What attracted you to community psychology?
When I started my studies in psychology, I had originally planned to pursue a clinical career like most of my classmates. However, as I progressed in my training, I began to explore other fields that held a greater allure. Among them was community psychology. I had the opportunity to do my internships at a municipal community health center, where I collaborated with other professionals of different disciplines. In that inter-professional context, I witnessed how psychology contributed to the well-being of communities, improving living conditions in neighborhoods, and promoting the social welfare of vulnerable groups.
Later, my doctoral research focused on evaluating social organizations, which gave me a broader perspective on the significant role that the social sector plays in social well-being. Subsequently, I got involved in evaluating programs aimed at disadvantaged neighborhoods. This specialization led me to engage in teaching community psychology, participating in undergraduate and postgraduate training programs. Concurrently, I actively worked to ensure the proper development of this academic and professional field. In Spain, we have a strong network of professionals dedicated to the field of social intervention psychology, closely linked to community psychology. Unfortunately, recent professional regulations and socio-political changes have posed challenges to this sector. As a result, I have been actively involved in the efforts of our professional association to ensure the continued strength and empowerment of this field of practice, as its initial beginnings.
What makes community psychology special for you?
Community psychology (CP) can be described as a field that is dedicated to addressing social challenges and creating positive change in communities. CP is committed to achieving equity, social justice, and collective well-being. It confronts structural barriers and inequalities head on, driven by a strong determination to make a difference. Community psychologists strive to overcome obstacles and empower the marginalized individual and communities. When implementing empowerment-based strategies, the goal is not only to alleviate problems but also to address their underlying causes by driving sustainable and meaningful change. These strategies provide tools for the active participation of the individuals and communities involved, promoting decision-making and fostering the strengthening of their ability to overcome obstacles and achieve greater well-being. CP goes beyond the personal and interpersonal level and focuses on transforming social issues at their core. By employing innovative strategies, it aims to empower communities and promote equal opportunities. The adjective to describe the determination to overcome challenges and promote equal opportunity, positive social change and improve quality of life in communities is “resolute”.
Please tell us about an event that was formative for your engagement with community psychology.
It is not so much an event as a circumstance in which I am currently immersed, in addition to my work as a teacher and researcher. For the past few years, I have taken on the role of coordinating the professional area of Social Intervention Psychology in the Andalusia region (Spain) through the professional association of psychologists in the region (Colegio Oficial de Psicología de Andalucía Occidental). In this region, the regional government has the authority to legislate on social policies. From my position as the coordinator of this area and, along with other colleagues, actively lead efforts to review and improve those laws related to social policies. Although our efforts yield varied results, with success or failure (with the less successful outcomes more common), what I want to emphasize is the importance and challenge that psychologists undertake when attempting to influence social policy. Social policies play a crucial role in promoting well-being and equality within society. Therefore, we must actively participate in the analysis and proposal of changes to existing policies, ensuring that we effectively address the needs of individuals and communities. CP has the tools necessary to achieve this objective.
What is the future of community psychology in Europe?
The EFPA Standing Committee on Community Psychology, of which I am a member, is actively working to strengthen CP in Europe. We have undertaken a project to assess the implementation of CP as a field of practice in European countries; to identify the educational offerings available to students and explore the possibility of aligning CP with EuroPsy. We are fully aware of the significant diversity in the professional development of CP across European countries and there are numerous areas closely linked to CP that play vital roles within their respective area of knowledge, such as Social Intervention Psychology, Social Problems Psychology, Applied Social Psychology, Liberation Psychology, and Critical Social Psychology. All these approaches share values and principles including working for the well-being of individuals and communities; promoting equity and social justice in the most disadvantaged groups; promoting social and community participation and empowerment; strengthening the sense of community, community development, and community leadership; intervening from the perspective of diversity and social change; relying on action research approaches and sociopolitical validity. The key challenge lies in harmonizing this diversity of knowledge into a recognized field of practice at the European level, which would result in strengthening the identity and visibility of CP. In addition, it would provide greater opportunities for psychology students to develop competences related to this field, as well as in other more established areas.
What is the most important piece (or pieces) that is missing in community psychology in Europe?
Rather than focusing on a topic, I want to emphasize methodology because the strength of CP lies in its capacity to foresee and embrace emerging fields. I think of the transformative paradigm, which is more than just a conceptual framework; it is a particular stance towards using methodology to bring about social change by questioning power structures and promoting social justice. I cite Donna M. Mertens, who highlighted the primacy of what is to be achieved (social justice) rather than on the rigorous adherence to a methodology, where the vision and values of marginalized groups should be at the core of the transformative process. CP is characterized by its integration of various methodological approaches, and I believe the transformative paradigm is essential.
Please tell us about an event that summarizes what community psychology is about for you.
The 15M Movement comes to mind, which emerged in Spain on 15 March 2011, in response to the economic crisis that began in 2008 and exacerbated the country’s social inequality. It originated as a spontaneous gathering on the night of 15 March in the “Puerta del Sol” in the city of Madrid and quickly spread to other cities, where people settled in their tents in the main squares for a month. During this time, participants engaged in various assembly-style activities to discuss pressing issues such as inequality, housing, education, job precarity, political corruption, and the prevailing two-party system. The movement organized inclusive activities of all kinds, catering to people of all ages and backgrounds, without focusing on individual ideologies. It stood out as a citizen participation movement that served as a protest and a call for political and social changes. Although this protest movement did not achieve significant improvements in social rights, it laid the groundwork for a greater public awareness of social inequalities and caused a change in the political landscape of the country, moving away from the prevailing bipartisanship towards a new multiparty model that allowed greater representation and diversity of political options. I often refer to this historic moment with my students to illustrate the potential grassroots change.