What attracted you to community psychology?
I found community psychology from professional practice. During my final year of psychology degree studies, I started working on a community project in the Torre Baró neighborhood in Barcelona. This was a project that aimed to contribute to the community organisation to build together with the Barcelona City Council a new urban plan for that neighborhood. It was the 2000-2001 academic year. And when I finished my psychology studies in June 2001, I started to find out what type of psychology I could connect with what I was doing. I knew that the tools and knowledge I had known about social psychology did not fill all the concerns and challenges that I faced is this project, which began being 6 months for an urban plan and ended up lasting 4 years for the integral transformation of the three neighborhoods that make up the north of Nou Barris, “north of the north” as we said in Barcelona. I quickly realised that community psychology allowed me, as a psychologist, to work not just to imagine a better world, but to try to build it. It allowed me to reinforce a concern I had as a teenager: Trying to change those things that I did not like in the world that I had to live in.
What makes community psychology special?
For me, community psychology (CP) is like a bonsai within psychology. Something small but very nice, something that requires care and affection. What makes it special, though not unique, within psychology is that it is nothing against the current. Because it is a psychology that goes from the person to the macrosocial. That is, it tries to understand what we do by looking at the person, the context, the culture, the laws, the others…. It has a multilevel look, which breaks with the individualising look that prevails in mainstream psychology. CP asserts that many of the psychological and social problems that people experience have their causes or their roots in the collective, and have their solutions, also, in the collective. Because it is a psychology that recognizes the other: One that not only sees their problems or weaknesses but sees their opportunities and potentialities; one that recognizes their abilities to add, that is capable of learning from “the poor”. CP shows what many people do not want to see because it makes inequalities that are normally hidden visible, because CP denounces these inequalities. CP is a power-building effort for oppressed groups.
Please tell us about an event that was formative for your interest in or engagement with community psychology.
Although in the last 20 years I have had the opportunity to participate in many congresses and training events of CP, at local, national and international level, I always remember in a special way the first international conference I attended outside Barcelona. It was the first community, work and family congress, held in Manchester in 2004 (I think). I had the opportunity to participate thanks to the fact that the previous year, at the European Congress of CP held in Barcelona, I had met Carolyn Kagan and Mark Burton, and they invited me to participate in Manchester. It must have been for the youth, for the transformative energy that I felt in the execution of the community project in which I was working at the time, because it was the first time that I attended a congress outside of Spain, and especially because of the fantastic climate created in the congress that I continue to keep an enormous memory of that time. To discover that there were people in other parts of the world who shared passions, values and the desire to change the world. And to discover that it was possible to organize a scientific meeting at a university where all participants could feel welcomed, cared for and recognized remains a huge recollection and impetus for my interest in CP.
From that meeting of 2004, between scientific sessions, innovative workshops and some pints, two milestones emerged that helped me greatly in my academic consolidation in the field of CP. A 6-month stay at the Research Insititute for Health and Social Change (RIHSC) led by Carolyn Kagan between February and July 2008 and a European project, Residency, between 2013 and 2015 led by Mark Webster from the UK. I also had the opportunity to meet Maritza Montero, who offered to translate the presentation I made in Spanish into English. In addition to starting friendships that are still present today. (Thank you Carolyn for sharing that experience.)
In your assessment, what is the future of community psychology in Europe?
The future of CP in Europe is positive, especially in professional terms. The effect of the context on people’s well-being is becoming increasingly evident. And if we talk about taking the context into account, CP is able to look at the social, the political, the cultural, the environmental contexts, and see how they affect people and their interactions. Now, if we look at it in academic terms, CP, like many other disciplines, risks becoming intranscendent. In a discipline locked in itself, worried about publications and impact rates, and moving away from the oppressed groups it committed to make visible. And give up trying to make a fairer world. This is a problem that goes beyond CP and involves the university and the technocratic publishing drift in which it is immersed.
What are the main challenges community psychologists in Spain are facing today?
The main challenge faced by community psychologists in Spain has to do with their professional recognition. It is true that social and community intervention psychologists are recognized in some basic services, such as social services. For years they have been working in different NGOs and they face the challenge of professional recognition of the figure of the general health psychologist. This figure, created by law to regulate the profession of clinical psychology in the private sphere, is becoming a serious threat to the figure of the psychologist of social and community intervention, for whom there is no regulation by law. From many services and NGOs, the idea of a health psychologist has been confused with the idea of psychosocial intervention. It is necessary to generate an in-depth debate in Spain on the need, or not, to promote by law the figure of the psychologist of social and community intervention. I remember having this discussion with some European colleagues, especially with Caterina Arcidiacono of Italy, who defended precisely the importance of having a specific profile for the community psychologist.
Please provide us a photo that, for you, symbolizes what CP is about.
This photo represents the superpowers from our CP students have in their transition from students to professionals. It arises from a session where we work on this transition and ask them to paint their superpowers on a mask. It is in the last sessions of the semester that the class group feels like a community.
How about a song?
Gracias A La Vida by Mercedes Sosa. “Thanks to life!” tells me how lucky I am to be a community psychologist.