My aim in this paper is to analyse community psychology and public health and distinguish between the two approaches. Community Psychology focuses on economic, environmental, political and social factors that influence the way in which people all over the world live their lives. It also touches on social factors that contribute or causes problems in various societies. Public Health on the other hand, according to Tutorial Letter 102/0/2014, is defined as being concerned with “preventing disease and distress” in the community as a whole, not just the individual, before they occur. It promotes healthy living and with the prevention of illness linked with lifestyle.
To compare these two concepts, one should first have a basic understanding of the origins and historical development of community psychology and public health.
Community Psychology are very much linked with the mental health reform movements in the USA. The three most important reform movements were; ‘Moral Treatment’, ‘The Mental Hygiene’ and ‘Deinstitutionalisation’. Each of these movements have led to the establishment of particular types of institution: In the Moral Treatment era, we got therapeutic mental hospitals, the Mental Hygiene era gave us Child Guidance Clinics and the establishment of Community Health Centers came in the Deinstitutionalisation era (Tutorial Letter 102/0/2014).
Public health, like community psychology, focuses on prevention of disease. It is defined as “the science and practice of protecting and improving the health of a community as by preventative medicine; health education; control of communicable diseases. It is increasingly becoming the leading structure through which all attempts to prevent injuries due to accidents and violence are designed and implemented.
With regards to both approaches in South Africa, it is no coincidence that the initiation of Community Psychology in SA and its beginning in the USA follow a similar pattern. In the wake of the social upheaval in both countries (the 1960’s civil rights era in the USA and the general political struggle against apartheid during the 1970’s and the 1980’s in SA), a growing reaction was expressed about how existing psychological service delivery maintained the status quo.
Lazarus and Seedat (1995) identify 4 main purposes that define community psychology within the South African context. Community Psychology is an agency to:
1) Extend mental health services to all citizens, and in particular, to the historically unserved, underserved and oppressed sectors of our society;
2) Transform the way in which the etiology and development of psychosocial problems is conceptualised and understood;
3) Include a contextual analysis that takes cognisance of social issues so as to transform the praxis of psychological service delivery to include prevention initiatives that strengthen the resilience and protective functioning of high risk and vulnerable...