Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

More Than Research and Ruble: How Community Research Can Change Lives (Including Yours and Your Students')

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

More Than Research and Ruble: How Community Research Can Change Lives (Including Yours and Your Students')

Article excerpt

The purpose of this article is to share lessons learned about engaging students in community research. In this article, I discuss lessons I have learned from engaging students in community psychology projects. Several strategies are provided for fostering the research process and community-based research. The strategies outlined are based on my experiences having taught at a large research university, as well as present experiences teaching at a liberal arts college in a professional school of psychology. In this article, I also highlight experiences that have helped shape the way I think about and approach community-based research.

I was on a recent trip to Japan to collaborate with churches and communities affected by the earthquake and tsunami. One of the pastors we met with shared a quote from a survivor he had recently visited. She said, "Every time you come, a piece of rubble is removed from heart." Experiences like this have had a significant impact on me both personally and professionally - and remind me that community-based work is more than research and rubble. In this article, I will share experiences from working with diverse churches and communities around disaster mental health issues, as well as from my experiences having taught in two very different settings.

Previously, I taught at a large Southern research university (The Southern Mississippi University). I now teach in an APA-accredited clinical Psy.D. program at a Christian liberal arts institution (Wheaton College). Overall, I want to highlight how I have sought to foster community-based research with students. The lessons that I share come from several years of trial and error. Most of the insights I offer I have learned from listening to my students and from colleagues who have been gracious to answer my questions about the very topic I write. Before moving into the more "how to" sections of this article, I want to add a caveat - I am still learning. My hope is that sharing some ways in which I have attempted to foster student research, as well as some examples, will allow other researchers and practitioners to decide whether these examples are applicable to their experience and setting. Thus, below I share some of the experiences that have helped shape the way I think about and foster research.


I have heard it said that all research, to a degree, is autobiographical. Though perhaps not always true, in my case, this probably rings true. However, in many ways, I am an unlikely researcher. School work, even in elementary levels, had always been challenging. I was often placed in remedial reading classes. I did not do much better in subjects besides reading. I especially struggled with math and English courses, some of which I barely scraped by with a passing grade. I was a first generation college student who was clueless about how the system of higher education worked when I first entered it.

I grew up in a small rural farming community (a village according to census data). I can remember going to monthly gatherings at the community center to listen to bluegrass with my family and most of the town. Neighbors were anyone who lived within two to three cornfields of your land. Friends were often neighbors, so relationships tended to be determined more by geography than other social factors. Because there were few resources, I also learned that being a part of a community meant helping those in your community.

However, looking back, I can see how both the community I grew up in and the people whom I have encountered have continued to influence my research. One particularly influential person was an English professor from the junior college (within driving distance of my home town) in which I enrolled after high school. That professor encouraged me not only to read, but also to write. Fast forward to graduate school. I still did not have much interest in doing research. Statistics did not come easy for me, and it took me years to develop that skill set. …

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