What attracted you to community psychology?
When I was an undergraduate student in psychology in the UK, I soon became frustrated that mainstream psychology was not a psychology that could really make a difference in people’s lives, at least for the most marginalised, and be a psychology that could be about voices, inclusion, empowerment, and creativity. Thankfully, I was introduced to “critical community psychology” by Carolyn Kagan, Rebecca Lawthom and others, and I started to see that psychology could be one of hope and change, a move away from wholly individualistic and exclusionary nature of mainstream psychology. This form of critical community psychology aimed to be driven by values, working with people in context, and was interdisciplinary, driven by change and creativity in its approaches, and I could see hope that this could make a difference in people’s lives. I saw how powerful it could be in part in my own work with disabled people, homeless young people and people in poverty in Manchester, and have not stopped flying the flag for community psychology since.
What makes community psychology special?
For me, what makes community psychology (CP) special is its approach to action that focuses on oppression and liberation and on challenging systems that are unjust, and it seeks to collaborate in solidarity with workers and members of communities through a critical praxis. Participatory action research, wellbeing, and collaboration is different from the work and ideas around labs and individualism that is manifested in mainstream psychology, and CP for me provides hope in a way that critical psychology alone does not. CP, in whatever form, is a psychology that gives me hope that mainstream psychology can move forward in a way that allows psychology to become a psychology for marginalised people.
Please tell us about an event that was formative for your interest in or engagement with community psychology?
There has not been one singular event that was formative in engaging my interests in CP, but the CP festivals that have taken place in the UK since 2015 in cities including London, Manchester, and Bristol, have been hot beds for dialogue and engagement in CP, and seeing these events take place to promote CP and inspire future community psychologists have been rewarding to witness.
In your assessment, what is the future of community psychology in Europe?
Critical CP provides a platform of hope that the shortcomings and old-fashioned ways of mainstream psychology can be challenged, but critical CP also needs to be challenged and maybe the challenge is greater. After all, the well-intentioned core values, principles, and approaches of any form of critical CP is up against conservative and entrenched psychology powerbases across the world. This fits in with the neoliberal and capitalist governments agendas across many countries that only have passing reference to social justice, equality, and diversity values in their economic and political narratives, and instead prioritise medical and individualised approaches that collaborate with multi-billion-pound industries, and this will exasperate further post-Covid-19. This makes it very difficult for community-orientated, qualitative, creative, and dynamic approaches and set-ups to be founded in collaboration with marginalised people because it is not the priority of the most powerful and the elite.
More than ever, there are less degrees, modules, practitioners and speakers of critical CP and psychology’s alternatives. They have become at best a special interest topic, an opportunity for psychologists to get angry now and again, rather than making any headway in terms of penetrating, influencing, and denting the power of mainstream psychology. Additionally, the same names dominate the space, ensuring that a patriarchal and white critical CP is ever-present. Whilst more speakers and ideas are emerging in critical CP from different backgrounds and communities, it is slow paced and not making progress in challenging and changing mainstream psychology. A future critical CP in Europe needs to turn itself upside down and reconfigure itself into an identity that makes a real epistemological break from mainstream psychology, but in a way that is prepared to work with all kinds of psychologists, who can all bring skills, strengths and knowledges that have the potential to genuinely change the lives of people for the better, in collaboration with them.
For CP to thrive in Europe, it needs to decentre itself and work cross-nationally, work across disciplines, engage with technology better, be prepared to think and develop ideas in ways community psychologists have not done before, and be relational, innovative and promote and collaborate with marginalised people, with a view to decolonising all forms of psychology, with justice at the heart of its existence.
What advice would you give to aspiring community psychologists?
CP has the potential to make in-roads within mainstream psychology, with a view to helping psychology become a psychology for marginalised people, and to be able to do that, my advice to aspiring community psychologists is to always aim to underpin your work with the voices of marginalised people. Let them be CP and the foundation to how you practice and speak about CP. Without those voices being at the heart of CP, then CP is just another psychology that means nothing to marginalised people.
How about a song? One that symbolises what community psychology is about for you?
Bon Jovi, ‘Living on a Prayer’, 1986.