Leonard Jason is a professor of clinical and community psychology in DePaul University’s College of Science and Health. He’s also the director of DePaul’s Center for Community Research. A DePaul faculty member since 1975, Jason’s research interests include chronic fatigue syndrome and myalgic encephalomyelitis, recovery homes, school violence and methods for prevention, smoking and methods for prevention, media interventions, children and media, and community building. He’s an editorial board member for the Journal of Community Psychology, the Journal of Prevention and Intervention in the Community, the Journal of Health Psychology, and Fatigue: Biomedicine, Health & Behavior. He’s the author of the 2013 book “Principles of Social Change.” Jason holds a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from Brandeis University and a doctorate in clinical and community psychology from the University of Rochester.
Most people think of psychologists in very traditional ways. For example, if you were to close your eyes and imagine one, there is a good chance you would think of a therapist.
My field is called community psychology, and it is a wonderful blend of psychology and sociology. It creates new roles and opportunities for psychologists by extending the reach of services to those who have previously been under-represented. It also focuses on prevention rather than just treatment of psychological problems and on actively involving community members in the change process. In a sense, we are like community organizers but specifically trained to be able to evaluate whether or not our social justice interventions are effective.
The field of community psychology focuses on preventing — rather than just treating — psychological problems. In fact, no condition or disease has ever been eliminated by focusing just on those with the problem. An impressive example of prevention occurred with community efforts to change the landscape of tobacco use over the past 50 years. Today, attitudes have changed toward tobacco use and there are substantially fewer smokers. Community organizations aided by community psychologists made important contributions to these efforts.
The community psychology approach shifts the power dynamic to a less hierarchical, equal relationship, as all parties participate in the decision-making process. Community members are seen as resources, who provide unique points of view about the community and the institutional barriers that might need to be overcome in social justice interventions.
Community psychology’s focus on social justice is due to the recognition that many of our social problems are created when resources are disproportionately allocated throughout our society, which causes social and economic inequalities such as poverty, homelessness, unemployment and crime.
It’s important that we as a society continue to look for transformative ways of solving social problems, and community psychologists are here to help.