Thursday, April 18, 2013

How I fell into and then in love with Community Psychology

How I fell into and then in love with Community Psychology

Natalie Brown Kivell 

Image by Charlotte Prong Parkhill
When I think about my journey into the field of Community Psychology, it has felt almost serendipitous, however, my decisions that have kept me here have been quite intentional.

Throughout my undergraduate years, I had this image of  “success.” My ten-year plan was to attend clinical graduate school and to start my own practice. I would be able to not only help people, but also be my own boss, just like my dad! I stumbled into an introduction to Community Psychology class in my second year, and although it was not at this point that I became infatuated with the field, the moment my professor said something like “the principles and values within which I work permeate all areas of my life” really stands out to me. I thought, “that is it! That is what I want! Somewhere I can live and breathe my values both personally and professionally.”

Ultimately, it took more than a few powerful moments to knock me off of my well thought out 10-year plan. After completing my undergrad, and quite accidentally getting a few more CP classes under my belt, I planned on taking a year off and then applying to a Clinical Psychology program the following year. I was then given a fantastic opportunity to do a late application to the CP Master’s program at Wilfrid Laurier University (WLU). This was the moment I had to risk it all…I held my breath and I jumped in with both feet.

After that, I can say that I never looked back. Throughout my years in CP graduate school and beyond, I left my “plan” behind and engaged with every new opportunity that presented itself, where I could learn something new about CP or my community, help make an impact, or strengthen my relationships and network. My ignited passion for all things social justice propelled me to gain tangible experience in my community. I conducted my practicum at the Centre for Community Research, Learning and Action (CCRLA) at WLU. This was likely the moment that I realized the diversity of job prospects for a CP graduate outside of academia. I looked at the amazing past graduates working on diverse paths throughout my community and thought, you know what? We can be whoever we want to be!

So, I tested the waters with my professional network, and spent time brainstorming with family, friends, community leaders, and a couple of really cool mentors. We discussed what I should/could do next, and where I would be best able to have an impact in our Region now that I was the proud owner of a Master’s degree. Big risks had worked for me in the past, so I went for it again. Three months after graduating, I opened my own facilitation and community-based research consulting company called Common Thread Consulting. My business name resonates for me because my work is so diverse that it can often be hard to define who my clients are (non-profit, government departments, community groups), and what I do for my clients (research, facilitation, action, or any mix of these). So for me, the  “common thread” that I can pull through all of my work is linking my values with practice. My values, which I share and keep at the forefront with all of my clients and partners, are (1) collaboration and participation of all stakeholders in planning and decision-making, (2) inclusion and diversity, and (3) social justice in terms of understanding and addressing root causes of social issues, and working towards transformative changes.

I have now been doing this work in the Region of Waterloo for the past three years. Over these three years, every project I have worked on has felt brand new and exciting. Each client, whether a small government department, or a large poverty reduction agency in our community, has allowed me to work in collaboration with different levels of staff and their diverse external stakeholders to creatively address community needs using participatory facilitation methods and community-based research. Much of the focus of my current work is using strategic planning to help (or lightly nudge) organizations to challenge the “we have always done it this way” belief system, and transition into asking hard questions to help leverage change for maximum community impact.

My passions are poverty reduction, equal access to all levels of education (including university), as well as innovative and alternative forms of education. Most of my clients mandates fall within these categories, as they have become my area specialties, and what I am known for in the community. However, the work I do has included sustainability organizations, women’s organizations, outreach programs, leadership training organizations, media organizations, intergenerational work and much more. 10 years ago, as I started this journey I could never have imagined that this is where I would be. I did not know that “this” existed.

And so, I now consider myself a CP practitioner. I have made it to the end of the 10 years in my “plan” and I regret nothing. And dad, you should be proud… I am my own boss!


  1. Wow, what a great vigenette! As a psych major trying to decide what grad school path to choose, your post very much intrigues me. Thank you for sharing!!

    1. Glad to be of service :) Choosing grad school can definitely seem overwhelming. I have found that professors, other graduates and practitioners have always been really helpful and open to walking through options with me making it much easier to make decisions. If you have any questions feel free to contact me at or ask others on the practice council, or at your university. Good luck!

  2. Nice Article !! I really like it. You shared a really good information. Thank you and keep sharing.