Advent Case Study Analysis Psychology

Community psychology studies the individuals' contexts within communities and the wider society,[1] and the relationships of the individual to communities and society. Community psychologists seek to understand the quality of life of individuals within groups, organizations and institutions, communities, and society. Their aim is to enhance quality of life through collaborative research and action.[2]

Community psychology employs various perspectives within and outside psychology to address issues of communities, the relationships within them, and related people's attitudes and behaviour.

Rappaport (1977) discusses the perspective of community psychology as an ecological perspective on the person–environment fit (this is often related to work environments) being the focus of study and action instead of attempting to change the personality of individual or the environment when an individual is seen as having a problem.[clarification needed][3]

Closely related disciplines include ecological psychology, environmental psychology, critical psychology, cross-cultural psychology, social psychology, political science, public health, sociology, social work, applied anthropology, and community development.[4]

Community psychology grew out of the community mental health movement, but evolved dramatically as early practitioners incorporated their understandings of political structures and other community contexts into perspectives on client services.[5]

Society for Community Research and Action[edit]

Division 27 of the American Psychological Association is the community psychology division of the APA, called the Society for Community Research and Action (SCRA). The Society's mission is as follows:

The Society for Community Research and Action (SCRA) is an international organization devoted to advancing theory, research, and social action. Its members are committed to promoting health and empowerment and to preventing problems in communities, groups, and individuals. SCRA serves many different disciplines that focus on community research and action.[6]

The SCRA website has resources for teaching and learning community psychology, information on events in the field and related to research and action, how to become involved and additional information on the field, members and undergraduate and graduate programs in community psychology.


In the 1950s and 1960s, many factors contributed to the beginning of community psychology in the US. Some of these factors include:

  • A shift away from socially conservative, individual-focused practices in health care and psychology into a progressive period concerned with issues of public health, prevention and social change after World War II[2] and social psychologists' growing interest in racial and religious prejudice, poverty, and other social issues [7]
  • The perceived need of larger-scale mental illness treatment for veterans[3]
  • Psychologists questioning the value of psychotherapy alone in treating large numbers of people with mental illness[3]
  • The development of community mental health centers and deinstitutionalization of people with mental illnesses into their communities[2]

Swampscott Conference[edit]

In 1965, several psychologists met to discuss the future of community mental health as well as discuss the issue of only being involved with problems of mental health instead of the community as a whole. The Swampscott Conference is considered the birthplace of community psychology. A published report on the conference calls for community psychologists to be political activists, agents of social change and "participant-conceptualizers."[2]

Theories, concepts and values in community psychology[edit]

Ecological levels of analysis[edit]

James Kelly (1966; Trickett, 1984) developed an ecological analogy used to understand the ways in which settings and individuals are interrelated. Unlike the ecological framework developed by Bronfenbrenner (1979), the focus of Kelly's framework was not so much on how different levels of the environment may impact on the individual, but on understanding how human communities function. Specifically, Kelly suggests that there are 4 important principles that govern people in settings:

  • adaptation: i.e. that what individuals do is adaptive given the demands of the surrounding context. It is a two-way process: Individuals adapt to the restrictions, constraints, and quality of the environment, while the environment adapts to its members [8]
    • Examples: In regards to adaption of the individual, take for instance when an individual adapts to the demands of a new job, they adapt to that environment by learning or acquiring any necessary skills that they may need to perform their tasks well. On the environmental side of adaption, we can imagine various situations involving the family, such as the birth of a child, new job of a parent, or when children attend college and move away from home; in all of these instances the environment adapted as necessary to the changes in its members [9]
  • succession: every setting has a history that created current structures, norms, attitudes, and policies, and any intervention in the setting must appreciate this history and understand why the current system exists in the form that it does. This principle applies to families, organizations, and communities; further, an implication of noting and understanding succession in these units is that psychologists must understand the history of that unit (family, organization, or community) before attempting to implement an intervention plan [10]
  • cycling of resources: each setting has resources that need to be identified and possibilities for new resources to be developed; a resource perspective emphasizes a focus on strengths of individuals, groups, and institutions within the setting and interventions are more likely to succeed if they build on such existing strengths, rather than introduce new external mechanisms for change. There are personal resources which include individual talents, strengths, or specialties, as well as social resources such as shared norms, beliefs, or values; further, aspects of the physical environment can be considered resources, such as calm resting places, a library, and other qualities of the space in particular [11]
  • interdependence: settings are systems, and any change to one aspect of the setting will have consequences for other aspects of the setting, so any intervention needs to anticipate its impact across the entire setting, and be prepared for unintended consequences. When we look at a school, for instance, as a real-world example, the interdependent parts include: students, teachers, administrators, students' parents, faculty and staff (secretaries, janitors, counselors, nurses), board members, and taxpayers [12]

First-order and second-order change[edit]

Because community psychologists often work on social issues, they are often working toward positive social change. Watzlawick, et al. (1974) differentiated between first-order and second-order change and how second-order change is often the focus of community psychology.[13]

  • first-order change: positively changing the individuals in a setting to attempt to fix a problem
  • second-order change: Attending to systems and structures involved with the problem to adjust the person–environment fit

As an example of how these methods differ, consider homelessness. A first-order change to "fix" homelessness would be to offer shelter to one or many homeless people. A second-order change would be to address issues in policy regarding affordable housing.


One of the goals of community psychology involves empowerment of individuals and communities that have been marginalized by society.

One definition for the term is "an intentional, ongoing process centered in the local community, involving mutual respect, critical reflection, caring, and group participation, through which people lacking an equal share of resources gain greater access to and control over those resources" (Cornell Empowerment Group).[14]

Rappaport's (1984) definition includes: "Empowerment is viewed as a process: the mechanism by which people, organizations, and communities gain mastery over their lives."[15]

While empowerment has had an important place in community psychology research and literature, some have criticized its use. Riger (1993), for example, points to the paradoxical nature of empowerment being a masculine, individualistic construct being used in community research.[16]

In the 1990s, the support and empowerment paradigm (Racino, 1992)[17] was proposed as an organizing concept to replace or complement the prior rehabiltation paradigm, and to acknowledge the diverse groups and community-based work of the emerging community disciplines.

Social justice[edit]

A core value of community psychology is seeking social justice through research and action. Community psychologists are often advocates for equality and policies that allow for the wellbeing of all people, particularly marginalized populations.[2]


Another value of community psychology involves embracing diversity. Rappaport includes diversity as a defining aspect of the field, calling research to be done for the benefit of diverse populations in gaining equality and justice. This value is seen through much of the research done with communities regardless of ethnicity, culture, sexual orientation, disability status, socioeconomic status, gender and age.[3]

Individual wellness[edit]

Individual wellness is the physical and psychological wellbeing of all people. Research in community psychology focuses on methods to increase individual wellness, particularly through prevention and second-order change.[2]

Citizen participation[edit]

Citizen participation refers to the ability of individuals to have a voice in decision-making, defining and addressing problems, and the dissemination of information gathered on them.[2] This is the basis for the usage of participatory action research in community psychology, where community members are often involved in the research process by sharing their unique knowledge and experience with the research team and working as co-researchers. In contrast, citizen participation is sought by community developers and community planners (i.e., public administrators) to assure that governmental funds best meet the needs of local citizenry. Three key values of participation are: building support for governmental planning, raising political consciousness, and furthering democratic values.[18] Citizen participation in policymaking has a long history and has been particular strong in neighborhood action and poverty programs, and other activist-led initiatives.[19]

Collaboration and community strengths[edit]

Collaboration with community members to construct research and action projects makes community psychology an exceptionally applied field. By allowing communities to use their knowledge to contribute to projects in a collaborative, fair and equal manner, the process of research can itself be empowering to citizens. This requires an ongoing relationship between the researcher and the community from before the research begins to after the research is over.[2]


Psychological sense of community (or simply "sense of community"), was introduced in 1974 by Seymour Sarason.[20] In 1986 a major step was taken by David McMillan[21] and David Chavis[22] with the publication of their "Theory of Sense of Community" and in 1990 the "Sense of Community Index".[23] Originally designed primarily in reference to neighborhoods, the Sense of Community Index (SCI) can be adapted to study other communities as well, including the workplace, schools, religious communities, communities of interest, etc.

Empirical grounding[edit]

Community psychology grounds all advocacy and social justice action in empiricism. This empirical grounding is what separates community psychology from a social movement or grassroots organization. Methods from psychology have been adapted for use in the field that acknowledge value-driven, subjective research involving community members. The methods used in community psychology are therefore tailored to each individual research question. Quantitative as well as qualitative methods and other innovative methods are embraced.[2] The American psychological Association has sponsored two major conferences on community research methods[24][25] and has recently published an edited book on this topic.[26]


Education connection[edit]

Many programs related to community psychology are housed in psychology departments, while others are interdisciplinary. Students earning a community psychology degree complete courses that focus on: history and concepts of the field, human diversity and cultural competence, public health, community research methods and statistics, collaborative work in communities, organizational and community development and consultation, prevention and intervention, program evaluation, and grantwriting. Research is a large component of both the PhD and master's degrees, as community psychologists base interventions on theory and research and use action-oriented research to promote positive change. Further, students will generally find niches under faculty mentors at their institutions related to local programs, organizations, grants, special populations, or social issues of interest—granting students the chance to have practice doing the work of a community psychologist, under the supervision of a faculty member.[27] Many community psychologists will find clinical psychologists involved in their work in communities, and collaboration between academic departments are encouraged.

See also[edit]

Peer-reviewed journals[edit]

The following journals provide peer-reviewed articles related to community psychology:

  • American Journal of Community Psychology (Society for Community Research and Action (SCRA) journal)
  • The Australian Community Psychologist (Journal of the Australian Psychological Society)[28]
  • Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology (international journal)
  • Journal of Community Psychology (international journal)
  • Journal of Rural Community Psychology (e-journal)[29]
  • Psychosocial Intervention/Intervención Psicosocial (published in both Spanish and English)
  • Rivista di Psicologia di Comunità (Italian journal)
  • Global Journal of Community Psychology Practice (GJCCP)

In addition, there are a number of interdisciplinary journals, such as the Community Mental Health Journal,[29] with articles in the field of community health that deal with aspects of community psychology.


  1. ^Jim Orford, Community Psychology: Challenges, Controversies and Emerging Consensus, John Wiley and Sons, 2008
  2. ^ abcdefghiDalton, J.H., Elias, M.J., & Wandersman, A. (2001). "Community Psychology: Linking Individuals and Communities." Stamford, CT: Wadsworth.
  3. ^ abcdRappaport, J. (1977). "Community Psychology: Values, Research, & Action." New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
  4. ^Maton, K. I., Perkins, D. D., & Saegert, S. (2006). Community psychology at the crossroads: Prospects for interdisciplinary research. American Journal of Community Psychology, 38(1-2), 9-21.
  5. ^Levine, M., & Perkins, D.V. (1997). "Principles of Community Psychology (2nd Ed)". New York: Oxford University Press.
  6. ^Society for Community Research and Action (SCRA). Division 27 of the American Psychological Association. Retrieved on: February 5, 2008.
  7. ^Levine, M., Perkins, D.D., & Perkins, D.V. (2005). Principles of community psychology: Perspectives and Applications (3rd Edition). New York: Oxford University Press. (p. 64-69)
  8. ^Trickett, E.J (1972). Handbook of Community Mental Health. New York: Prentice-Hall Inc. pp. 331–406. ISBN 013377242X. 
  9. ^Kloos,, Brett; Hill, Jean; Thomas, Elizabeth; Wandersman, Abraham; Elias, Maurice; Dalton, James (2012). Community Psychology: Linking Individuals and Communities (3rd ed.). Cengage Learning Products. pp. 142–143. ISBN 1-111-35257-7. 
  10. ^Kloos, Brett; Hill, Jean; Thomas, Elizabeth; Wandersman, Abraham; Elias, Maurice; Dalton, James (2012). Community Psychology: Linking Individuals and Communities (3rd ed.). Cengage Learning. pp. 143–144. ISBN 1-111-35257-7. 
  11. ^Kloos, Brett; Hill, Jean; Thomas, Elizabeth; Wandersman, Abraham; Elais; Maurice; Dalton, James (2012). Community Psychology: Linking Individuals and Communities (3rd ed.). Cengage Learning. p. 142. ISBN 1-111-35257-7. 
  12. ^Kloos, Brett; Hill, Jean; Thomas, Elizabeth; Wandersman, Abraham; Elias, Maurice; Dalton, James (2012). Community Psychology: Linking Individuals and Communities (3rd ed.). Cengage Learning. pp. 141–142. ISBN 1-111-35257-7. 
  13. ^Watzlawick, P., Weakland, J., & Fisch, R. (1974). "Change: Principles of problem formation and problem resolution." New York: Norton.
  14. ^Zimmerman, M.A. (2000). Empowerment Theory: Psychological, Organizational and Community Levels of Analysis. "Handbook of Community Psychology," 43–63.
  15. ^Rappaport, J. (1984). Studies in empowerment: Introduction to the issue. "Prevention in Human Services," 3, 1–7.
  16. ^Riger, S. (1993). What's wrong with empowerment? "American Journal of Community Psychology," 21(3), 279–292
  17. ^Racino, J. (2000). Table 1.1 A comparison of the rehabilitation, independent living and support paradigms. (p.7) Personnel Preparation in Disability and Community Life: Toward Universal Approaches to Support. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas Publishers. at
  18. ^Wandersman, A. & Florin, P. (1999). Citizen participation and community organizations. (pp. 247-272). In: J. Rappaport & E. Seidman (Eds.), Handbook of Community Psychology. NY, NY: Kluwer Academic Press.
  19. ^Piven, P. (1972). Participation of resident in neighborhood action programs. (pp. 194-205). In: F. M. Lownberg & R. Dolgoff, The Practice of Social Work Intervention. Itasca, IL: F.E. Peacock Publishers, Inc.
  20. ^Sarason, S.B. (1974). The psychological sense of community: Prospects for a community psychology. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  21. ^McMillan, D.W., & Chavis, D.M. (1986). Sense of community: A definition and theory. American Journal of Community Psychology, 14(1), 6–23.
  22. ^Chavis, D.M., & Wandersman, A. (1990). Sense of community in the urban environment: A catalyst for participation and community development. American Journal of Community Psychology, 18(1), 55–81.
  23. ^Perkins, D.D., Florin, P., Rich, R.C., Wandersman, A. & Chavis, D.M. (1990). Participation and the social and physical environment of residential blocks: Crime and community context. American Journal of Community Psychology, 18, 83-115.
  24. ^Tolan, P., Keys, C., Chertok, F., & Jason, L. (Eds.). (1990). Researching community psychology: Issues of theories and methods. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
  25. ^Jason, L.A., Keys, C.B., Suarez-Balcazar, Y., Taylor, R.R., Davis, M., Durlak, J., Isenberg, D. (2004). (Eds.). Participatory community research: Theories and methods in action. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.
  26. ^Jason, L.A., & Glenwick, D.S. (Eds.) (2012). Methodological Approaches to Community-Based Research. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
  27. ^
  28. ^APS College of Community Psychologists: Publications. Retrieved on: December 29, 2007.
  29. ^ abSocial Psychology Network


  • Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). "The ecology of human development: Experiments by nature and design." Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Dalton, J.H., Elias, M.J., & Wandersman, A. (2001). "Community Psychology: Linking Individuals and Communities." Stamford, CT: Wadsworth.
  • Chavis, D.M., & Wandersman, A. (1990). Sense of community in the urban environment: A catalyst for participation and community development. American Journal of Community Psychology, 18(1), 55–81.
  • Kelly, J.G. (1966). Ecological constraints on mental health services. American Psychologist, 21, 535–539.
  • Levine, M., Perkins, D. D., & Perkins, D. V. (2005). Principles of community psychology: Perspectives and applications (3rd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.
  • McMillan, D.W., & Chavis, D.M. (1986). Sense of community: A definition and theory. American Journal of Community Psychology, 14(1), 6–23.
  • Moritsugu, J. (2009). Community Psychology (4th ed.). Allyn & Bacon, Inc.
  • Rappaport, J. (1977). "Community Psychology: Values, Research, & Action." New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
  • Rappaport, J. (1984). Studies in empowerment: Introduction to the issue. "Prevention in human Services," 3, 1–7.
  • Riger, S. (1993). What's wrong with empowerment? "American Journal of Community Psychology," 21(3), 279–292.
  • Sarason, S.B. (1974). The psychological sense of community: Prospects for a community psychology. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Trickett, E.J. (1984). Towards a Distinctive Community Psychology: An Ecological metaphor for Training and the Conduct of Research. American Journal of Community Psychology, 12, 261–279.
  • Watzlawick, P., Weakland, J., & Fisch, R. (1974). "Change: Principles of problem formation and problem resolution." New York: Norton.
  • Zimmerman, M.A. (2000). Empowerment Theory: Psychological, Organizational and Community Levels of Analysis. "Handbook of Community Psychology", 43–63.

External links[edit]

Case Study Method

Saul McLeod published 2008

Case studies are in-depth investigations of a single person, group, event or community. Typically, data are gathered from a variety of sources and by using several different methods (e.g. observations & interviews). The research may also continue for an extended period of time, so processes and developments can be studied as they happen.

The case study research method originated in clinical medicine (the case history, i.e. the patient’s personal history).

The case study method often involves simply observing what happens to, or reconstructing ‘the case history’ of a single participant or group of individuals (such as a school class or a specific social group), i.e. the idiographic approach. Case studies allow a researcher to investigate a topic in far more detail than might be possible if they were trying to deal with a large number of research participants (nomothetic approach) with the aim of ‘averaging’.

The case study is not itself a research method, but researchers select methods of data collection and analysis that will generate material suitable for case studies. Amongst the sources of data the psychologist is likely to turn to when carrying out a case study are observations of a person’s daily routine, unstructured interviews with the participant herself (and with people who know her), diaries, personal notes (e.g. letters, photographs, notes) or official document (e.g. case notes, clinical notes, appraisal reports). Most of this information is likely to be qualitative (i.e. verbal description rather than measurement) but the psychologist might collect numerical data as well.

The data collected can be analyzed using different theories (e.g. grounded theory, interpretative phenomenological analysis, text interpretation, e.g. thematic coding) etc. All the approaches mentioned here use preconceived categories in the analysis and they are ideographic in their approach, i.e. they focus on the individual case without reference to a comparison group.

Case studies are widely used in psychology and amongst the best known were the ones carried out by Sigmund Freud. He conducted very detailed investigations into the private lives of his patients in an attempt to both understand and help them overcome their illnesses. 

Freud's most famous case studies include Little Hans (1909a) and The Rat Man (1909b). Even today case histories are one of the main methods of investigation in abnormal psychology and psychiatry. For students of these disciplines they can give a vivid insight into what those who suffer from mental illness often have to endure.

Case studies are often conducted in clinical medicine and involve collecting and reporting descriptive information about a particular person or specific environment, such as a school. In psychology, case studies are often confined to the study of a particular individual. The information is mainly biographical and relates to events in the individual's past (i.e. retrospective), as well as to significant events which are currently occurring in his or her everyday life.

In order to produce a fairly detailed and comprehensive profile of the person, the psychologist may use various types of accessible data, such as medical records, employer's reports, school reports or psychological test results. The interview is also an extremely effective procedure for obtaining information about an individual, and it may be used to collect comments from the person's friends, parents, employer, work mates and others who have a good knowledge of the person, as well as to obtain facts from the person him or herself.

This makes it clear that the case study is a method that should only be used by a psychologist, therapist or psychiatrist, i.e. someone with a professional qualification. There is an ethical issue of competence. Only someone qualified to diagnose and treat a person can conduct a formal case study relating to atypical (i.e. abnormal) behavior or atypical development.

The procedure used in a case study means that the researcher provides a description of the behavior. This comes from interviews and other sources, such as observation. The client also reports detail of events from his or her point of view. The researcher then writes up the information from both sources above as the case study, and interprets the information.

Interpreting the information means the researcher decides what to include or leave out. A good case study should always make clear which information is factual description and which is an inference or the opinion of the researcher.

Strengths of Case Studies

  • Provides detailed (rich qualitative) information.
  • Provides insight for further research.
  • Permitting investigation of otherwise impractical (or unethical) situations.

Because of their in-depth, multi-sided approach case studies often shed light on aspects of human thinking and behavior that would be unethical or impractical to study in other ways. Research which only looks into the measurable aspects of human behavior is not likely to give us insights into the subjective dimension to experience which is so important to psychoanalytic and humanistic psychologists.

Case studies are often used in exploratory research. They can help us generate new ideas (that might be tested by other methods). They are an important way of illustrating theories and can help show how different aspects of a person's life are related to each other. The method is therefore important for psychologists who adopt a holistic point of view (i.e. humanistic psychologists).

Limitations of Case Studies

  • Can’t generalize the results to the wider population.
  • Researchers' own subjective feeling may influence the case study (researcher bias).
  • Difficult to replicate.
  • Time consuming.

Because a case study deals with only one person/event/group we can never be sure whether the conclusions drawn from this particular case apply elsewhere. The results of the study are not generalizable because we can never know whether the case we have investigated is representative of the wider body of "similar" instances

Because they are based on the analysis of qualitative (i.e. descriptive) data a lot depends on the interpretation the psychologist places on the information she has acquired. This means that there is a lot of scope for observer bias and it could be that the subjective opinions of the psychologist intrude in the assessment of what the data means.

For example, Freud has been criticized for producing case studies in which the information was sometimes distorted to fit the particular theories about behavior (e.g. Little Hans). This is also true of Money’s interpretation of the Bruce/Brenda case study (Diamond, 1997) when he ignored evidence that went against his theory.


Diamond, M., & Sigmundson, K. (1997). Sex Reassignment at Birth: Long-term Review and Clinical Implications. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 151(3), 298-304

Freud, S. (1909a). Analysis of a phobia of a five year old boy. In The Pelican Freud Library (1977), Vol 8, Case Histories 1, pages 169-306

Freud, S. (1909b). Bemerkungen über einen Fall von Zwangsneurose (Der "Rattenmann"). Jb. psychoanal. psychopathol. Forsch., I, p. 357-421; GW, VII, p. 379-463; Notes upon a case of obsessional neurosis, SE, 10: 151-318.

How to reference this article:

McLeod, S. A. (2008). Case study method. Retrieved from

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