The Community Psychology (CP) program is unique in English-speaking Canada in offering MA and PhD programs in this field. The CP program has two primary research areas: (a) community health, mental health and well-being and (b) social justice and social responsibility. Within these two research areas, the approaches that program members use are value-based, action-oriented, and ecological in nature (focusing not only on the individual, but on the social, physical and community environment in which that individual lives). In both areas, there is an emphasis on the involvement of citizens in programs and policies that affect their lives, the promotion of wellness and the prevention of problems rather than treatment after problems have developed, and issues of power in working with marginalized individuals and groups. Particular research questions drive the selection of research methods, which might be qualitative, quantitative, or both, depending on the questions of interest. Program members also conduct evaluation research of programs in local, national, and international communities.
In the area of community health and well-being, faculty, staff and students in the program have worked on community-based prevention programs, such as the Better Beginnings, Better Futures project (Nelson, Pancer, Loomis), and the Family Wellness Project (Nelson). Also in this area, community psychology faculty (Mitchell, Nelson, Walsh-Bowers) and graduate students have initiated housing, self-help/mutual aid, and community support projects for people with physical, developmental and/or mental health challenges. A recently completed Community-University Research Alliance, “Taking Culture Seriously in Community Mental Health,” focused on creating change in the mental health system to make mental health services more accessible and sensitive to people from diverse cultural backgrounds (Ochocka, Nelson). A study related to health and well-being among gender minority (trans) Ontarians is also underway (Travers) as well as work to address colonial trauma and health inequities of Aboriginal peoples (Mitchell). The complexities of HIV is a new area of interest for CP faculty, particularly understanding the broader factors that heighten vulnerability to HIV for at-risk populations and the well-being of those already infected (Mitchell, Travers). Another area of research is focused on the implementation, adaption, on long-term sustainability of innovation and change initiatives within mental health and general health organizations (Riemer).
The theme of social justice and social responsibility reflects faculty and student research in culture, and sex, gender, and sexuality, as well as civic participation and policy. The need for culturally-sensitive, gender-sensitive, and sexual minority-sensitive approaches to service delivery and social change to overcome the marginalization of visible minorities and non-visible minorities is a prominent theme in the research of many individuals. CP faculty (Loomis, Mitchell, Nelson, Travers, Walsh-Bowers) and students have worked with community members to develop programs to prevent violence against women and sexual minorities, improve access to health care for women (especially immigrant women) and Aboriginal peoples, improve the well-being of sexual-minority youth, ease the transition to Canada of immigrants and refugees, and increase cultural competency among majority persons such as those working in social welfare organizations and businesses.
Promoting civic engagement and social responsibility is reflected in research on inclusion and community participation (Loomis, Pancer), youth development (Loomis, Pancer, Travers), and co-operative development, sustainability and impact on the environment (Riemer). This focus includes the study and development of community-based change both in regard to climate change mitigation and adaptation and is approached from an environmental justice perspective (Riemer). The research in culture, gender, sexual diversity and social and environmental responsibility has direct implications for social justice and policy (Loomis, Mitchell, Nelson, Pancer, Riemer, Travers).
The CP program is affiliated with and supports a new Centre for Community Research, Learning and Action. Students and faculty associated with the centre are dedicated to partnering with organizations and communities in the Waterloo Region to better understand and take action on community issues, such as poverty reduction. Centre efforts include research, evaluation, communication of information, consultation, outreach, capacity-building, and social action components.