Community psychology is a field of psychology that studies the link between individuals and communities with a view of preventing problems in the society rather than solving them after they have been exposed (Dalton, Elias & Wandersman, 2001). One of the goals of community psychology is to empower the psychological aspects of communities to form healthy functioning communities. Empowerment is a long-term process of learning and development in which people, whether as individuals, communities or organizations, gain mastery of issues that concern them. Psychological empowerment at the community level focuses on the process through which individuals work together in an organized fashion to master the collective issues affecting them. The individuals create links between community organizations to help prevent such issues from arising rather than intervening once they have affected one of them.
Psychological empowerment is carried out as a social action focusing on collective community change and capacity building. Community empowerment is a result of psychological empowerment. The members of the community have a higher level of psychological empowerment, and they can now participate in actions that push for redistribution of resources or in decision making for the benefit of the community as activists. Empowerment is viewed as a process that follows Keiffer’s four stages of development namely entry, advancement, incorporation and commitment to psychologically empower individuals and communities.
Era of Entry
This is the first progressive stage in the process of psychologically empowering individuals for active participation in forming healthy communities. This stage is characterized by a sense of conflict between the individual interests and the interests of the community. The activist experiences a sense of powerlessness in their efforts of being an effective participant in community development. There are three types of power, “power to” and “power from” and “power over” which can be gained during psychological empowerment (Dalton, Elias & Wandersman, 2001). “Power to” is the ability to pursue self-interest without putting into consideration the needs of the wider society. “Power from” is the ability to resist power wielded over an individual by others. “Power over” is the capacity to control or dominate others. The self-interests of activists are provoked during the process of psychological empowerment, and they have to continually battle within themselves to choose the type of power to exercise.
In the entry stage, a new activist is struggling to find out whether to fight for themselves using “power to,” fight for the community by leading resistance to the control of resources by others using “power from” or start dominating the community using the power they have over them. The sense of integrity they have makes the conflict worse because it cannot allow them to pursue their interests or use their power at the expense of others. Activists in this stage have a deep sense of injustice and are eager to participate in community forums to correct these injustices. The new activists are attached to the community and have the support of community members who see them as a source of hope. The sense of conflict on how to integrate this new-found power is the main characteristic of this stage.
Era of Advancement
In this stage, the new activist starts understanding the relationship between the social and political aspects of the society. They have access to mentors who provide a critical evaluation of the community’s position, and they can understand how to use their power in an integrative way to inspire change in the community (Dalton, Elias & Wandersman, 2001). They use their position of psychological empowerment to bring people together and build groups of empowered individuals who realize the power they have when they work together to build healthy communities.
Era of incorporation
When activists reach the incorporation stage, their leadership skills have developed significantly. They have integrated what they have learned throughout the entry and advancement stage to form a personal identity. There is a matured level of comprehension of the role of an activist in social change and community empowerment. The social power gained by bringing the people together and building loyal groups can now be used to voice opinions in community decision making as their leader (Dalton, Elias & Wandersman, 2001). As a leader, the activists develop survival skills to overcome challenges in their effort to empower members of the community to work together.
Era of commitment
The activist experiences a new sense of self, having gone through the three stages to become a fully empowered individual. A sense of personal awareness of one’s capabilities is formed. A shared vision of social change and liberation is fueled by a personal commitment to achieving it (Dalton, Elias & Wandersman, 2001). The power of communities working together to affect the outcomes of their daily lives becomes a reality as the individual grows from an uninvolved member of the society to a full-fledged activist.
The process of empowering uninvolved citizens to become activists takes
time. Empowerment is a long-term process of learning where individuals and
communities master the issues affecting them and learn how to control them. It
involves four stages namely entry, advancement, incorporation and commitment. Activists
start as uninvolved citizens who are conflicted between the self-interests
provoked within them and the knowledge of community interests that they should
help work towards. As they go through the
rest of the stages, they learn how to incorporate the conflicting ideas,
advance as activists and commit to their role as agents of empowerment. Psychological
empowerment leads to community empowerment. This
is because psychologically empowered individuals can spearhead community empowerment programs from within.
Dalton, J. H., Elias, M. J., & Wandersman, A. (2001). Community Psychology: Linking Individuals and Communities. Belmont, CA, US: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.