How Am I Using Community Psychology? A Reflection on 6 Months on the Job

Danielle Gammell.JPG** This article originally appeared on the Community Psychology Practice Blog**

When I first was asked the question, ‘How are you using Community
Psychology at work?’ I thought to myself’ ‘Am I?’ This is something I’ve
particularly struggled with over the last year, having graduated in
May, 2010. It was a really tough transition for me, leaving an
incredible Community Psychology program (at UMass, Lowell)
where I had spent two years building strong networks, sense of
community and, perhaps most importantly, a great family of peers and
mentors. Despite all of that, financial and personal reasons brought me
back home.

Moving home was difficult mostly because I felt that I was hitting
reset. I did not have a community based in Community Psychology
(hereinafter referred to as CP), and I didn’t know anyone who even
understood what it meant. Anyone who has studied CP is most likely
familiar with the question, ‘What is that, exactly?’ This is a question I
get monthly. Well, perhaps more like weekly. The truth is, I have
learned to go from bemused to amused by my family and friends still not
fully understanding what I went to school for (three years after the
fact). I often overhear my family telling others ‘She studied Community
Psychology.. she’s like a Social Psychologist’ kind of like Sociology, I
think.’ So if no one around me understands it, how can I feel that I am
using it?

When I finally found a job after months of searching, I landed in the non-profit sector at Planned Parenthood.
I immediately thought, now this is exactly the job I’ve been wanting.
I’ll be implementing all kinds of CP values ‘ outreach and organizing,
educating and resource-sharing, collaborating with the community,
empowerment and consciousness-raising. This is the ideal setting, I
remember thinking. The reality of it was that I found myself working in
front of a computer the majority of the time. I was surprised with the
bureaucratic nature of our meetings and the precedence of fundraising
agendas over patient outreach. I was so consumed with our need for
funding that I couldn’t focus on anything else. I knew there was room
for’if not a need for’CP in our environment. Despite the dire times and
alarming threats to our organization, we were still working so hard to
maintain individual and community wellness. I realized I was struggling
with my lack of involvement with CP relations, while immersed in an
organization that exudes just that.

That’s when I finally realized what my graduate mentors had been telling
me for months: I had to bring CP to me. I had to create it in my own
environment, in my own ways. I started talking about CP values to people
around me; to members in my department, my CEO, our education
department and outreach coordinator. I started working on research
projects off-site where I could learn more about our constituents within
their communities. I started talking about volunteer opportunities and
advocacy within our younger communities. I attended the Society for
Community Research and Action (SCRA) conference, and signed up to write
for this blog. After that, I started feeling as though there were so
many opportunities available. All it took was talking about CP values,
our organizational needs, and what I’d like to bring to the table.
That’s when I realized I wasn’t allowing myself to feel empowered enough
to do it.

Once I regained faith in my ability as a Community Psychologist, I was
able to feel more useful. I realized that my previous experience with
qualitative research and empowerment-raising was not only something we
needed, but something that people were interested in hearing about. I
have also found that my interests and knowledge of community outreach
may be simple and common among a CP community, but in our organization,
they are seen as unique and innovative. With my experience and goals, I
am able to provide more resources and creativity to our already thriving
environment with just a little touch of Community Psych; something my
co-workers didn’t know they already had in them. For me, six months into
a job post graduate school, I was finally finding what I could offer to
my environment. And, well, to myself. As Eleanor Roosevelt once said,
‘You must do the thing you think you cannot do,’ and that, to me, is
what Community Psychology is really about.

Danielle Gemmell, M.A.
Planned Parenthood of NJ

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