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College of Arts & Sciences
Department of Psychology


Clinical-Community Program

USC’s Doctoral Program in Clinical-Community Psychology bridges the Psychology subfields of Clinical and Community Psychology. The program provides doctoral level training in understanding the causes of psychological well being and unwanted psychological conditions, and in what intervention strategies are needed to promote more positive lives for people.

We define health along a broad continuum of mental and physical well being that extends beyond the simple absence of pathology or disease. Our program places a particular focus on understanding the role of environmental influences on psychological well being, in part because of Community Psychology’s focus on the social causes of stress. We consider the integration of cultural factors into research and applied practice to be critical to the future of our nation’s health. The goal of the Doctoral Program in Clinical-Community Psychology is to educate doctoral students as Clinical-Community Scientists who are prepared to work in a range of roles and contexts. Students who wish to focus on applied practice work without a strong grounding in scientific approaches to their work are not likely to be satisfied in our program. Our training model provides: (a) training in research and research methods that help inform the planning or delivery of psychosocial interventions and (b) knowledge of how to develop and implement applied practices that are contextually appropriate and grounded in empirical science. Our program exists in the context of USC. as a Carnegie I research institution for its high research productivity and a Department of Psychology that is consistently one of the top departments on campus for extramural research funding.

A fundamental aspect of our training is that scientific principles and scientific approaches are a critical part of addressing societal problems. Basic research, applied research, translational research, dissemination research, and the implementation of this knowledge into routine practice through organizational change are keys to improving the human condition. Program faculty members predominantly have a philosophical orientation of critical realism. This philosophy means that theory and its ongoing evolution is a fundamental driving force for science. Essential elements to good science include the use of multiple approaches, multiple observations, the triangulation of research methods, and constructive criticism from others to refine our concepts and theories.

Objectives for our Training
Core objectives of our training that are part of general psychological science are for students to develop:

  • Critical thinking skills
  • An understanding of and commitment to cultural competence
  • Effective oral and written communication skills
  • The ability to provide and receive constructive criticism
  • A commitment to ongoing professional development
  • Effectiveness in professional interpersonal skills 

In addition, there are several areas of conceptual understanding that are important goals for the integration of Clinical and Community Science in our program:

  • A systems perspective that integrates individual and environmental factors. We encourage a systems viewpoint based on understanding individual factors, environmental factors, and their interaction. Examining person-environment fit is an important component of a systems perspective and is part of the philosophical roots of the Community Psychology approach. We teach students to consider multiple levels of analysis in understanding clinical disorders and people’s broader well being. Multiple levels include the individual-level, the small group-level such as family systems, and the large group-level such as institutions and communities. Understanding how this multi-level analysis can be used to plan psychological work is a unique feature of our program. 
  • Considering multiple points of intervention. Students in our program are taught to consider multiple stages of intervention, including prevention models, treatment models, health promotion, and maintenance-oriented intervention. 
  • Empirical demonstration using the strongest available data. A guiding principle of our training is that theoretically grounded and empirically guided intervention work is essential to our field. Researchers should be encouraged to consider the external validity of their research and the potential impact (effect size, clinical significance) that the variables they study have on people’s well being. Psychologists conducting intervention work, regardless of the setting, need to demonstrate the effectiveness of their work at either individual or group levels. This approach to intervention work requires understanding major models for the causes of human behavior, how to translate specific models into interventions, measurement issues (psychometrics), and scientific evaluation work (research methods, statistics, program evaluation). 

Our program can be used to develop a variety of unique areas of expertise in the field of Psychology; however, currently there are two major dimensions to our program: (a) Children, Adolescents, and Families and (b) Social and Cultural Aspects of Health. Faculty members often contribute to more than one area through their teaching and research. Students' interests also often intersect with both of these areas. Both of these areas are included in our department’s strategic hiring plan for new hires over the next three years.

  • Children, adolescents, and families. This facet of our program encompasses both developmental psychopathology and health promotion among youths and family. Thus, students learn about the developmental course of adaptive and maladaptive behavior as children mature into young adults, and the family and larger scale systems that impact this development. Students learn about factors that enhance well being, the precursors of psychological problems, and sources of resiliency. This area of work recognizes the goal of early intervention to prevent or reverse the precursors of psychological problems before the problem becomes more resistant to change. Although a range of biological, psychological, and social factors are important for child development, family and community systems are considered potent areas for intervention through mechanisms such as parenting skills, school environment, and organizational policies. 
  • Social and cultural aspects of health. This facet of our program develops the student’s understanding of health issues in relation to issues of race/ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, and other dimensions of diversity. The area emphasizes factors that create health disparities (including both individual and system-level challenges), the coping techniques that have helped some to remain resilient in the face of stress, and ways of reducing health disparities and promoting health at the individual, family, and community levels. We have a particular focus on the experiences of African Americans in relation to health issues, in part because of the history and current ethnic make-up of South Carolina.

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