By Dawn Henderson and Tom Wolff
Over a decade ago, when the Community Psychology Practice Competencies were created by the Society for Community Research and Action (SCRA), both authors of this commentary were part of the creation process. At that time, we were a graduate student and an experienced practitioner. Nevertheless, we were there in the beginning and shared the history of the development of these competencies and their evolution. We now write this piece hoping that understanding the context behind the creation of the competencies and their evolution along with the definition of community psychology practice may prove informative in revisiting them and considering anti-racism and decoloniality.
I approach this commentary from my position as a white male of privilege, a husband, father, and grandfather. I have been a Community Psychology Practitioner and political activist for over 50 years. As a child of Holocaust survivors, I have always been passionate about speaking truth to power and acting on it to promote Social Justice.
Motivations Behind Community Psychology Practice Competencies
Ten years ago, even though the field of Community Psychology was decades old, Community Psychology Practice was almost completely undefined. Community Psychology Practice was thought to be what anyone with a degree in Community Psychology did as practice. An undefined Community Psychology Practice created serious legitimacy challenges for many practitioners and students. In addition, the lack of visibility for practitioners was such that those who practiced Community Psychology full time acknowledged that colleagues in their work settings did not even know that they were Community Psychologists (Wolff, 2000). What kind of field is it that does not define what its practitioners actually do? What does it mean for our community when those in the field don't publicly identify themselves as Community Psychology practitioners? And what does it mean when very few employers know about or even advertise for Community Psychology positions? It was clear that our field needed a definition of Community Psychology Practice. Furthermore, SCRA needed to articulate competencies and a value proposition to increase visibility and legitimacy for practitioners.
Community Psychology had a long history of desiring to address social injustice. Yet, it was not clear what competencies, functions, and skills were necessary to accomplish these transformational changes. What kind of field desires to create community change, address social justice at any level without defining what practitioners must do to achieve that outcome?
It was very difficult for students to choose programs and to know what to expect without defined competencies and without Community Psychology Departments being transparent about what Community Psychology practice skills a graduate would gain. Unfortunately, ten years ago, little thought had seemingly gone into defining community psychology practice by many academic departments. Many Community Psychology Practitioners took their degrees and carved out jobs in various sectors without declaring they were Community Psychologists.
Employers did not know to seek Community Psychology Practitioners for positions. Almost no one advertised a position looking for a Community Psychology Practitioner (not many do now). Thus, the motivation for a Value Proposition for Community Psychology Practice (Radcliffe & Neigher, 2010) became essential as a way of letting employers know what value a Community Psychology Practitioner would bring to the workforce. These conversations around competencies led to a group of SCRA members identifying, defining, and setting forth specific skills needed for Community Psychology Practice. What happened to these Community Psychology competencies over time? What, if any, impact did these competencies have on the field?
The Global Journal of Community Psychology Practice (GJCPP) dedicated two special issues on applying Community Psychology Competencies across diverse sectors and in undergraduate and graduate education (Wolff, Francisco, Meissen, 2016). Many Community Psychology Programs began to adopt the competencies as the basis for defining curricula and, within SCRA, the Council on Education surveyed programs on competency integration and usage (Connell et al., 2013). Earlier, these reports revealed how most programs had limited focus on those Community Psychology competencies directly tied to creating major and lasting systems change, social justice, and an ability to understand and impact policy. At this time, only a few programs (i.e., University of Maryland-Baltimore County or UMBC) had a significant focus on policy impact and change. The committee that developed the Community Psychology Competencies did not see these competencies as rigidly defined. Instead, we emphasized the need to revisit these definitions on a regular basis.
These competencies were not definitive and there was not much traction to change them until 2020, right at the peak of COVID-19 and racial injustice in this country, when a group of Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC), non-Black POC, and white SCRA members made direct demands of SCRA for change. They authored the “SCRA Call to Action on Anti-Blackness” and included a specific demand asking SCRA to “engage in collective action to dismantle anti-Blackness and white supremacy in SCRA and Community Psychology” and to do this by “revising the Community Psychology (Practice) Core Competencies” (p. 6). It was then that SCRA was willing to be more reflective as an organization and to take a closer look at the competencies despite several GJCPP issues from international scholars, many of whom had critiqued the competencies. Now, this GJCPP issue revisits the definition of Community Psychology Practice which is the fourth issue in a series devoted to reviewing the competencies. A sequence of four GJCPP Special Issues dedicated to competencies calls forth serious self-reflection by individual members and SCRA. This self-reflection embraces a redefinition of the field, as authors argue in the series of articles in this issue.
This is our clarion call for change.
I approach this commentary as a Black woman, a mother, a Community Psychologist, and a practitioner who seeks to embody the praxis of racial healing and liberation in Community Psychology through my research, teaching, and leadership. Joining SCRA twelve years ago has positioned me to witness calls for change within SCRA. One of these calls included a need for SCRA to adopt competencies for Community Psychology Practice. When I was a doctoral student, I served as an original member in developing the Community Psychology Practice Competencies. As a student, I remember the effort and time that went into the convening of SCRA members. I remember members on the committee attempting to address power imbalances by prioritizing voices in SCRA, practitioners, those at teaching institutions, and a graduate student like myself.
What happened in SCRA after this drafting of competencies for Community Psychology Practice?
After releasing a draft of the Community Psychology Practice competencies in 2010, commentaries followed, both in support and critical of the competencies. Surveys assessed competencies across Community Psychology graduate programs (Brown et al., 2014; Lewis, 2013; Maton, Strompolis, & Wisniewski, 2013). An invitation went out to SCRA members asking them to weigh in on the competencies (Dalton & Wolfe, 2012) and past Presidents in SCRA endorsed the work and supported the need to use the competencies in building out graduate programs in training Community Psychologists (Cook as cited in The Community Psychologist, 2012). SCRA’s Executive Council later approved the competencies in 2012 (Dalton & Wolfe, 2012), and the reaction gained within SCRA led to an intellectual exercise of dialogue and application. Quite naturally, as my co-author writes, the Global Journal of Community Psychology Practice (GJCPP) released a call nationally and internationally and published several articles documenting the application of Community Psychology Competencies. Though less visible, two articles published in the American Journal of Community Psychology document how Langhout (2015) and Wolfe (2014) apply the Community Psychology Practice competencies in building collaborative partnerships with organizations and schools.
The Community Psychology Practice competencies are not meant to be absolute; rather, they are meant to evolve. Dalton and Wolfe (2012) articulated that “these competencies are not intended as standards for accrediting programs or licensing individuals. Instead, they provide a common framework for discussion of the skills involved in community psychology practice, and how those skills can be learned. Skills for practice and the processes of learning them are contextual, and methods and opportunities for learning are always evolving” (p. 9). Both the authors understand that the context in which learning occurs for Community Psychologists will evolve. Yet, they also know that SCRA members need to articulate their skills and value to employers. I would further argue that Dalton and Wolfe knew the need to put our principles and values into action. The discussion on the definition of and "competencies for practice" is more than a decade old, and we are still faced with the question, what are the knowledge and skills Community Psychologists need to breathe life into what we say we uphold?
Where are we now?
With the unwarranted and unjust murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor (say her name), and others and the need to reckon with racism in this country and within SCRA, we draw our attention back to the competencies. A critical analysis of the term competencies, and their definitions is an essential intellectual exercise, yet we also must remember that there is value in action versus inaction. We get to interrogate those institutions, those values that guide our practice and research (Smith, 2012), but we need action. I lean on the competency, Sociocultural and Cross-Cultural Competence, which reads to analyze social inequity and power imbalances and articulate how the dynamics of culture, privilege, and power influence interactions within the community context in which one is working, including one's interactions.
Surprisingly, Connell and colleagues (2013) reported that this competency received high proficiency ratings across graduate training programs. I also acknowledge that the competency does not explicitly state how anti-Blackness perpetuates social inequity and power imbalances, nor does it explicitly state the need to analyze systems of racism and those power imbalances that occur culturally, socially, and institutionally from racism. Nevertheless, it does communicate an essential skill in our work. The competency demonstrates something skillful about being self-reflective and how power imbalances show up in communities and within one's behavior. Self-reflection is a skill we need as members and as an organization.
In the report findings listed by Connell and colleagues (2013), I am struck by this statement, "The education of Community Psychologists remains strong in the areas of applied research, program evaluation, ecological, cultural, and ethical issues but lacking in those domains [is what] represent[s] the action component of Community Psychology” (p. 8). We need action. We must now ask ourselves, what are the knowledge and skills Community Psychologists need to practice systems change, anti-racism, and decoloniality? We need to adopt frameworks that guide undergraduate and graduate programs, frameworks that provide Community Psychologists with the knowledge and skills required to practice anti-racism, decoloniality. We need skills that lead to transformative change and transformative justice in our institutions, organizations, and communities. I would argue that the articles in this Special Issue of GJCPP ask us to breathe life into Community Psychology practice, to be self-reflective in our practice. These articles express our need to interrogate racism but to also lean towards action. We have been discussing systems of oppression for a long time; we must now amplify and build the skills we need to disrupt and eradicate them.
This is our clarion call for change.
Brown, K. Cardazone, G….Lemke, M. (2014). Examining the guiding competencies in Community Psychology practice from students' perspective. The Community Psychologist, 47, 3-9. https://www.scra27.org/files/1313/9015/7458/TCP_Winter_2014.pdf
Connell, C. Lewis R…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, 5-8. https://www.scra27.org/files/9413/8557/5851/TCP_Fall_2013.pdf
Cook, J. (2012). From the President. The Community Psychologist, 45, 1-3. https://www.scra27.org/files/9613/8557/6004/TCP_Summer_2012.pdf
Dalton, J. & Wolfe, S. (2012). Education connection and the community practitioner. The Community Psychologist, 45, 9-14. https://www.scra27.org/files/8713/8557/6003/TCP_Fall_2012.pdf
Maton, K., Stompolis, M., & Wisniewski, L. (2013). Building advocacy and policy capacity: A survey of SCRA members. The Community Psychologist, 46, 13-16. https://www.scra27.org/files/3213/8557/5852/TCP_Spring_2013.pdf
Langhout, R. D. (2015). Considering Community Psychology competencies: A love letter to budding scholar-activists who wonder if they have what it takes. American Journal of Community Psychology, 55, 266-278. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10464-015-9711-5
Lewis, R. (2013). Council of Education programs. The Community Psychologist, 46, 5-6. https://www.scra27.org/files/4913/8377/5244/TCP_Winter__2013.pdf
Ratcliffe, A., & Neigher, B. (2010). What is a Community Psychologist? Why should I hire one? The Community Psychologist, 43, 5. https://www.scra27.org/files/4513/9015/6617/TCP_vol_43_2_-_Spring_2010.pdf
Smith, L. T. (2012). Decolonizing methodologies: Research and Indigenous peoples (2nd Ed.). London, UK: Zed Books
Wolfe, S. M. (2014). The application of Community Psychology practice competencies to reduce health disparities. American Journal of Community Psychology, 53, 231-234. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10464-013-9622-2
Wolff, T. (2000). Practitioners’ perspectives. In J. Rappaport & E. Seidman (Eds.), Handbook of Community Psychology (pp. 741–778). New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum.
Wolff, T., Francisco, V., & Meissen, G. (2016). Join the discussion about Community Psychology Practice competencies. Global Journal of Community Psychology Practice, 7.
Dawn Henderson and Tom Wolff