Thursday, October 15, 2015

Diving Into The Unknown: The Story of Community Psychology

by Annisha Susilo, University of Massachusetts Lowell

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I used to be terrified of change and not knowing what comes next. I like to live by plans and certainty makes me feel safe. I think that’s what psychologist in the 1960’s probably felt like when they first started working in the field of community psychology. That was the image I pictured from reading the first chapter of “Community Psychology: Foundations for Practice” by Scott & Wolfe (2015) and attending my first class on community psychology.

Born to address and alleviate significant social issues (Scott & Wolfe, 2015), the field of community psychology took on huge a responsibility for facilitating social change. Additionally, it championed the importance of conceptualizing social issues from an ecological perspective and using strengths-based prevention strategies to address them. Gaining support for such approaches was not an easy task. Community psychology has had to overcome challenges such as gaining recognition and legitimacy, applying theory to solve problems in the field, and connecting research with field work (Scott & Wolfe, 2015). The discipline's emphasis on looking at problems in context, with all the messiness and multiple factors involved and then apply theory and research findings to solve them, is what most attracted me to this field.

As a recent graduate majoring in psychology, I had a very simple and straightforward vision of what psychologists do. Psychologists have clinical practices where they assess and diagnose patients and then, deliver appropriate treatment. However, the reality is much more complex than that. Through working with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) from different socio-economic backgrounds and institutions in Jakarta, I learned that there weren’t standardized methods of assessment and treatment that psychologists in my home country can use for children with ASD. Most of the assessments were translated but not validated for the Indonesian population. In addition, not every therapist working with children with ASD were trained in working with this population. As a result, it very difficult to provide a child with ASD the best assessment, diagnosis and treatment in Indonesia. But the problem does not stop here, since there isn’t any center for ASD and a lot of the clinics have a long waiting list, it is very difficult for parents to get information and resources regarding ASD. There is no government support, no easy access for resources, no funding for research. It’s a nightmare to a lot of parents and extremely difficult situation for those with few economic resources. Ultimately, children bear the brunt of these shortcomings; they can't get properly diagnosed, and as a result, are prevented from accessing appropriate treatment.  This is what drove me to pursue a master’s degree in community psychology.  I know that I’m not going to be able to make a change by working as a psychologist one-on-one with clients; there are too many families that need help and too many issues to take into account. I need to look at the bigger picture and find broader, more, systemic solutions.

The complexities of community psychology are not easy and its bit intimidating to be a part of this field but, I’m glad that the founders of community psychology didn't shy away from the challenges they faced early on. I hope that one day, with enough experience and knowledge, I can go back to my home country of Indonesia and provide much needed help to the ASD community there. This will be the first time I’m diving into the unknown. 


Annisha Susilo is a student in the Navitas program at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. She is currently enrolled in Dr. Christopher Allen's Introduction to Community Social Psychology course.


Scott, V. C., & Wolfe, S. M. (2015). Community Psychology Foundations for Practice. California: Sage.

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