Featured image caption: CaSP Members with Shalate Teffo of Dimphonyana Tsa Lapeng (far right) holding up the Tree of Well-being after the roundtable discussion on the importance of community collaborations
The aim of the Community and Social Psychology Division (CaSP) at this year’s congress was to encourage conversations about the concept of ‘community’ in the field of psychology research and practice, and thus to highlight the importance of relationship building between the various key stakeholders collectively responsible for promoting community mental health care and well-being intervention programmes.
Our division members participated in numerous individual presentations and panel discussions sharing some of the great work being done by psychologists and students in academic spaces to explore community needs and practices, as well as through various community-based engagements. We were also pleased to host two roundtables under the community psychology banner aimed at creating constructive, safe spaces for sharing stories of the successes and challenges of community-based work, thus opening dialogue about thorny issues such as power, funding, knowledge ownership, and ensuring the sustainability of projects.
With the theme of the congress being ‘listening with humility’, as a division focused on enabling multiple community voices to be heard in policy and programmatic planning we invited three guests from community-based organisations to contribute to the roundtable discussions. Mbongiseni Mdakane, a Unisa graduate student represented the Inside-Out Project, an interdisciplinary collaboration formed to generated knowledge about corrections-based experiences. As an ex offender himself, now trying to pursue a career in psychology, Mbongiseni shared his valuable experiences and the need for sustainable work on mental health and education with incarcerated communities. Our second invited guest, Cassey Chambers, the operations director at SADAG, explained how the organisation’s volunteer programme worked and outlined some of their needs including collaborations with universities to develop their voluminous data into researchable and meaningful findings about the state of mental health in the country. Both Mbongiseni and Cassey highlighted the need for mental health care professionals to look beyond only offering services in large cities and the dire needs for more education and prevention programmes in the communities. At the second roundtable, we were joined by Shalate Teffo, director at Dimphonyana Tsa Lapeng an NGO serving the Olievenhoutbosch community in Gauteng. Shalate spoke about the value of university-community partnerships and a meaningful conversation developed around better training of psychology interns to align with needs and realities of the hosting community-based organisation. It also emerged that there is often a confusion in community organisations around the different roles of the various professions such as social workers, registered counsellors and psychologists.
During the congress a table was set up at the exhibition area to grow a colourful ‘Tree of Well-being’ where delegates were invited to contribute their ideas on what ‘community well-being’ meant to them. Many mentioned the idea of ubuntu, collective caring and harmony in society as well as working together and opening more dialogue about healing and systems of support. The activity served to remind all delegates that no matter what specific discipline of psychology they were practising, the idea of serving the community and promoting collective responsibility for mental health is key. Student delegates and volunteers who contributed to the interactive Tree of Well-being and the roundtables stated that for them these activities brought theory into action and ignited their interest in community-focused psychology.
With a strong focus at this year’s congress on unpacking African psychology and the need for more decolonising knowledges to be integrated into mental health care policy and programmes in the South African context, the division’s role sought to bring community voices and ideas to the discussions as well as an emphasis on generating mutually-beneficial collaborations for the benefit of communities in the country. We look forward to continuing these dialogues next year through our various online platforms and division events.