SectionsGovernment Just Doesn't Get It! Resources Placement Crucial to Transforming NZ's Mental Health, NZAC says Thought-Provoking Presentations Benefit Those on the Mental Health Frontline CPD Brings NZAC Members to the Fore as Mental Health Leaders Part 3: NZAC's Role Within a More Culturally Diverse New Zealand
Counselling Aotearoa June, 2019
Government Just Doesn't Get It!
The government has just demonstrated its lack of understanding when it comes to enhancing the mental wellbeing of secondary school students, the NZ Association of Counsellors says.
President, Bev Weber, says all the evidence points to the fact that school students trust and prefer talking to school guidance counsellors if and when they are dealing with emotional wellness and mental wellbeing issues.
“So, why is the government placing more nurses in schools as part of its Budget programme of reaching out to an additional 5,600 secondary school students?”
Ms Weber says school guidance counsellors are trained mental health professionals who operate in all secondary schools.
A major ERO report on school counselling surveyed over 700 students from different schools across the country.
The report showed that when it came to mental health, the clear preference from students was to talk to their school counsellor above anyone else.
“This is a preference expressed directly from the people at the heart of the issue, yet this government ignores that advice, thinking it knows best.”
Ms Weber says school guidance counsellors are in huge demand and under ever-increasing pressures because of the growing number of students presenting with emotional wellness issues – and the increasingly serious nature of those issues.
Guidance counsellors in some secondary schools are dealing with over 1,000 students, Ms Weber says, and managing issues ranging from drug and alcohol abuse and family violence to suicidal behaviours.
“I would have thought the prudent approach was to invest in a resource base that has already proven its worth, but I suppose it’s hard to label that approach ‘transformational’. It’s more ‘practical and sensible’ and that doesn’t attract media headlines.”
She acknowledes the Budget includes a $455 million investment in new frontline services.
“But if they take the same approach to those services as they’ve taken to enhancing services for secondary school students I really worry about the effectiveness of that investment.
“New Zealand dealing with mental health and emotional wellness issues need targeted, trained and qualified support, and counsellors are the right people for that job, particularly when working with people with mild to moderate issues.”
Resources Placement Crucial to Transforming NZ's Mental Health, NZAC says
Increasing access to publicly funded mental health services is crucial to addressing New Zealand’s wellbeing concerns, but where and when they are applied needs careful consideration.
That’s the message from the New Zealand Association of Counsellors, following the government’s response to the Mental Health and Addiction Inquiry report.
“Helping those who have mild to moderate and moderate to severe mental health and addiction needs is great,” says Association president, Bev Weber.
“But the government needs to ensure the right professionals are utilized in the right places at the right time to make the greatest difference for those in need.”
Ms Weber acknowledges there are no quick fixes for such a complex problem, but is delighted that 38 of the 40 recommendations have been accepted by the government.
Repealing and replacing the Mental Health Act is another good step, and she welcomes the news that government will establish an independent commission to provide leadership and oversight of mental health and addiction.
“[The commission] has to deliver practical, front-line services. It can’t just be another bureaucracy, so the devil is in the detail and we want to see real action.”
The inquiry estimated that specialist services should cater to 20 percent of the population who are estimated to have a mental health disorder each year.
“However, I do have some concerns about the other 80 percent of New Zealanders and their mental health needs who aren’t being catered for,” Ms Weber says.
“There is always work to be done to ensure everybody’s mental wellbeing is cared for.”
Ms Weber hopes the government’s announcement marks the continuation and improvement of crucial health services to New Zealanders.
“It’s really positive that this part of the process has been completed, this will be transformational for a lot of people.
“But the government cannot let up the momentum, they need to stay committed to helping New Zealand tackle its mental health issues.”
Thought-Provoking Presentations Benefit Those on the Mental Health Frontline
Doing what is right to protect a child while acting within the guidelines of the law is often easier said than done.
And at the Law for School Guidance Counsellors a varied assembly of legal experts shared practical insights on a range of issues to support those on the mental health frontlines.
Hosted at the Grand Mercure Auckland on June 12, NZ Association of Counsellors president, Bev Weber, said the more than 60 attendees were “energised” by the diverse range of issues including bullying, online incidents, how to respond to family dispute and court orders.
Ms Weber chaired the event, introducing seven speakers and facilitating questions from the audience who varied from school guidance counsellors, assistant principals, school chaplains and head of counselling.
The presentation from Netsafe’s Education Advisor, Pauline Spence, was one of the most insightful, Ms Weber says.
Digital devices are a part of young people’s everyday lives and the rapid uptake of digital technology in schools means schools are increasingly called on to support when challenges arise.
The session highlighted some of the risks, challenges and complexities young people face online, and an overview of current legislation around harmful online communications.
Ms Weber says the presentation’s practical framework for responding to such issues was particularly fitting as many of the attendees are increasingly helping young people with online related problems.
“I learned something from every presenter, and I think many of the attendees did too. If the robust discourse was anything to go by, and the palpable energy, it’s good to see so many people continue to be passionate about mental health.”
Simpson Grierson partner, Shan Wilson, shared discrimination legalities guidance counsellors need to know while Harrison Stone partner, Gretchen Stone, examined the guidelines assisting New Zealand secondary schools and the provision of good practice in pastoral care guidance and counselling.
Renee Mathews, clinical manager of LifeLine Aotearoa, focussed on the process helplines take during a suicidal risk assessment, what they can offer in the way of further support, and how they respond to different levels of risk.
Ms Weber says Daimhin Warner’s explanation about how the Privacy Act has been drafted and interpreted was a particularly thought-provoking presentation.
The director of Simply Privacy, a company which provides practical privacy solutions to business and government, said the Privacy Act recognises that agencies may need to share personal and health information to ensure the safety of data subjects or others.
But such a move can be difficult to make the call on what exceptions apply when to ensure that it does not create a barrier to keeping students and others safe.
Senior solicitor, Alex Winsley, highlighted the basics of a court proceeding and the process through which one prepares giving evidence.
This included instances when a counsellor can be called to give evidence, sometimes via pursuant to a summons, and the duties to the court and to the student required of the counsellor.
Quadrant Chambers barrister, Ian Telford, spoke to the family court experience - navigating parent separation, court and protection oders, as well as writing referrals.
“People I spoke to throughout and after the day said they found the event fascinating and hugely beneficial,” Ms Weber says.
CPD Brings NZAC Members to the Fore as Mental Health Leaders
Counselling plays an increasingly important role in New Zealanders’ mental health and wellbeing needs, so further strengthening counsellors’ professionalism within the sector is critical.
So says NZ Association of Counsellors National Executive member and Canterbury, West Coast Nelson, and Marlborough representative, Christine Macfarlane.
Since joining the Executive in 2017, she has largely focused on better supporting members’ professional development and enhancing the process through which they operate to the highest ethical standards.
When asked why, her answer is simple.
“We need to demonstrate to those who need us that we follow a much more robust continuing professional development programme, and secondly, that we are each independently audited to ensure our credibility and effectiveness.
“Not only does that ensure people can trust NZAC counsellors provide highly qualified, effective and professional services that actively address and find solutions to emotional wellness issues.
“It also means NZAC members will continue to be leaders in this space.”
Continuing professional development is a long-term goal that can often become constrained by the focus of addressing the short-term goals like any other industry association, Mrs Macfarlane says.
But for the Association to maintain its respectability and the highest standards of professionalism, she wants to ensure NZAC members make goals around their CPD and continue to develop their counselling practice.
In order to facilitate that goal, NZAC sought feedback from its members last year to determine any areas that could benefit from some refinements.
While the suggestions were varied, Mrs Macfarlane says many of them will be addressed by the Association’s obligation to promote to the public the value and professionalism that membership in NZAC denotes.
“We are working towards becoming more aligned with a Tiriti o Waitangi-based approach for developing structural equity for tangata whenua.
“This further strengthens our commitment to supporting and facilitating increased professionalism within the sector, but sometimes that can get lost. So, we’ll be promoting the Association’s initiatives more in future to make our members more accessible to the public.”
Part 3: NZAC's Role Within a More Culturally Diverse New Zealand
In the third of a new six-part series that explores the future of New Zealand’s counselling profession, Dr Margaret Agee of the NZ Association of Counsellors considers how the Association adapts to a multi-cultural society.
There has always been a need for flexibility and diversity within New Zealand’s mental health space, to better meet the unique needs of each person, family and community in ways that work most effectively for them.
And while there is much room for further development, New Zealand Association of Counsellors member and former senior lecturer in the University of Auckland’s counselling programme, Dr Margaret Agee, says diversity has come on leaps and bounds over the past 20 - 30 years.
She says there is now an increasing number of counsellors from a wider range of ethnic groups, immigrant and refugee backgrounds, as well as different faith communities.
“And that is, no doubt, hugely valuable for people in need of someone they can relate to; not just personally, but through a deep understanding and connection with the community that a client is coming from.”
Now more than ever, it is easier for people to seek help from counsellors who share the same set of beliefs, values, behaviours and traditions that inform their worldview.
Even if they cannot or choose not to seek help from someone with the same ethnicity or worldview, NZAC’s core principles should ensure that clients feel seen and heard, Dr Agee says.
“It comes back to the authenticity of those core conditions of person-centred counselling which create an effective therapeutic relationship – respect for the client, empathy, congruence and unconditional positive regard, which establish trust and connection.
“This quality of relationship acknowledges, values, works with and also transcends difference. Then it’s also important for effective counsellors to have a range of skills and strategies integrated into their work to enable them to meet the particular needs of clients.
“The diversity of the creative approaches that integrate indigenous and other cultural values and concepts is an exciting area of development.
“In fact, culture and ethics are integral to counselling and counsellors’ work, and will continue to be so as New Zealand becomes ever more multi-cultural. This is what good counselling is about.”
When seeking help and choosing a counsellor, it can be instinctive for people to look to others who are like themselves for a true sense of understanding and connection, in reality, sometimes people look for people who are not like them, Dr Agee says.
“People sometimes look for someone who are not part of their ethnic group or who are different from those they normally associate with, because they’re afraid of their privacy being violated, afraid of word getting round a small community, or feel ashamed of needing to seek help and concerned about what they fear the consequences might be if they go to anybody who might break confidentiality.
“People can seek help from a counsellor who doesn’t remind them of the people who they associate with toxic or traumatic experiences that have presented major difficulties in their lives.”
Young people also seek help not only from their peers but also from guidance counsellors in their schools or older people who may be mentor-type figures.
Regardless of how someone might be perceived, Dr Agee says the foundations of counselling remain consistent: And that is to enable a person to come into a counsellor’s space and “really feel met”, so that they can feel free to share themselves, what’s meaningful to them, their heritage and the resources they draw on.
“Culture and ethics have been integral to my around 40 years’ experience, and will continue to be so.
“Those are vital elements of good and effective counselling. In our interactions within the profession, all of us are enriched when the profession is more diverse.
‘And the more enriched every mental health related profession is, the more we will learn from one another, and the more we are also able to reach out to one another when we need to consult and need particular expertise about cultural dimensions that are significant in the work that we’re doing with our clients.”