Mary H Case & W Lavome Robinson. Handbook of Racial & Ethnic Minority Psychology. Editor: Guillermo Bernai. Sage Publications. 2003.
Since its inception in 1965, the field of community psychology has developed into a powerful framework for how psychologists can conceptualize, develop, and implement research and intervention protocols within ethnic populations. This chapter provides a brief history and overview of the tenets of community psychology, emphasizing a commitment to prevention, ecological validity, cultural pluralism, cultural specificity, and contextualism. By describing seminal research conducted in minority populations, we highlight evidence-based work carried out in community psychology to date and suggest challenges and starting points for future research opportunities. Toward this end, this chapter seeks to emphasize community psychology’s role in prevention science and health promotion for ethnic minority populations. By exploring the psychological tenets and action initiatives of community psychology, we hope this chapter will foster a greater realization of the ideological goals of this increasingly relevant field of psychology.
An Overview: The History of Community Psychology
Community psychology traces its roots back to May 1965, at the Swampscott Conference in Swampscott, Massachusetts. Psychologists attending this conference embraced “a call” for a new perspective within psychology and shared a collective vision for the future direction of the field. This vision would necessitate a shift from traditional treatment models, deemed largely ineffectual for large segments of society, toward a new focus on the prevention of psychological disorders. This shift toward prevention was coupled with the crucial recognition that ecological and contextual factors frequently contribute to the development, maintenance, and exacerbation of psychological disorders, a recognition based largely on the work of Kurt Lewin (1951) and later Urie Bronfenbrenner (1979). The newly formed group of psychologists also believed that a greater understanding of salient contextual factors might provide potential answers for the prevention and amelioration of psychological disorders (Duffy & Wong, 1995). The synergism of a dualistic approach of prevention and contextualism became the core philosophical underpinning of the emerging field of community psychology.
Community psychology emerged amid not only controversy and conflict regarding the limited effectiveness of psychotherapy but also as part of a notable historical movement. This time in history represented vast societal changes. First, the impact and height of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s led to increasing social awareness of the inequalities evident in social institutions and the untenable circumstances plaguing members of ethnic minority groups. Second, the substantial moral outrage over the U.S. involvement in Vietnam represented an unprecedented challenge to the previously unquestioned authority of institutions, such as governmental agencies. Community psychology responded to these events by constructing a model of psychology cognizant of the reality of such events and their impact on human behavior. Community psychologists remain resolute in their commitment to action-oriented strategies that consider the larger sociopolitical context in which problems develop among members of diverse populations. They also emphasize that individuals’ historical and cultural realities necessitate a more flexible and possibly “grassroots” approach to providing services and conducting research. As is discussed throughout this chapter, it is perhaps these aspects of community psychology—a recognition of the contextual forces in the development of behavior and a more flexible approach to services—that hold the greatest promise when working with ethnic minorities.
Today, in addition to the establishment of the Society for Community Research and Action (SCRA), an international society, community psychology is a recognized division of the American Psychological Association, Division 27. Furthermore, a spate of books has been published within the past 35 years to both define and explicate the application of community psychology. The vitality of the field is further evidenced by the proliferation of several mainstream journals primarily devoted to the dissemination of scholarly works in the area of community psychology (e.g., the Journal of Community Psychology, the American Journal of Community Psychology, the Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, and the Journal of Primary Prevention). Such first-tier journals have been referenced as devoting a greater percentage of their publications to issues pertaining to ethnic minority members than other psychological journals.
Indeed, one of the most defining features of community psychology is a historical and unwavering commitment to understanding diversity. Having abandoned the ahistorical, acultural, acontextual tradition of psychology, community psychologists increasingly acknowledge the centrality of diversity and focus on the unique settings in which individuals exist and experience life, working to determine how these contexts shape the individual, the family, and the larger community, as well as the dynamic interaction that results when these multiple systems interface.
Throughout the evolution and development of community psychology, other key ideologies have been concurrently integrated within the original framework of prevention and contextualism, such as (a) spirit of participatory collaboration (Kelly, 1990; Robinson, 1990; Strother, 1987); (b) focus on adaptation, strengths, and resiliency among individuals (Duffy & Wong, 1995); (c) commitment to social change and the empowerment of individuals and communities (Zimmerman & Rappaport, 1988); (d) interdisciplinary approaches to addressing psychological problems and root social ecological triggers (Kelly, 1990; Strother, 1987); and (e) focus on settings and communities in understanding psychological phenomena (Davidson & Cotter, 1991; Sarason, 1974). Each of these central tenets of community psychology, as illustrated in upcoming sections, has provided a framework for existing research of ethnic minority populations, as well as an opportunity for future research and improved services.
A Focus on Prevention
Within community psychology, the development and implementation of prevention interventions represent highly evolved areas of thought and prolific research contributions. Community psychology posits that in comparison to traditional rehabilitative models of treatment, the prevention of psychological disorders offers a more effective approach to reducing psychological distress. From this perspective, primary prevention programs—programs aimed at intervening before problems occur—offer the optimal strategy for success. Emory Cowen (1980) commented on the inherent difficulty in trying to “undo” psychological damage and alternatively proposed the use of broad-based prevention programs targeting individuals prior to the onset of symptomatology. In instances when such programs are nonexistent or unsuccessful, secondary prevention programs—programs targeting the initial signs of psychological distress—are recommended. Finally, and only if both of the above approaches are unsuccessful, tertiary programs—programs similar to traditional rehabilitative treatment—should be implemented and carried out.
The limitations of traditional rehabilitative models of treatment are well documented, particularly among ethnically diverse populations (Baker & Bell, 1999; Cowen, 1980; Rosado, 1980; Tolman & Reedy, 1998). Community psychology’s focus on prevention offers a more optimal framework for members of diverse ethnic groups for several reasons. Unlike traditional treatment models that are historically informed by the needs and research findings of White, middle-class individuals (Caplan, 1994; Rossello & Bernai, 1996), community psychology’s approach to prevention has been increasingly characterized by greater flexibility and cultural sensitivity, prerequisites necessary to attend to and resonate with the lives of individuals experiencing and surviving racism, oppression, and marginalization. Many well-meaning mental health professionals trained in traditional treatment paradigms provide services to ethnic minority individuals virtually unaware of these complex contextual factors and the associated cultural traditions specific to these populations. They are even less likely to understand how such factors affect psychological well-being. Not surprisingly, many members of ethnic minority groups report that traditional psychological treatments are not well suited to their problems (U.S. Public Health Services, 2000). Ironically, it is often these individuals who possess the most extraordinary stressors and the least financial resources and thus stand in the greatest need of services. As Kaniasty and Norris (2000) stated, “Relative need is not the sole or even the strongest predictor of who gets help” (p. 576). In response to these realities, community psychology’s redirected focus on prevention, characterized by a commitment to recognizing ecological factors and a need for greater flexibility, has and continues to offer a sense of optimism for research and intervention with ethnic minority groups.
The research of Ortiz-Torres, Serrano-Garcia, and Torres-Burgos (2000) exemplifies the importance of intervention models informed by cultural values and traditions. A longstanding tradition among Latino women is to not discuss sexual issues or assert themselves sexually. This “sexual silence” has been hypothesized in Latino culture to contribute to the growing contraction of HIV/AIDS (Diaz, 1998). Yet when Ortiz-Torres et al. examined traditional and customary approaches to HIV/AIDS reduction among Latinas (e.g., approaches focusing on assertiveness skills), Latina women reported that insisting that Latino male partners use a condom—a commonly encouraged assertiveness skill—was subversive and untenable. Although a traditionally trained psychologist might view the failure of these programs as resistance on the part of the participants, the authors proposed that such cultural nuances inform intervention efforts, ultimately achieving greater intervention effectiveness among various cultural groups.
Another strength of community psychology stems from the field’s emphasis on outreach and prevention in the promotion and application of proactive, anticipatory, community-based models of intervention. Rather than waiting in one’s office for the arrival of individuals already struggling with existing symptoms, community psychologists seek out at-risk and/or disempowered individuals prior to the onset of psychological disorders. Thus, prevention efforts typically occur within indigenous community settings where individuals may generally feel more comfortable, an alternative to the traditional office visit. This approach is particularly important for ethnic minorities, many of whom display significant ambivalence over seeking out psychological services (Bloom & Padilla, 1979; Napoles-Springer et al., 2000; Padgett, Patrick, Burns, & Schlesinger, 1995). Kaniasty and Norris (2000) discussed the importance of cultural values in relation to one’s comfort in seeking out social support networks. These authors maintained that members of collectivistic groups, groups that place value on working together and in harmony with others, are often less likely to seek out social support from established social institutions. For example, Tolman and Reedy (1998) described how Native Americans are particularly reticent to use traditional Western health care, viewing it as ineffectual for their problems. This reticence is based largely on their belief that illness (e.g., psychological or physical) is emblematic of disharmony with oneself, one’s community, and nature (Tolman & Reedy, 1998). African Americans also have historically demonstrated high reliance on community networks (White & Parham, 1990). This reliance and community cooperation have served as a mainstay of survival through years of oppression and racism (Hatchett & Jackson, 1993; White & Parham, 1990). As such, African Americans frequently seek out extended family members, neighbors, and clergy for social support (Ball, 1983; Ulbncht, Warheit, & Zimmerman, 1989; Weeks & Cuellar, 1981). Similarly, Rodriguez and O’Donnell (1995) suggested that “cultural scripts” of familism and simpatía (values of strong family and interpersonal relationships) among Latinos and Latinas underlie their reticence in seeking outside help. Of concern, however, is that despite such a strong commitment to and reliance on families, many researchers report that members of ethnic minority groups frequently express discomfort in sharing their distress and problems with family members (Eckenrode, 1983; Golding & Baezconde-Garbanati, 1990; Keefe, Padilla, & Carlos, 1978; Weeks & Cuellar, 1981) and subsequently report receiving inadequate support for their difficulties (Silverstein & Waite, 1993; Weeks & Cuellar, 1981). In fact, despite pervasive stereotypes suggesting the existence of cohesive family systems among Asian Americans, Asian American youth actually have reported less common feelings of acceptance and warmth within their families as compared to Euro-American youth. These findings underscore the essential need for appropriate and effective services among ethnic minorities that both incorporate the strengths of such cultural values while also recognizing the limitations within these systems. By examining the meaning and complexity of relevant cultural values such as family and community reliance, community psychology is able to integrate these values within its outreach and prevention/intervention efforts, establishing services that consumers deem as more sensitive, engaging, less stigmatizing, and beneficial.
Goals of Empowerment
The empowerment of ethnic minority individuals and communities is yet another hallmark of community psychology (Rappaport, 1987). Proposed by the Cornell University Empowerment Group (1989), a widely accepted definition of empowerment among community psychologists is “an intentional, ongoing process centered in the local community involving mutual respect, critical reflection, caring, and group participation through which people lacking an equal share of valued resources gain greater access to and control over those resources” (p. 2). This definition encompasses the spirit, complexity, and multileveled struggle for enhancing empowerment.
One of the most common empowerment strategies used by community psychologists involves working in collaboration with members of a community. As described earlier in this chapter, community psychologists emphasize the importance of learning from the individuals and communities with which they work. Commonly, the phrase “coupling with the host environment” has been adopted (Trickett, McConahay, Phillips, & Ginter, 1985) to describe the multifaceted collaborative approach involved in research and intervention efforts with communities. This collaborative process is often a novel and unique experience for many ethnically diverse groups. Thus, by reducing barriers, increasing familiarity and comfort in an egalitarian manner, and including participants in the entire process, identified goals are reached more expeditiously and a sense of shared ownership of the process ensues. In contrast to a traditional and hierarchical view of psychology in which the psychologist is viewed as the “expert,” community psychologists are guided by the belief that community members are equal contributors to the social construction of knowledge (Serrano-Garcia, 1994). Encouraged to fully participate at all stages of a project, community members become empowered to implement and sustain change.
A primary feature of the collaborative process involves an earned trust and reciprocity between researcher and community members. As Robinson (1990) stated, “The research relationship must be one of sharing, parity, respect, courtesy, and joint collaboration” (p. 193). This process is characterized by a mutual negotiation that continually addresses the concerns and needs of the community. Without these basic conditions, collaboration remains only an illusion.
Another essential aspect of the collaboration process involves the active participation of community members. Active participation and the expression of one’s thoughts frequently have been linked to perceived fairness by group members (Tyler & Lind, 1990; van den Bos, Lind, Vermunt, & Wilke, 1997). van den Bos et al. (1997) maintained that this perception of fairness is directly related to the individual’s feeling that he or she has been treated with dignity, politeness, and respect.
Several more broadly based empowerment programs have been implemented targeting ethnic minority groups. One such example, the Meyerhoff Scholastic Program (MSP), was designed to provide a multisystem approach for talented African Americans seeking future careers in the field of science (Meyerhoff Scholastic Program, 1995). The process integrated group studying, peer counseling, economic support, advising, administrative support, parental involvement, and summer bridge programs before students began their freshman year. These students, when compared to other talented African American youth not included in the multisystem program, were found by Hrabowski and Maton (1995) to have significantly elevated grades, increased retention in college, and a 50% increase in likelihood of going on to receive a Ph.D.
Another exemplary empowerment program developed by Fagan and Stevenson (1995) entailed a self-help parenting program co-led by African American fathers. The program, grounded in the empowerment approach, includes central themes such as enhancing and believing in control over one’s destiny, challenging racism, exploring the meaning of fatherhood, identifying methods of working as a community toward oppression, teaching issues around violence to children, fostering a sense of pride in the Black culture, and helping children to navigate the realities of racism. The authors reported that not only did participants report higher levels of self-esteem, but they also demonstrated an increased ability to meet the needs of their children. Baldwin (1999) designed a substance abuse and HTV/AIDS prevention partnership structured so that, similar to the program described above, indigenous Native American individuals would implement the program. The author discussed how this approach, based in the traditions and culture of Native Americans, led to higher levels of participation within the program, increased empowerment of individuals within the community, and resulted in more successful outcomes for participants.
Despite the design and success of such empowerment-based programs, significant controversy exists over the effectiveness and practicality of empowerment approaches among socially marginalized group members (Gibbs & Fuery, 1994, Riger, 1993; Tnckett, 1994). Riger (1993) expressed two significant criticisms of the empowerment approach. First, she argued that empowerment emphasizes the feeling of power or efficacy while overlooking the concrete needs of power or resources. Thus, although psychologists may be capable of establishing a sense of efficacy among individuals, Riger argued that empowerment programs offer members of disadvantaged, marginalized groups an illusion of power incommensurate with the reality of their environment and larger sociopolitical context. Second, she maintained that the empowerment perspective is based on an individualistic, male-dominated approach for independence and autonomy. Thus, she posited that empowering members of a community will ultimately lead to upheaval within existing power structures and further noncollectivistic interactions within society. She concluded that these interventions result in an outcome that is inconsistent with a sense of collaboration and community thereby at odds with the core beliefs inherent to community psychology.
In response to these criticisms, community psychologists in recent years have examined existing efforts to empower members of ethnically diverse communities. Many researchers maintain that by targeting larger sociopolitical contexts and protecting the spirit of collaboration and community empowerment, efforts will produce meaningful and sustained change. For example, Speer and Hughey (1995) suggested that when considering issues of empowerment, the researcher needs to focus on larger social problems rather than intervening at an individual level. Similarly, Trickett (1994) reminded us that empowerment interventions possess genuine potential only if they target meaningful contexts that specifically contribute to an ultimate goal or accomplishment, rather than simply providing individuals with a sense of greater efficacy. Moreover, he emphasized the importance of implementing interventions in such a way as to ensure a self-sustaining system of resources even after the intervention is completed (Altman, 1995; Trickett, 1997). Finally, Bond and Keys (1993) discussed the potential to simultaneously empower community organizations as well as individuals and families through work with other disciplines and social groups. This potential for coempowerment, presented by these authors, addresses concerns that empowerment strategies will only result in power struggles.
The focus on greater social change continues to be a key factor in empowerment efforts. Historically, community psychologists have recognized the need to implement social change aimed at the sociopolitical context in which ethnic minority communities exist (Seidman, 1988; Serrano-Garcia, Lopez, & Rivera-Medina, 1987). These types of changes represent some of the greatest challenges for the field while holding the greatest potential for empowerment within the field. A model example of such a program is evident in the work of Balcazar, Keys, and Suarez-Balcazar (2001). These researchers designed a capacity-building empowerment program for Latinos with disabilities. The authors discussed the fact that Latinos living with disabilities have historically not been included in efforts to design and shape disability agendas and determine disability rights. Thus, the goal of the program was to increase their input in relevant policy issues and then assist these individuals to establish partnerships with local advocacy organizations. Ultimately, these partnerships allowed individuals to participate actively in such organizations and to further their needs, even after the intervention had officially ended. The program addresses the multifaceted and complex issues associated with empowerment as discussed by Riger (1993) while also establishing policy skills that will empower these individuals in the future, even after researchers have returned the program to the community.
Strategies for empowerment among ethnic minorities offer exceptional opportunities to elicit meaningful change for disenfranchised and marginalized members of society, change that resonates throughout multiple systems and complex environments. Although not without risk, empowerment approaches offer the very skills and resources essential to success that are frequently withheld by members of the majority culture. By attempting to establish greater equity between and within society, community psychologists attempt to increase options and opportunities among individuals frequently lacking a venue through which to increase resources and meet their goals.
A Focus on Strengths and Adaptive Coping
In concert with a focus on prevention and a spirit of collaboration and commitment to empowerment, community psychologists strive to identify the strengths and adaptive behaviors used by the individual, family, or community. Community psychologists maintain that individual behavior is not adequately evaluated as adaptive or nonadaptive unless serious consideration has been given to the contexts within which the individuals exist and to the interactions between the individuals and their respective settings.
A community psychology approach focuses on the avoidance of labeling and pathologizing individuals’ behaviors, a pitfall frequently found in more traditional psychological approaches (Cowen, 1980). Historically, this has represented a particular concern for members of ethnically diverse cultures. All too frequently, unfamiliar behaviors and rituals unique to a culture have erroneously been interpreted as a sign of mental illness. The errors have resulted in members of ethnic minority populations being misdiagnosed and overpathologized when employing traditional models of psychological health, subsequently leading to inappropriate and even unwarranted intervention strategies. By focusing on avoiding psychological discomfort in contrast to uncovering pathology and identifying differences as potentially adaptive, community psychological approaches circumvent many of the above-mentioned hazards.
Research suggests that the majority of existing literature pertaining to ethnic minority individuals focuses on negative behavioral outcomes (Luster & McAdoo, 1994; Taylor, Hinton, & Wilson, 1995). Nonetheless, Leavitt and Saegert (1990) found that low-income community members, particularly ethnic minority members, demonstrate many important and significant sources of strength that are useful in understanding psychological distress and behavior. In fact, Work, Cowen, Parker, and Wyman (1990) found that some members of the most impoverished neighborhoods within cities demonstrate remarkable resiliency. Miller (1999) emphasized the need to uncover and examine these unique strengths employed by nonmajority groups and understand how these factors shape behavior. By understanding these areas of strength and resiliency, community psychologists are better able to design and implement intervention strategies that use the natural resiliency of participants or to encourage the adoption of such skills among members of the community. Crucial to a comprehensive understanding of adaptive and resilient behaviors, community psychologists recognize that many behaviors defined as adaptive in one portion of society, or in a particular neighborhood, may be viewed as maladaptive, dysfunctional, or dangerous in another. For example, many members of ethnic groups have developed a cognitive style referred to by majority cultures as “suspicious”; however, given their historical experiences, this cautious approach to new experiences represents a healthy, adaptive survival technique. Similarly, research findings suggest that many African American women have taken on an independent, assertive, outspoken attitude after their experiences of racism and oppression (Sanchez-Hucles, 1997). Although these qualities may serve them well in some settings in their community and within interpersonal relationships, they may be viewed critically in White, male-dominated employment settings (Sanchez-Hucles, 1997). An Asian American individual who values privacy and limited self-disclosure may be viewed by a traditional psychologist as repressed, inhibited, or unassertive rather than having adopted a set of beliefs and behaviors that allow the individual to function within the Asian American culture (Sue, 1999).
Community psychologists recognize the need to understand such complex aspects of individuals’ behavior, determining the potential adaptive quality of such characteristics and subsequently integrating these factors into the design of interventions. Furthermore, through increased awareness and understanding of particular competencies within specific ecological contexts, community psychologists may encourage the development of these skills for other members of a group not currently engaging in such behaviors. Thus, community psychologists attempt not only to understand the unique competencies used by resilient members of the group but also to disseminate such information to other individuals who might benefit from such skills.
Community psychologists have researched several areas of resiliency among ethnic minority individuals. One example, the significance of family systems, represents a compelling venue for community psychologists to examine strength and resiliency factors. Several aspects of families have been linked to resiliency, such as (a) strong kinship bonds (Hall & King, 1982; Johnson, 1995; Tseng, 1985; Werner, 1983), (b) investment in family (Colomba, Santiago, & Rossello, 1999; Hall & King, 1982), (c) adaptability of family roles (Hall & King, 1982), (d) promotion of a strong achievement orientation (Johnson, 1995), and (e) use of native language (Johnson, 1995).
Parenting qualities also have been explored to determine what leads to resiliency among youth. Maton, Hrabowski, Freeman, and Greif (1998) found that among ethnic minority groups, a complex group of family qualities buffer youth from negative peer, social, and neighborhood factors. These processes include parental engagement in academic activities, strict discipline, consistent nurturing, and community connectedness. The extended family also has played a significant role in buffering individuals against psychological distress (Wilson, Kohn, Curry-El, & Hinton, 1995). Wilson and Toison (1990) examined the structure, function, and interactions of African American family systems. Their findings support the potential benefits of extended family structures both for children and mothers. These extended systems appeared to allow mothers increased opportunities for self-enhancement and provided young children with many indirect benefits of multiple caregivers.
Community psychology also has found that religiosity or appreciation of spirituality within the family may buffer individuals from psychological difficulties and reduce the likelihood of engaging in risk behaviors (Benson, Donahue, & Erickson, 1989; Brown & Gary, 1994; Caldwell, Greene, & Billingsley, 1992). Specifically, participation in religious groups and church has been found to represent a significant area of strength among members of ethnic groups (Constantine, 1999). Cook (2000) reported that ethnic minority teenagers attending church were less likely to experience stress and less likely to have psychological problems than other ethnically diverse teens. African American churches have historically upheld a tradition of empowering members of its community by meeting social needs (e.g., providing food and clothing), designing educational programs, promoting civil rights awareness, and allowing for the expression of African American experiences (Caldwell et al, 1992; Gilkes, 1980; Morris & Robinson, 1996; Taylor & Chatters, 1989).
A commitment to examining resiliency often leads to a more positive approach to working with ethnic minority populations while optimizing strengths already existent within diverse communities. Rather than assuming that resiliency is a universal phenomenon, community psychologists recognize the unique strengths that diverse individuals possess and examine these buffering effects within their particular environments. The interactions among these factors take center stage and offer essential information for working with ethnically diverse populations.
A Focus on Community
The potential implications and positive impact of community represent a fundamental tenet of community psychology (Sarason, 1974). Sarason (1974) described a sense of community as the
perception of similarity to others, an acknowledged interdependence with others, a willingness to maintain this interdependence by giving to or doing for others what one expects from them, the feeling that one is part of a larger dependable and stable structure, (p. 157)
This sense of community is related to a sense of resiliency and subjective well-being among community members (Davidson & Cotter, 1991). As such, individuals possessing a strong sense of community are believed to be more open to ideas and programs that enhance the environment of the entire community (Duffy & Wong, 1995).
Unfortunately, evidence is mounting to suggest that a strong sense of community has declined within some segments of society (Hill, 1996; Jason & Kobayashi, 1995). Some researchers have discussed the essential nature of community and the negative impact of the “breakdown of moral net,” meaning that community members have no regard or concern for other members of the community. It is this breakdown that community psychologists struggle to avoid or repair in the process of encouraging psychological health.
Reflecting his strong belief that sense of community is a central component to the success of all programs, Sarason (1972) proposed that each intervention be evaluated based on whether it enhances or impairs a sense of community. Sarason’s perspective is particularly relevant in light of research findings that point to the positive impact of increased sense of community on intervention/prevention strategies. For example, Maton and Salem (1995) found that fostering a sense of community is positively related to participants’ achievement of personal goals within intervention programs. Similarly, many community psychologists report that a sense of community is directly related to increased involvement in community activities and interventions (Chavis & Wandersman, 1990; Maton & Rappaport, 1984). In fact, Davidson and Cotter (1989) found that a sense of community is predictive of increased voter turnout, interaction with public officials, and involvement in public policy efforts.
Specifically, among ethnic minority groups, the importance of community is underscored by research highlighting ethnic minority groups’ preexisting devotion to, reliance on the existence of, and resiliency secondary to a sense of community (Chavis & Wandersman, 1990; Thomason, 2000). Furthermore, ethnic groups have historically demonstrated a more collectivism less individualistic approach to problem solving and interacting with others in comparison to their White counterparts (Markus & Kitayama, 1994; Thomason, 2000). Given these findings, a focus on community offers a logical and optimal approach to working with ethnic minority populations.
Numerous research studies demonstrate the effectiveness of community-based and community-enhancing interventions among ethnic minority communities. Recognizing the belief among Native Americans that the treatment of ill or psychologically distressed individuals is a community issue, LaFromboise (1988) involved community groups in a wellness program and found this approach to be more successful for participants than other noncommunity-based programs. Similarly, several alcohol prevention programs developed specifically for the Native American community have shown greater success relative to traditional models of service (Rowe, 1997). For example, Edwards, Seaman, Drews, and Edwards (1995) developed a drug and alcohol prevention program for Native Americans based on community connectedness. Findings suggest that community efforts of healing and social responsibility contribute to improvement of social and behavioral problems. Guillory, Willie, and Duran (1988) implemented the Alkali Lake Band among a Native American tribe, which reduced its alcoholism rate from 95% to 5%. The authors stated that the basis of the program was “creating a community culture which no longer tolerated alcoholism as individual behavior, while concurrently revitalizing traditional culture” (p. 30).
A commitment to community allows psychologists not only to implement initial change in the context of communities but also to reinforce and sustain change through the participation of community members (Levine, 1998). Comer (1985) found in his development of full-service schools—schools providing family crisis intervention, social skills training, and specialized services for children and families in need of extra help, all with a focus on the local community—that the academic success of children, the morale of teachers and school, and the amount of community involvement in the school improved dramatically after several years. In this and similar full-service schools, community empowerment and parent involvement helped to sustain change even after grant money and formal interventions were withdrawn (Holtzman, 1997).
As evidenced by these studies, using the value of community offers a particularly effective approach to working with ethnic populations. Continuing such efforts will allow for a greater understanding of the complexity of such successes and how they may be replicated in future implementations. Furthermore, the interaction of community and psychological well-being is recognized by psychologists as the core framework by which all other interventions are envisioned and implemented. Only in concert with the powerful force of community might the continuing goals of community psychology be realized.
The challenges set forth at the Swampscott Conference in 1965 encompass a complex and challenging set of goals, undoubtedly more challenging than community psychologists might ever have imagined. As evidenced throughout this chapter, the process of integrating culture and social context into community psychology represents an evolutionary, fluid, and ongoing endeavor. Despite notable and undeniable accomplishments within the field, numerous challenges still face community psychologists in adequately addressing the needs of ethnic minority populations. Such challenges represent a real opportunity to build on the success of community psychology and expand the range of efficacy within the field.
One such challenge involves ensuring a more substantial commitment to ethnic minority interests within the community psychology literature. Researchers have argued that despite the field’s stated concern for ethnic minority populations, community psychology as a whole continues to exclude disenfranchised members of society from the community psychology research and literature base (Linney, 1990; Mulvey, 1988; Seidman, 1988; Serrano-Garcia et al, 1987). Almost half of the studies reviewed in Durlak and Wells’s (1997) prevention meta-analysis do not mention the race or ethnicity of the participants. Furthermore, Loo, Fong, and Iwamasa (1988) reported that 86% of community psychology articles failed to address issues of enhancing a sense of cultural identity among ethnic minority individuals. Moreover, Novaco and Monahan (1980), Arnold and colleagues (1999), and Bernai and Enchautegui-de-Jesus (1994) all suggested that despite community psychology’s stated commitment to collaboration and empowerment, a significant portion of the research literature targeting ethnic minorities fails to reflect these basic tenets.
Another concern is that African American and Latino/Puerto Rican groups, as a whole, represent an inordinately greater proportion of the existing literature targeting ethnic minorities compared to Asian Americans or Native Americans (Bernai & Enchautegui-de-Jesus, 1994; Nagayama Hall & Maramba, 2001; Sue, Sue, Sue, & Takeuchi, 1995). Despite this comparative discrepancy, findings by Bernai and Enchautegui-de-Jesus (1994) suggest that only 69 articles in the community psychology literature from 1973 to 1992 represent research targeting Latinos. Researchers argue that Asian American populations are often erroneously viewed as the “model minority” and consequently not the focus of intervention strategies and research efforts (Sue et al., 1995). Native Americans, on the other hand, may represent “samples of inconvenience” and consequently lack research attention by community psychologists (Trickett, 1997). These types of research omissions place ethnic minorities at risk for again becoming the recipients of nonexistent or ill-informed intervention strategies when they stand in need of appropriate services. Criticisms such as these alert community psychologists of the continuing need to reexamine their research efforts and goals, adapting their efforts accordingly.
Another future challenge involves a greater focus on intragroup differences within ethnic minority populations (Serrano-Garcia & Bond, 1994; Tnckett, 1996). Despite the apparent and significant diversity within ethnic groups, psychologists continue to examine ethnic minority individuals as if they exist as homogeneous entities, overlooking the subtle, or not-so-subtle, unique patterns and qualities evidenced by members within larger groups. Future research will need not only to examine these variations but also to determine how these differences lead to particular values, behaviors, and psychological well-being. Similarly, differences in acculturation, bicultural competence, and racial identity will demand further examination within ethnic subgroups to determine how this information may inform intervention strategies targeting particular members of ethnic groups (LaFromboise & Rowe, 1983; Moncher, Holden, & Trimble, 1990).
Efforts to increase and enhance culturally relevant research methods are also necessary for community psychologists to better realize their goals. Many researchers (Bernai, Bonilla, & Bellido, 1995; Hughes, Seidman, & Williams, 1993) maintain that community psychology as a whole has not demonstrated a notable commitment to the design of culturally anchored research strategies and methods. Sue et al. (1995) argued that internal validity has thus far overshadowed external validity, leading to inaccurate perceptions of ethnic minority individuals and inconclusive or erroneous support for the effectiveness of treatment interventions. This overemphasis on internal validity can be rectified in several ways. These include engaging in efficacy and effectiveness studies (Clarke et al., 1995), considering ecological factors that shape behaviors and the success of interventions (Bernai et al., 1995), and engaging in quantitative as well as qualitative research (Banyard & Miller, 1998; Hughes & DuMont, 1993; Jarrett, 1995; Jorgensen, 1989; Jensen, Hoagwood, & Tnckett, 1999; Watts, 1993). Research practices such as these reduce the tendency to generalize or make assumptions based on inadequate findings or inappropriate comparisons.
Several ethical issues remain at the center stage of debate among community psychologists. Serrano-Garcia (1994) discussed her belief that if community psychologists are sincerely committed to social advocacy and empowerment, they must examine the methods by which they themselves engage in inequities within the system. These inequities, she argues, are best examined through an identification of the disparity between what we as community psychologists embrace as our belief system in comparison to actual behaviors engaged in as researchers and individuals.
Ultimately, as a field, community psychology will need to remain steadfast in its commitment to the tenets described in this chapter. The idealism that marked the early stages of community psychology holds an invaluable and powerful resource; however, idealism is insufficient in the face of human suffering, and community psychologists need to remain accountable for meeting the challenges set forth by the field. Furthermore, they must recognize and acknowledge the impact of environmental factors on their own behaviors and subsequently avoid societal pressure to overlook and discount the needs of marginalized members of society. Toward this end, community psychologists themselves may benefit from securing a narrative, one that speaks to the experiences, observations, and realities encountered in the course of engaging in research with ethnic minorities. This narrative not only holds power to express the needs of many members of society presently unable to speak but also establishes a history for community psychology and a plan that adequately meets the needs of all individuals.