is the American Psychological Association’s Society for Community Research and Action – Division 27: Community Psychology. Division 27 interest groups include the following:

  • Rural psychology
  • Aging
  • Community psychology in applied settings
  • Children and youth: prevention
  • International community psychology

Community psychologists may also be interested in Division 18: psychologists in public service. This division includes a section for psychologists serving in state and community hospitals and another for psychologists who work with Native American and Native Canadian peoples.

The Social Science Network includes web addresses of other sites that may be of interest to community psychologists and to students who are considering the field.

Education and Training for Community Psychologists

A person may take classes in community psychology at the bachelor’s level, but clinical practice generally requires a doctoral degree.

Grand Canyon University (GCU) offers a variety of Master’s in Psychology programs modeled after the standards and recommendations set by the American Psychological Association with emphases in: Forensic Psychology, General Psychology, GeroPsychology, Health Psychology, Human Factors Psychology, Industrial and Organizational Psychology and Life Coaching. Three Bachelor’s in Psychology programs are also offered. Click here to learn about GCU and their programs.

Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) offers online Bachelor’s and Master’s in Psychology programs with several emphases to select from as well as a CACREP accredited online Master’s in Counseling. Click here to learn about SNHU and their programs.

Capella University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and offers several online bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs in psychology including both clinical and non-clinical specializations. Capella University also offers three online CACREP-accredited programs: MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, MS in School Counseling, and PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision, as well as a COAMFTE-accredited program, MS in Marriage and Family Therapy. Click here to contact Capella University and request information about their programs.

Click Here to learn more about psychology education options based on your current educational attainment.

A student who opts for clinical-community psychology is essentially doing a community concentration within a clinical psychology program. In some cases, this means taking coursework from two related disciplines. Some programs integrate information about local populations into many courses, including the standard ones (like individual differences) that are required for licensure. Alaska programs, for example, emphasize the needs of rural and indigenous people. If a program is APA-accredited, the student will usually find it relatively easy to achieve licensure later.

Other community psychology programs prepare students for careers in research and public policy. These will not be accredited by the APA. Programs are available at both the master’s and doctoral levels.

Licensing and Certification

A clinical community psychologist will need state licensing unless he or she works in a setting that has been specifically exempted. In addition to earning a qualifying degree, a candidate must complete a supervised practice requirement and pass one or more licensing examinations.

Licensure is generally not required for research. (Individual states determine what settings or roles may be exempted from licensing requirements. Some individuals find it advantageous to pursue licensure, though, even when it is not a hiring mandate.)
Some licensed psychologists seek board certification through the American Association of Professional Psychology (ABPP). The ABPP does not offer certification in community psychology per se, but offers a group psychology certification as well as clinical certifications (http://www.abpp.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=3349).
APA divisions award fellowship status to a small percentage of members: those who distinguish themselves in their respective fields.

Career Outlook for Community Psychologists

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that jobs for psychologists are growing at a rate well above the average. Psychologists who provide clinical or health care services in individual and family service settings averaged $64,730 in 2012 – a little lower than the average for all settings (http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes193031.htm).

A recent APA report detailed earnings of individuals who were newly employed as doctoral level psychologists (http://www.apa.org/workforce/publications/09-doc-empl/table-11.pdf). The median starting salary for clinical psychologists was $61,000, but salaries varied a good deal by setting. The median starting salary was lowest at community mental health centers ($49,000) and highest in the criminal justice system ($81,000).
The median salary for human services administration was $62,000. For research, it was $60,000.