Identity and community psychology : a study of psychologists and trainees in the Western Cape

Carolissen, Ronelle (2008-03)

Thesis (DPhil (Psychology))--Stellenbosch University, 2008.


The literature in psychology repeatedly hints at identity representation as important in transforming the discipline of psychology in contemporary South Africa. It simultaneously names curriculum, race and gender as areas of silence within the discipline. These literatures coexist with the reality that few psychologists work in public health services, where approximately eighty six percent of South Africa’s population who cannot afford private health care, receive their services. Community psychology is generally viewed as the area of study that prepares practitioners to work in public health service. Thus the intersections of identity, community, psychology and community psychology become important. Yet no contemporary studies that systematically and empirically examine community psychology and identity, exist in South Africa. The current study therefore aims to examine identity and community psychology from a multi-levelled perspective in the Western Cape Province of South Africa. This work draws on multiple theoretical strands, broadly united under a social constructionist framework, to examine community psychology in the organisation of the university, in terms of student and practitioner perceptions (and therefore constructions) of community psychology and in the everyday talk of psychologists about their professional identities. The four studies of which this project consists use complementary quantitative and qualitative methodologies. A survey of all psychology departments, combined with interviews with one community psychology teacher in each department, examines teaching, learning and research practices in community psychology. The second study constitutes a survey of all psychology Honours students in the Western Cape whereas the third study surveys the perceptions about community psychology among senior psychologists in the Western Cape. The fourth and final study in this series uses three focus groups where senior psychologists, based in the greater Cape Town area, talk about their professional identity. The quantitative data were analysed using the descriptive statistics of frequencies and cross-tabulations. The qualitative data were analysed using thematic analysis and discourse analysis as analytical tools. While the quantitative data do not consistently suggest a link between community psychology, race and gender, there are some areas, such as community work, in which this link is apparent. The nature of such a link is not clear. However, in the qualitative work, the link between community, psychology and identity is centrally situated in the constructions and practices of universities, students and practitioners. Community psychology is constructed as psychology for black people in terms of both who delivers services and who clients are. This represents parameters of inclusion and exclusion not only for community psychology but for psychology, as a whole. The implications of these findings are discussed, particularly in relation to organisational transformation in universities.

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