Communities and professional identities: South African women students’ accounts of Applied Psychology training

Jane Callaghan, Carl Walker (Editor), Katherine Johnson (Editor), Liz Cunningham (Editor)

Research output: Contribution to Book/ReportChapterpeer-review


In the period of reconstruction following the collapse of legislated Apartheid in South Africa (culminating in the first elections in 1994), pressure has been exerted on professions to restructure and reform themselves to provide services that are more appropriate for a South African context. In the first few years of the “New South Africa”, organised psychology responded in several ways: reorganising the professional bodies that regulate psychological practice; considering the notion of ‘relevance’ and questioning whether psychology required ‘Africanisation’; and through restructuring its training programmes in SA to make it more accessible and appropriate for the South African people. However, as the psychological establishment has at least nominally wrestled with the question of how to be more ‘relevant’, the intransigence of dominant models of psychology has become increasingly evidence. A particular feature of psychology’s attempt to wrestle with its crisis of relevance in SA has been to focus on notions of ‘community’, ‘community service’ and ‘community work’. In this chapter, I explore the way that notions of professionalism intersect with ideas of ‘the community’ and of community work, in ways that create complex and contradictory tensions for students engaged in the identity project that is professional psychological training. This chapter emerges from a doctoral project, focused on a critical consideration of the idea of a relevant and appropriate psychology (or psychologies) for a South African context. The aims of this project were achieved primarily through a consideration of the accounts of women students, interviewed in groups and as individuals, as they moved through professional psychology training programmes, over a period of three years. Of key interest to me in this process was the question of the way in which identities are formed and shift in training programmes, particularly in relation to the acquisition of an identity of ‘professional psychologist’, and the implications of this identification for other political and social identities
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCommunity Psychology and the Socioeconomics of Mental Distress: International Perspectives
Place of PublicationBasingstoke
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan Ltd.
Number of pages304
ISBN (Print)9780230275416
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2012


  • community
  • community psychology
  • discourse
  • mental health
  • professionalisation
  • professionals
  • psychology


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