Counselling Aotearoa April 2020
Reducing anxiety in the face of Covid-19
Staying connected with loved ones or the local outdoors are some of the most important things we can do to manage any anxiety during the Covid-19 pandemic.
So says NZ Association of Counsellors’ Te Ahi Kaa, Gay Puketapu-Andrews, who doesn’t just talk the talk.
“I absolutely do [follow my own advice], like setting aside time to do something physical. I love my yoga, walking along the beach, riding my bike or being in my garden.
“One really important thing for me during his time is staying connected to friends and family, throughout the various channels that are available to us.
“And I would encourage everyone to do the same.”
Another piece of advice is the issue surrounding media: limit your daily consumption, whether that be social media or daily news media as it could trigger anxiety.
“If people are exposed to some of the more difficult aspects of this pandemic, then it can really exacerbate anxiety and low moods.”
While these suggestions may seem like simple things to do, she says, they’re incredibly crucial to helping people through the monotony and anxiety of the lockdown.
Equally important to supporting people through this time is having a routine.
However, if these miss the mark for those with more acute mental wellbeing issues, counsellors – Gay says – are the perfect resource to help people devise more meaningful and personal coping strategies.
“We can help you find strategies to manage the things in your life that aren’t working.
“Counsellors understand that each person’s situation is unique to them. So, we’re trained to explore what works well for them, or help them adapt to a particular set of circumstances when they may feel disconnected to people and their community.”
Guidelines for managing students’ risk while in lockdown
Clarifying how Alert level 3 will look – potentially from April 20 – it was also imperative to clarify guidelines for managing risks to students while in lockdown.
A group of New Zealand Association of Counsellors members has developed messages for the Ministry of Education to distribute to schools in a time that is emotionally exhausting for many.
The guidelines suggest the lockdown is an opportunity to build resilience in all students/akonga, as well as a chance to focus on their wellbeing and can be based on the following:
- Connect, Me Whakawhanaunga
- Give, Tukua
- Take Notice, Me aro tonu
- Keep Learning, Me ako tonu
- Be Active, Me kori tonu
While social distancing rules still apply, technological advances mean people are still very much connected.
And it is through various mediums that messages of support can reach students.
Some schools ae funding the use of a dedicated mobile phone with an 0800 number where student and/or parents can text or call and leave messages for their school guidance counsellor.
But what is most important for schools, the guidelines suggest, is the need to have clear policies about who is responsible for monitoring student wellbeing.
“This must be a trained professional who is usually the school Counsellor or the Lead in Child Protection (referred to as School Lead),” it states.
“Students with moderate/severe mental health issues, ideally will be receiving care under Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services which will have policies and procedures as to how they are communicating and working with their clients, their whanau, school leads and counsellors.”
Equally as important is the need to support families, especially as the lockdown may present additional challenges for students with mental health needs.
The guidelines suggest a safety plan is a good method to try and cope in such a situation, and should be negotiated with the student, “so that they have a clear line of support available”.
However, for students who don’t have access to the internet, phone or means to contact supports, ideally, the school guidance counsellor or School Lead will have had a discussion with akonga about where/ from whom they can access support.
“In the case of not being able to clarify this with the akonga, relevant school personnel need to explore other ways that wellbeing can be monitored.”
Centralising NZ’s mental health system is the solution we need
Ensuring district health boards commission mental health services in line with a centralised model may go someway to improving New Zealand’s mental health, the NZ Association of Counsellors say.
The proposal comes from the National Party’s Health Discussion Paper, released late last year alongside others.
“National Party’s idea for a ‘centralised approach to the commissioning of mental health services’ is a good idea,” NZAC president Christine Macfarlane says.
“That will mean that the system doesn’t sit within the DHB, and won’t be hampered by addressing mental health issues through an inappropriate medical approach.
“Supporting someone who is coping with mental wellbeing issues isn’t like helping them mend a broken arm. So, if these contracts sit outside the responsibility of DHBs, there may be room for a holistic approach.
“Not only would a holistic approach benefit New Zealanders more greatly than the medical alternative, but it would also have a more profound and positive effect on Māori and Pacifica.”
One of the greatest challenges politicians need to overcome in addressing mental health is the disconnect between government departments, Christine says.
Much like a “Wellbeing Budget”, ministries’ initiatives need to consider the bigger picture, and how all of them combined may impact Kiwis’ mental health.
For instance, National Party’s Matt Doocey drive to form last year’s cross-party mental health group was a good step in the right direction.
But Christine hopes that this group – and in fact, all politicians – will engage more with the mental health workforce in developing and informing better strategies to tackling the issues.
This will mean more New Zealanders will have access to the care they actually need, rather than trying to navigate what is currently a fragmented system.
“We’re the ones on the frontlines trying to help people cope and manage their mental wellbeing issues.
“And like the global pandemic has shown us, health experts have proved an invaluable resource in helping the government combat the issue. So, use us in a similar vein.
“This is increasingly important as we deal with the fallout of Covid-19.”
Arletta van den Bosch: Being autism-friendly
In Arletta van den Bosch’s line of work, knowledge is power; not just for those she works with but for the community at large.
Because with knowledge comes understanding – the understanding of autism, the lack of support for those living with the condition, and the scarce number of autism-trained counsellors.
However, through the NZ Association of Counsellors – of which she is has been longstanding member – she started a group last year for counsellors working with children living with autism.
“Because one of the big problems that I find – which is also problem for all the families that we see – is that there is a lack of people who understand autism, and therefore a lack of support for those who live with it.
“In an ideal world, there would be a lot more people who are trained in this area. But at the moment, there is very little to no international and local training whatsoever done on the subject.
“So, this group – which I’m really happy about – is all about sharing of knowledge and resources, and sharing what we know works and what doesn’t. If anyone is interested in our ASD counsellors group, email me.
“And, maybe, hopefully in the near future, we can train some more people who work in this specialised field because there is just not enough of us.”
Born in Holland, Arletta hadn’t planned on becoming a counsellor, instead wanting to become a veterinarian.
“It happened to be very hard to become a vet, and over time I became more focused on working with children and animals.
“Then moved into working with people with children and teenagers, at similar organisations as Oranga Tamariki in the Netherlands for about 15 years.
“I think when I saw the children of the children I worked with, I thought I needed to do something more that really made a difference.”
An Integrative Child Therapist since 2003, Arletta had a busy private practice in the Netherlands for eight years, working with children from aged three upwards, and with their parents and caregivers.
As well as being a part time trainer/coach for students becoming child counsellors, she worked as primary school guidance counsellor, and was part of a professional network of specialists working with children who had attachment problems.
Completed a Masters in Autism Studies at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia in 2018, she specialised in anxiety, emotion regulation, social skills and overall best practice in supporting youth with Autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Having moved to the North Shore in 2011, Arletta is contracted as a Family Consultant at the Children’s Autism Foundation in Auckland, and has her own private practice.
Working with families on outreach visits, organising workshops on autism related topics and co-facilitating social and friendship skills courses for children and adolescents with high functioning autism and Asperger’s (mild ASD) – her work is strongly driven by a family approach.
Using Integrative Therapy allows her to work on aspects of a person that they are either unaware of, have not resolved yet, or are distanced from.
When working with youth people who have autism, I came to realise that a lot of the ‘normal’ counselling modalities do no work well, thus changing my practice quite a bit,” she says.
“Because that is something that usually doesn’t work very well. So, you have to adapt pretty much everything that you do; what you are doing in practice, how you do it, and at what speed. Even more focus is on working with those around the child.
“ASD is such a systemic issue that you can't do anything without working with families, parents and siblings, as well as schools, teachers and everyone who’s involved in that person’s life to develop strategies to help them manage and find their way through society. Because society isn’t very autism-friendly yet.”
However, there is one thing society can do to make her job easier, she says; being autism-friendly, or more appropriate – people-friendly.
Society finds it difficult to understand how the brain of people with autism works differently in their thought processing, she says.
And that can often translate into making a person’s life, who has ASD, more difficult than it has to be.
Schools with new their Flexible Learning Spaces are a good example of what doesn’t work well for lots of children with autism, due to the sensory differences.
But Quiet Hour – the offering of low-sensory quiet hours in some supermarkets nationwide – is a step in the right direction.
“Sensory-relaxed sessions in theatres, and sports and activities, are great initiatives. We work alongside many organisations to help staff understand the differences and how to best support them in making their place friendly for everyone.
“We’re becoming more friendly, more aware but we need to move faster to give people living with autism the same opportunities as anybody else.”