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Community psychology builds bridge between social justice and mental health

October 24, 2018

Categories: Blog

Published: October 24, 2018

Bree Cook, Psy.D., explains why community psychology may be especially relevant to African-American students who want to study mental health.

 Two African-American boys from Baltimore were born a few blocks apart and within a year of each other. Both were fatherless, loitered on the streets with their respective crews, and had trouble with police officers. One grew up to be a Rhodes Scholar, a combat veteran in Afghanistan, and the author of the 2011 book The Other Wes Moore. The other became a convicted murderer serving a life sentence.

What may have led these two individuals to such drastically different outcomes?

This is the type of question those interested in Pacific Oaks’ bachelor’s degree in community psychology could examine.


Recommended Read: “What is community psychology?


“Traditional psychology, as a discipline, looks at what’s wrong with the individual and how we can fix it,” says Bree Cook, Psy.D., the vice president of academic affairs at Pacific Oaks. “Community psychology looks at all the other aspects of what contributes to an individual’s experience. For example, what’s the difference between a low-income black person in an urban community versus a black person that lives in a wealthy environment or who has generational wealth?”

Professionals in community psychology dissect issues such as whether a food desert contributes to one’s health problems, whether there is a correlation between a mother’s prenatal care and depression, how mental health disparities affect a community, and other questions such as these.

For students seeking to work with clients of color, this bachelor’s degree may be especially relevant. New analysis shows that African-Americans in their 20s, 30s, and 40s are living with, and dying from, diseases that were originally more common in an older, white population.

Finances and social conditions are the most common reasons for these chronic diseases going undiagnosed. But it’s not just physical diseases. Mental health issues are also a growing problem. According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African-Americans are 20 percent more likely to experience serious mental health problems—major depression; attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD); suicide, specifically among young African-American men; and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)—than the general population.

“Even using an example such as two people who grew up in the same neighborhood but their outcomes were different, community psychology looks at what’s gene-based and what’s physiological. Is the environment they grew up in making one more likely to have depression? How can we help prevent future instances like this from happening?”

In one sense, community psychologists become advocates. But unlike Pacific Oaks’ Advocacy & Social Justice degree programs, Dr. Cook confirms that community psychology focuses on health promotion and prevention instead of social justice curriculums.


Recommended Read: “5 traits you need to be successful in community psychology


For students of color, having teachers who look like them is critical. And Pacific Oaks makes a point of having a diverse faculty for students to get a variety of perspectives on education and social justice issues, whether in the bachelor’s degree in community psychology program or other psychology fields.

“Even in our Marriage & Family Therapy degree programs, our Latina/Latino Family Studies (LFS) and African-American Family Studies programs (AAFS) boast the highest retention and graduation rates at Pacific Oaks,” Dr. Cook says. “This college has a culture-centered education that is infused into the curriculum, and best of all, we’ve designed a cohort that looks like family. This is especially significant in African-American culture and Latin-X culture.

“While I would not want to make the comparison that Pacific Oaks has the same kind of culture-centered education as a historically black college or university, we do want our students to be exposed to and work with a diverse faculty the way many HBCUs do. Our LFS and AAFS programs commit to having at least 60 percent of our instructors be self-identified the same.”

Also, Pacific Oaks’ inclusive priority when it comes to multiculturalism is an opportunity for students of color—and students from the majority population—to have a chance to interact and learn from each other while preparing to study future clients from different backgrounds.

“Community psychology gives students the ability to understand various facets of psychology,” Dr. Cook says. Whether you want to be a police officer, work in advertising, become a case manager for the homeless, or work in the mental health care industry, this bachelor’s degree in community psychology gives you a good foundation for understanding a wider variety of people.”


Are you interested in learning more about community psychology? Visit our program page or fill out the information below to request more information.


Categories: Blog

For questions or comments on our news stories or releases, or if you are a reporter who would like to speak with an expert in education, human development, or marriage and family therapy, please contact Johanna Atienza at [email protected] or 626.529.8092.