Blog: A Vision for the Community Psychology Profession: A Vocation to Society

Photograph by Alain Frechette: CCO

Written by Sophia Druffner

This piece was originally published in The Community Psychologist (TCP)
Spring 2023 Volume 56 Number 2. Past TCP columns are available online, at

In 2018, under a glaring Kolkata sun, I sat in a folding chair next to a woman lying on a cot. The woman was clutching my hand so much so that our pulses seemed to beat together. Away from us, people buzzed, giving out food, making beds, and sitting with patients. But in all the busyness, this woman was dying. Her bag of urine was empty, her breathing shallow. Occasionally she would gasp and clutch my hand even more tightly. For three hours, I sat next to her, sometimes singing to her, sometimes sitting in silence. For three hours, I reflected on a system that took care of others but left this woman to die by herself. A few times, a nun came over to me– come, there are other things to do; she will not know. But no one should die alone. For three hours, I sat with her so she didn’t have to.

2018 was the same year that I found my vocation. On Vanderbilt’s website for the Community Research and Action PhD program, I read that, in the words of Dr. Doug D. Perkins, that a Community Psychologist, because of a varied and much-needed skillset, “might find herself… conducting research in a mental health center on Monday, appearing as an expert witness in a courtroom on Tuesday, evaluating a hospital program on Wednesday, implementing a school based program on Thursday, and organizing a community board meeting on Friday.” I screenshotted his words and posted it on my Instagram — “how did you know who I am?”

Vocation, from “vocare,” “to call.” In Community Psychology, I have found my vocation, my calling. To me, the calling is from the human spirit, asking for justice against the surrounding systems of oppression, asking to reveal its full potential. The practice of Community Psychology is a calling to develop a unique, interdisciplinary skillset so that one can partner with and amplify the voices of marginalized communities. It is a calling to understand, then change, the systems surrounding the individual to recognize the immense value at their center.

Since 2018, I have felt this call. Today, I am a first-year Ph.D. student in Vanderbilt University’s Community Research and Action program. Since beginning my coursework in August, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about how, at the center of big, complex systems is the individual, so tiny compared to the vastness of the interlocking cultural values and contexts around them. As we discuss transit, incarceration, education in our classes, I wonder how to best support this individual. How can I understand, then change, flawed systems to recognize the immense value at their center– the value of this human person? Especially when I am just beginning to acquire statistics and methodological skills to effectively analyze such systems, this is difficult work. But then again, it is sometimes difficult work to recognize the value of another, to hear the voice of the human spirit.

And it requires intense training. I must become proficient in multiple methods across a variety of disciplines and familiar with the literature of many fields. To do so, I must sacrifice other priorities and interests; after all, study is central to my development as a scholar. But in addition to a skillset, I must also cultivate a profound sense of humility. Humility is necessary to lay aside my own research priorities and align them with the desires of the community. “What questions are you interested in asking?” is a scary, but necessary start. How can I claim to try to recognize the value of the individual and the power of the human spirit if I do not first stop talking and listen?

Listening is the first step to countering oppression. I must listen, and remember that countering oppression means first tuning out the voices that tell me that the system is too entrenched— people experiencing homelessness don’t even want housing, anyway, and affordable housing is a myth—- and listen to the other one. And that is the still, small voice of the human spirit, telling me that there is value in my work— and yours. That our work as Community Psychologists is, in a way, a vocation from society and to each other.


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