What is Swampscott and Why is it Important?


It was an exciting time… They [Swampscott conference participants] wanted to intervene in social problems that were not explicitly mental health in nature, and that’s why they talked about becoming “social change agents” – a vision that was a sea change for American psychology.”

U.S. community psychology was founded at a conference in Swampscott, Massachusetts, 1965.


The conference spawned a new type of action-oriented psychology called Community Psychology.


Community Psychology became an innovative approach to research and practice, and quickly became a new field of study.


This field now includes a set of principles and practice competencies that have evolved to fit contemporary challenges.

How and Why Did Community Psychology Begin?

“Community psychology” in the U.S. emerged in the 1960s in response to the limitations of psychology in solving social problems.  Stimulated by the community mental health movement, early developments that led to the birth of the field included:

  • the action research of the Yale Psycho-Educational Clinic
  • the community-based Fairweather Lodge program
  • teaching children competencies, such as interpersonal social problem solving skills
  • early identification of children with behavior problems in the Primary Mental Health Project
  • the seminal workforce analysis done for the 1961 Presidential Commission showing an urgent need for prevention services

At the Swampscott Conference….

Thirty-nine conference participants came together to define how psychologists could impact social change and policy beyond psychological therapeutic interventions.  Annette Rickel, a former president of SCRA, described the purpose of conference as “…to delineate the education of psychologists for a role in community mental health. She noted that training in community psychology would emphasize “education for prevention, provision for innovative field training experiences, and the need to create a knowledge base for community psychology through research and evaluation”

Organizing Principles for Community Psychology Research and Practice

  1. Considering individual vs. systems change, including first order vs. second order change
  2. Understanding social ecological levels of analysis and intervention
  3. Focusing on wellness, strengths, and competence (vs. deficits and disorder), including an emphasis on prevention, resilience, and health promotion
  4. Valuing and promoting empowerment and social justice, including liberation from oppression
  5. Understanding human diversity and cultural contexts
  6. Advancing stakeholder participation, multi-level collaboration, and sense of community
  7. Developing empirically-based models for action
  8. Promoting theoretical and methodological pluralism

Competencies for Community Psychology Practice

Foundational Principles Ecological perspectives


Sociocultural and cross-cultural competence

Community inclusion and partnership

Ethical, reflective practice

Community Program Development and Management Program development, implementation, and management

Prevention and health promotion

Community and Organizational Capacity-Building Community leadership and mentoring

Small and large group processes

Resource development

Consultation and organizational development

Community and Social Change Collaboration and coalition development

Community development

Community organizing and community advocacy

Public policy analysis, development, and advocacy

Community education, information dissemination, and

building public awareness

Community Research Participatory community research

Program evaluation

Original Article: Tebes, J. K. (2016), Reflections on the Future of Community Psychology from the Generations after Swampscott: A Commentary and Introduction to the Special Issue. American Journal of Community Psychology, 58: 229–238. doi:10.1002/ajcp.12110

For More Information: 

Yale Psycho-Educational Clinic – Sarason, S.B. (1966). Psychology in community settings: Clinical, educational, vocational, social aspects. New York: Wiley.

Fairweather Lodge program – Fairweather, G.W. (1980). The Fairweather lodge, a twenty-five year retrospective (No. 7). San Franciso: Jossey-Bass

Teaching Children Competencies – Shure, M.B., & Spivack, G.(1978). Problem-solving techniques in childrearing. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Primary Mental Health Project – Cowen, E.L., Trost, M.A., Izzo, L.D., Lorion, R.P., Dorr, D., & Isaacson, R.V.(1975). New ways in school mental health: Early detection and prevention of school maladaptation. New York: Human Sciences Press.

Joint Commission on Mental Illness and Health – Albee, G.W. (1959). Mental health manpower trends. Joint Commission on Mental Illness and Health. Monograph Series No. 3, New York: Basic Books.

Swampscott Conference – Rickel, A.U. (1987). The 1965 Swampscott Conference and future topics for community psychology. American Journal of Community Psychology, 15, 511–513.

General Information on Community Psychology – Kloos, Hill, Thomas, Wandersman, Elias, and Dalton (2012), Levine, Perkins, and Perkins (2005), Moritsugu, Wong, and Duffy (2010), Nelson and Prilletensky (2010), Orford (2008).

SCRA (2012). The Community Psychologist, 45, 8-14.

By Jacob Kraemer Tebes with Ashley Simons-Rudolph

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