SectionsPart 1: The Future of the Counselling Profession and NZAC's Role in it School Guidance Counsellors a 'Refuge' for Youth, new study says School Guidance Counsellors' Responses to NZAC Survey "Disheartening" Counsellors Well-Placed for Marijuana Law Reform Discussions Helping Families and Their Children Through Play
Counselling Aotearoa February 2019
Part 1: The Future of the Counselling Profession and NZAC's Role in it
Perceptions about counsellors’ roles within society are still shaped by the ‘last resort’ mentality.
However, clear parameters and direction can help mitigate the predated notion that counsellors are the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, Miriama Tolo says.
Taking the lead in that shift, she says, is the Association; ensuring people understand that counsellors should instead be utilised in earlier preventative measures.
“I do believe NZAC has those clear parameters, and we have room to tighten these a bit better.
“This could mean that the Association is an organisation that people will look to and ask if they are doing things right or seek guidance in how things should be done.”
While she says it is difficult to give an example of what needs improving, robust conversations with members and the profession – including others, like lawyers and doctors – are always a good place to start.
That’s where NZAC’s new and enhanced self-regulation process will prove beneficial, Ms Tolo says.
“I am excited about that [self-regulation] only because it means that we can have robust conversations, and it also means that we will all be on the same page.
“And whatever perception people have of counsellors will, I think, be changed by this collectiveness and enhancement of our profession.”
Supplementing the Association’s lead within the mental health sector is the priority it’s placing on New Zealand-based research.
Ms Tolo says New Zealand’s mental health organisations would be greatly better off it accesses data within the New Zealand context
“I’m looking forward to seeing more research driven by NZAC, or support others conducting New Zealand-based research, for the community because we miss the boat sometimes when we pick up other countries’ data.
“While we may have a lot of similarities with neighbouring cultures, we also have lots of differences. So, I’d really like to see that information coming into the community so they can access it and use it – I’m really excited by that.”
School Guidance Counsellors a 'Refuge' for Youth, new study says
This comes from the Young people’s relationships with school counsellors study, published in Counselling & Psychotherapy Research and authored by Auckland University, School of Psychology’s Karis Knight.
Twenty-two participants between the ages of 16 and 18 took part, describing their experiences with school counselling. Ms Knight, a registered counsellor who is completing a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology, says the research is an important mouthpiece for young people.
With New Zealand’s youth facing ever-more complex mental health challenges, Ms Knight says young people’s voices aren’t heard often enough. And what many are saying is that more resources are needed to ensure school guidance counsellors’ services continue to help them, she says.
The research identified five important aspects of a counsellor, student relationship; a genuine connection, being listened to, availability and accessibility of the counsellor at school, the counsellor’s belief in a person, and the counsellor’s potential to be an advocate for the young person in the school environment.
“’Refuge’ was a word that came up multiple times. For many young people who were going through difficult times, it didn’t always feel safe to be in the classroom or on the playground, or let friends or teachers know what was going on.
“So, the ability for people to just pop down to the school guidance counselling office – often teachers didn’t question that – it was a place that enabled them to keep coming back to school during difficult times.”
While Ms Knight couldn’t say if earlier intervention was important in relation to her study, she says that concept is crucial to youth mental wellbeing.
School guidance counsellors are an important and essential resource for both primary and intermediate, she says. “Younger people have mental health challenges or emotional stress too, so it’s important that our youth have the ability to access that care from someone who is qualified, who is safe, and have access to that care at an earlier stage so they aren’t going on to specialist services outside of the school."
“Also, it’s important to note that wider literature says young people are more likely to access care and the retention rates are more likely to be higher when the support is available where they live, not having to go some mental health service outside of their normal life."
“The research says that for young people – whether that be children or adolescents – it’s in the school.” To read the research in full, click here.
School Guidance Counsellors' Responses to NZAC Survey "Disheartening"
That is the assessment of NZ Association of Counsellors School Guidance Counsellors portfolio holder, Jean Andrews, following a survey conducted last year. One hundred and sixty-two counsellors responded to the survey; Ms Andrews says their comments make for “disheartening reading”.
Counsellors said they were seeing students with less resilience, higher risk behaviours, and a wider range of mental health challenges – all of which has hampered their learning and decreased school attendance. All but 13 of the 162 counsellors said their workload was increasing year on year. Experience of those who responded ranged from one to more than 10 years, and answered 20 questions.
Nearly 56 per cent said there was between zero and one full time counsellor at their school, while 38 per cent had between two and three. Almost all of them (90 per cent) said they couldn’t see all the students that they needed to within their counselling hours; 91 per cent said they have a waiting list. Waiting lists, for nearly 60 per cent of counsellors, lasted between three and seven days. One hundred and forty-six counsellors (90 per cent) said they needed more FTE’s to meet student needs.
“Counsellors who said they’re hitting the wall was a common theme throughout,” Ms Andrews says. “A, there is far too much work for them to cope with and B, these are very unhealthy kids facing complex issues like dire family circumstances, poverty, alcohol addiction, violence and abuse. There is a whole lot more children presenting with acute symptoms and not enough school guidance counsellors to deal with it.”
The Association has and continues to advocate for a far greater school guidance counsellor to student ratios – 1:400. This will relieve the workload on school guidance counsellors, allowing them to provide an accessible and more attentive service for secondary school students.
Ms Andrews says this survey proves once again that counsellors are under-resourced, to the detriment of themselves and – more importantly – students. “The government are turning a blind eye, and despite having done a review, we want to see some change. It’s not just about us coping, it’s about our young people who we can’t meet the needs of. Most young people we see are at risk and getting worse.”
Counsellors Well-Placed for Marijuana Law Reform Discussions
The binding New Zealand cannabis referendum will be held in the 2020 general election to determine the legislation of personal cannabisuse.
Leading up to this referendum, the NZ Association of Counsellors are well-placed participants in what is likely to be robust discussions in the mental health sector for a complex and potentially controversial issue.
So says NZAC member Dr Julia Sutherland, who adapted her PhD thesis into a book The Spell of Morpheus which details mothers and drug use in Dunedin and which discusses problems caused by current drug legislation. “Counsellors could take a leading role in society around these discussions, providing a platform through which accurate and clear information can be disseminated,” she says. “With our collective experience of counselling users of illegal substances and the problems encountered, we are well-suited to asking probing questions without getting caught up in the emotion of the argument.”
Cannabis is one of New Zealand’s most widely available illicit drugs in New Zealand; 12 per cent of used the substance to get high in the past 12 months. According to the NZ Drug Foundation, 80 per cent of New Zealanders have tried cannabis at least once by the age of 21, while 10 per cent develop a pattern of heavy use (Dunedin and Christchurch Longitudinal Studies).
Whether voters are willing to support the legalisation of the personal use of cannabis or not, Dr Sutherland says there is a need for education about the reality of harm of cannabis use and how this might affect counselling and other health practitioners in the future.
However, if personal cannabis use is legalised, the stigma of such use is likely to remain in some sectors of society.
Dr Sutherland says this could cause conflict in families and workplaces, until such use becomes more normalised. Minimising harm will also be a topic which will need careful consideration.
Despite the referendum’s result, Dr Sutherland says counsellors should begin to think about extra training to deal with particular scenarios.
“In our own profession, there needs to be discussion around how the change in legislation might affect us as counsellors, and try to foresee consequences that we haven’t yet thought about.”
Additionally, she says any conversation around drugs is a positive step towards mitigating the negative effects of New Zealand’s “war on drugs” and the tremendous cost to society of criminalising users of particular drugs, including cannabis.
Helping Families and Their Children Through Play
Sandtray Therapy is a form of expressive treatment, that can also be applied to adults, allowing the person to conduct their own microcosm using sand and/or miniature toys.
This ‘playing’ acts as a reflection of the person’s own life and provides them the opportunity to resolve conflicts, remove obstacles, and gain acceptance of self.
NZ Association of Counsellors member Christine Burch discovered the modality when completing her Certificate in Social Services, with a mind to becoming a social worker.
A lecturer, specialising in children and young people who was also a sandtray therapist, presented a case study of a young boy and his sandtrays. “I was blown away and walked out of the class knowing exactly what I wanted to do,” Mrs Burch said.
“I would complete the diploma in counselling and learn all about Sandtray Therapy, and how to use it, so I could work with children.”
Involved in the counselling field since 2008, Mrs Burch has always loved working with children and says it made sense to specialise in the modality.
“It connects with me in such a special way, with my clients too, probably because I didn’t often need to use words.
“Also, because I am dyslexic and very visual, this modality made it seem easy."
“Of course, it wasn’t easy, and I really needed to look at myself, so I could really sit with the children. But for me, this was also a method of learning for myself.”
Learning from Dr Charles Fishman about Intensive Structural Family Therapy, Mrs Burch became child specialist who works with the family.
It was the missing piece of the puzzle, allowing her to apply the creative expression process in a family context at Manukau-based Reconnect Family Services.
“I found that if you were able to help the family change their systems of care then the dynamics of the children changed.”
For two and a half years, Mrs Burch listened to countless upsetting stories from children, adolescents and parents – many of which shared a similar trend of abuse.
But assisting families to overcome the generational trauma has its rewards, she says.
“There is not enough awareness of how family therapy can change general issues, how it affects all aspects of family life, and then positively influencing the generation to come.
“More people should add Family Therapy to their skillset, because once you see how the family can change it will be imbedded into you counselling practise.”