How The Community Fosters Growth: Integrating Positive and Community Psychology

Updated: Nov 3, 2021

Our focus at BecauseYOU is that the power of community can have a deep impact on the mental wellbeing of a person. This is a research article talking about the leading edge of psychology today. Click here to find out more about our upcoming programs.


This is a special two-part series. Read Preeti's blog on Positive Psychology.




Positive Psychology is amongst the most popular buzzwords in the academic circles in Psychology, and for good reason. In brief, Positive Psychology is a redirection of the dialogue towards human strength, potential, and growth. It is the scientific study of helping human beings be the best versions of themselves. Based on extensive research, it's been used to alleviate mental illnesses, foster growth, and enhance wellbeing and health.


In recent times, there have been efforts to integrate Psychology’s star performer, with another subfield called Community Psychology – a theoretical orientation that views human beings as deeply embedded in their sociocultural ecosystem.


Community Psychology holds that an individual cannot get better unless their community aids this process. Hence, the effort has been to extend the virtues of Positive Psychology beyond the individual, to the community. In doing so, research and practice in Positive Psychology can be contextualized to effect system-level changes.

Some theorists have drawn parallels between individual wellbeing, and how this is embedded in the community. The community sets the context within which individual wellbeing can be achieved – well-functioning communities can provide the structure necessary to pursue individual and group values. Using the strengths of a community to empower it to flourish and function can have a beneficial impact on the individuals within the community.


Integrating Positive and Community psychology has implications for policymakers and public strategy. For instance, years of research have established the impact of ‘relative depravation’ (the perceived disparity in resources), as opposed to ‘absolute depravation’ (the objective disparity in resources). So, reducing the perceived gap in how the rich and poor live their lives has a direct impact on subjective wellbeing, as is seen in the case of many developed countries that have higher subjective wellbeing quotients than lesser developed countries where relative depravation is higher. Taking into account the impacts of such systemic factors that have a direct impact on mental health and wellbeing can aid the building of community spaces that are conducive to the wellbeing of its people. In addition, even general community health promotion can be better geared towards wellbeing by incorporating positive psychology into various aspects, including implementing health-enhancing public policies (better employment opportunities, anti-discriminatory laws), building supportive environments (setting up community centers and freely available mental health services), strengthening community action (participatory research, media campaigns), and reorienting health services (postpartum depression screening) to enhance health.


There have even been some preliminary empirical studies that have carried forward the agenda of integrating Community and Positive Psychology. One such study in Hong Kong attempted to increase the wellbeing of people and prevent the development of mental illnesses in its most densely populated and poor neighborhoods. A fundamental barrier to such a mental health awareness and mental illness prevention program is the culture of Hong Kong which makes many negative associations with mental illness. Here, the tenets of Positive Psychology plated a role, and instead of focusing on ‘decreasing mental illness’, the interventions focused on ‘increasing strength’ through promoting gratitude, hope, and open-mindedness in the families. What makes this study unique is its recognition of the crucial role of the community in the effectiveness of an operation that aims to change the core values of people towards mental health and wellbeing. So, the research employed ‘Community-Based Participatory Research’, emphasizing a sound partnership of community members and academic partners in every aspect of the research process – this meant that the community members were themselves involved in the research process and in deciding what outcomes were meaningful for the. The intervention, implemented on 1734 participants, recorded a significant enhancement of family health, family happiness, family harmony, and individual health, while promoting happiness in the family, and creating more opportunities for family communication – all of these directly correlate to increased wellbeing, and improved health.


The future truly is interdisciplinary and lies at the crossroads of combining the strengths of various disciplines and approaches for optimizing the collective human experience. In keeping with this spirit, integrating Positive Psychology and Community Psychology is a step in the right direction.

The scope for promoting Positive Psychology in the community space is immense. The community holds the power to heal and grow. Founded on a strong base of empirical research and guided by empathy, this largely dormant power, is ready to be harnessed.


References

  1. Appiah, R., Wilson‐Fadiji, A., Schutte, L., & Wissing, M. P. (2020). Effects of a Community‐Based Multicomponent Positive Psychology Intervention on Mental Health of Rural Adults in Ghana. Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being. doi:10.1111/aphw.12212

  2. Kobau, R., Seligman, M. E. P., Peterson, C., Diener, E., Zack, M. M., Chapman, D., & Thompson, W. (2011). Mental Health Promotion in Public Health: Perspectives and Strategies From Positive Psychology. American Journal of Public Health, 101(8), e1–e9. doi:10.2105/ajph.2010.300083

  3. Schueller, S. M. (2009). Promoting wellness: integrating community and positive psychology. Journal of Community Psychology, 37(7), 922–937. doi:10.1002/jcop.20334

  4. Zhou, Q., Chan, S. S., Stewart, S. M., Leung, C. S., Wan, A., & Lam, T. H. (2015). The effectiveness of positive psychology interventions in enhancing positive behaviors and family relationships in Hong Kong: A community-based participatory research project. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 11(1), 70–84. doi:10.1080/17439760.2015.1025421

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