How were you attracted to community psychology?
I started my career as a systemic psychologist, but already looking into community-based projects as my main target of attention. I was attracted by the possibility to build collective projects, particularly with communities that were oppressed by the state. I started working as a field psychologist in peripheral neighborhoods in the outskirts of Lisbon, Portugal, where a majority of migrants and ethnic minorities lived, withdrawn from the privileges of the city center. I worked at a project that aimed at breaking the social barriers for youth that were living in these neighborhoods, finding new opportunities for social inclusion and the promotion of diversity. These were mainly young people racialized as migrants (although the vast majority were in fact Portuguese, of either African or Roma descendance). I was impressed with the effects of their spatial segregation from the urban areas, and how the cycle of exclusion perpetuated a series of stereotypes and mistrust between these communities and the so called “Portuguese community”, which was mainly self-perceived as white. I thought of community psychology as a means to innovate and co-create projects of inclusion that made sense for the people we aimed at “including”.
Any formative experiences for your engagement with community psychology?
I had two highly formative engagements. First, my time at the Federation of Roma Associations in Catalunya (FAGIC- Federació de Associacions Gitanes de Catalunya). I was employed by the Federation as a project coordinator, and supported Roma communities to apply for European funding that could suit their needs and support their projects. The Federation was totally run by Roma people, advised by a committee of elders, and they held relevant positions in municipalities, to forward the access of Roma people to basic services (education, transportation, health, etc). My time at FAGIC was highly formative in what involves witnessing the effects of the decision-making powers in marginalized communities. Having a “space at the table” promoted FAGIC as a stakeholder in relevant decisions usually taken without the advice of the communities, which facilitated city services, like healthcare centers, to receive relevant training to better serve Roma people and reduce the initial obstacles identified by community members themselves.
The second highly formative engagement was at the Roberto Clemente Center, in New York, a community-based clinic initially created by Puerto-Rican psychologists, to better serve the mental health needs and social inclusion of Caribbean communities. During this engagement I was supervised and trained by highly-skilled community psychologists from the region, who helped me to develop intercultural dialogue and more thoughtful clinical skills. I was rendered convinced that communities are the best catalyzers of scientific advancements in psychology, working with their own expertise and self-awareness.
What is special about community psychology?
I believe community psychology can be useful in bringing awareness to new knowledges, built from grassroots participatory action-research. It can bridge the gap between communities and mainstream academia/mainstream psychology, by simplifying well-being tools and language. When truly democratic, community psychology can be particularly relevant in raising the political participation and the struggles for equity and human rights. Furthermore, the focus on prevention and on social justice, combined with the openness to interdisciplinary collaborations, can go a long way in promoting and designing policy change, civic participation and solidarity.
How might community psychology be more influential at policy level in Europe?
I have been inspired, in the last years, while my doctorate research lasted, by european solidarians. I met many common people, during my fieldwork in Europe, who were transformed by what researchers refer to as “the event of the encounter”. By “the encounter” I mean the solidarity actions with people on the move, usually people racialized as migrants. Motivated by moral or political positionalities (e.g. “lives are more important than borders”), these solidarians have been engaged in an intentional resistance to the political orientations taken by EU governments around migration. The perception of structural inequalities has intensified the flow of struggles and social movements, producing these community solidarity dynamics between people, alongside the new hostilities and animosities that have been shaping EU’s reactions to migrants. I think community psychology can be determinant in amplifying these natural and informal solidarity systems, arranged around the needs and injustices faced by people on the move. The harshening of the European border regime has forced asylum seekers to endure precarious living circumstances and limited their ability to use their agency and regain control over their lives. By legitimizing and supporting the solidarity networks that offer safety and resistance to people on the move, community psychology can become a voice of resistance and a partner for migrant communities that want to impact policy change.
A piece of advice for aspiring community psychologists?
I recommend that the engagements with the communities are made in the spirit of the liberation theories, recognizing the flaws of mainstream psychology and daring to go one step further in taking action for social injustices, as true allies, rather than “experts”. An interplay between community psychologists and the communities they work with needs to involve a lot of unthinking, engaging and renovating knowledge. One needs to be prepared to also question (and even “diagnose”) the institutions, rather than focusing on the “issues” presented as dysfunctional or pathological. Displaced communities in the world are giving us a chance to improve our discipline, and we should take it, by getting more deeply involved in their social struggles.
Finally, a song? One that symbolizes what community psychology is about for you?
Patti Smith, “People Have The Power”, 1988