Counselling Aotearoa October 2020
Mental health WoFs in the workplace
The day where Kiwis discuss their mental health like any other topic is one Niccy Fraser looks forward to.
As a NZ Association of Counsellors member who specialises in Behaviour Change, and works for Employee Assistance Programme Benestar, she’s helping reduce stigma one conversation at a time.
How? Through Benestar’s Wellness Warrant of Fitness Checks (or WoFs) that Niccy has been facilitating for Auckland BNZ staff, looking at their lives and work/life balance.
The words “wellness warrant of fitness checks” are intentionally chosen by Benestar to reduce stigma and invite staff to examine their mental health and wellbeing.
Using a visual diagram as a structure to work through, Niccy has adapted her own model from the acceptance and commitment therapy model.
Basically, one of the aims of the therapy model is to accept things that are outside of our personal control, and commit to value based actions that improves our lives, she says.
“That’s one of the philosophies that I’m using to guide the conversation. The structure of it is to look at what areas of people’s lives matter the most to them.
“It tends to be family, or an intimate partner in one sphere. Mental wellbeing in one, physical health in another, work in another, and then some people have spirituality, either wrapping around the whole circle, or maybe in the middle.
“And then also in the middle, I’ve got a balance between all of these aspects of their life.”
While the one-hour session is only a conversation starter, it is carefully thought-out one, nonetheless.
“I’ve had some very inspirational conversations, and people have responded very positively to it,” Niccy says.
“People are changing behaviours as a result of the WoFs. The conversation is a starting point for them to review their values, what’s important to them in the different spheres of their lives.
“It also puts their mental health at the forefront of their mind as opposed to many of us who are overly busy, often with work overload, particularly at the moment and rushing through life, just managing to fit everything in.”
Niccy’s conversations highlight a person’s current concerns, assessing how and why one’s spheres are out of balance, and how one might re-balance each aspect of those spheres.
Additionally, she’s teaching someone to listen better to what their mind and body’s warning signs are: “And it can build better life skills going forward, which is incredibly important.
“The feedback has been really great and reflects the reducing of mental health’s stigma. It was really welcomed for the topic to be openly talked about without any of the perceived repercussions many might have experienced in the past.
“It would be an ideal outcome if everyone spoke about mental health as if it were an everyday subject.
“We’ve all been through so much this year of COVID-19 where, we’ve all had to adapt really quickly to change our behaviours and then to live with anxiety that we’ve never had before.
“It’s an opportunity to make use of these types of resources in the workplaces.”
(BNZ offer traditional EAP services as well as proactive Wellbeing WOF’s, and Change Check-ins through Benestar to all BNZ people nationwide they also offer wellbeing support planning and people leader coaching from their in-house Wellbeing Business Partners.)
Mates helping mates helps prevent suicide
Construction industry workers around New Zealand are being given dedicated training in suicide prevention as part of a national roadshow.
The roadshow is visiting 34 towns and cities across New Zealand between September and early December.
The training is offered by MATES in Construction, an industry group established by the construction industry specifically to provide suicide prevention and mental wellbeing training to industry employees.
The construction industry has the highest suicide rate of any commercial sector in the country and industry workers are five times more likely to die by suicide than by an at accident at work.
MATES uses an evidence-based suicide prevention model that has the backing and active support of some of the biggest organisations in the construction industry.
MATES Chief Executive Victoria McArthur says the Mates programme is designed to encourage everyone in the construction industry to work together to actively support each other on and off site when work and life challenges become unbearable.
“Suicide is not just a mental health issue – many people feel suicidal because they feel their lives are unravelling.
“Family issues, workplace stress and anxiety, and financial problems, all play a large part in contributing to people struggling.”
She says the increase in demand for construction work in recent years, and the incredible pressures to meet deadlines while adhering to tight budgets have created a working environment that takes its toll on workers at an alarming rate.
She says what MATES does well is to address industry factors that contribute to the problems, so workers understand it is OK to talk about the issues that are creating their personal stress.
“We break down stigma, because this can act to prevent workers from seeking support or offering support to others.”
The roadshow’s suicide prevention training will cover the issue of mental health in the construction industry, what it looks like when a mate is struggling and what practical steps each worker can do to help.
NZAC President, Christine Macfarlane, says the concept of mates helping mates, which is what the MATES programme is about, is fantastic.
“It’s not easy for men to talk about their mental wellbeing, especially those working in a very masculine environment, so whatever MATES can do to make it less challenging for them to ‘open up’ to a mate is great.”
Some 7,198 construction workers have already been trained by MATES.
The programme also refers workers to specialist, professional support services where required.
Click here for more information about MATES in Construction.
Exploring NZAC’s Te Tiriti o Waitangi commitments
The New Zealand Association of Counsellors (NZAC) has taken it upon themselves to evaluate how well the organisation meets its responsibilities to Te Tiriti o Waitangi through a Tiriti o Waitangi audit.
Dr Moana Jackson, a Māori lawyer specialising in Indigenous rights, Te Tiriti o Waitangi and constitutional issues, suggested the audit to help progress further work towards meeting these responsibilities.
The NZAC Te Tiriti of Waitangi audit differs from most Te Tiriti o Waitangi audits, as the Association chose to do an internal audit rather than it being a requirement.
Te Tiriti o Waitangi audits are also most commonly done to ensure compliance to legislative requirements, whereas NZAC wished to explore how commitments to Te Tiriti o Waitangi itself are reflected by NZAC.
This includes a focus on both Te Tiriti provisions and Treaty principles.
“As a nation, our understanding of Te Tiriti has very much evolved,” states Dr Veronica Tawhai, a member of Te Ata Kura Educators who are the group undertaking the audit.
“So whereas our focus in the past has been on Treaty principles, which can be helpful in terms of modern day application, increasingly we are looking at Te Tiriti texts directly and strategies to fulfilling as much as possible the aspirations expressed in these provisions.
“The audit framework has been formed with this in mind.”
The audit framework subsequently includes a focus on Tiriti provisions such as tino rangatiratanga (Māori autonomy), taonga (treasures, both tangible and intangible), nga tikanga katoa rite tahi (same rights and customs), and how these are fulfilled by NZAC.
The audit is being conducted in two parts. The first part of the audit investigated how the provisions and principles are reflected in NZAC structures and policies.
The second part of the audit will investigate how these are reflected in practice and if there are aspirations among NZAC membership as to how overall Te Tiriti’s place within NZAC could be strengthened.
“The audit provides an account of how well the organisation is currently going in terms of Te Tiriti o Waitangi commitments, and therefore is an important resource from which NZAC can explore what future developments they may want into the future,” Dr Tawhai says.
The findings of the first part will be released later this year.
Abortion is not a new dilemma for counsellors
Counsellors working with clients struggling to make a decision regarding an abortion is something that the profession has needed to manage since its inception.
Modernising New Zealand’s abortion laws – a first in 40 years – to ensure it is now regulated under health rather than criminal legislation, doesn’t change that fact.
So says NZ Association of Counsellors Ethics Convenor, Sue Webb, who believes counsellors have the tools to deal with the matter in a professional way, despite any personal opinions.
“This is not a new dilemma for counsellors,” she says.
“Just because the legislation changes, it doesn’t mean a counsellor should change how they relate to someone who is wondering about an abortion or processing the experience afterwards.
“If counsellors feel they can’t work with someone on this issue, they have a legal obligation to refer the person to somebody who can.”
The NZAC Code of Ethics is clear that counsellors must abide by the law.
The new legislation states that any health practitioner, having a conscientious objection to providing contraception, sterilisation or abortion services – which would include counselling in relation to any of these – must inform the woman of their objection.
They must also then provide contact details of the closest available provider of the service requested.
The care taken in referring a client on to an appropriate counsellor is also covered by the NZAC Code of Ethics.
“You clearly need not to cause harm to the person and to act with respect towards them,” Sue says.
“A counsellor should tell them that somebody else would be better to work on this with them, in a way that doesn’t leave the client feeling disrespected, harmed or negatively impacted by the conversation.”
While there isn’t CPD or specific training in this particular area, Sue says the business of respecting the client and being open to their ideas about themselves and their choices is part of counsellor basic training.
“And this wouldn’t be the only topic that counsellors might have some struggles with.
“There are a number of counsellors for example who would find it difficult to work with people who’ve been sex abusers, or have been involved in perpetrating family violence.”
In her more than 10 years as the NZAC Ethics Committee Convenor, she is not aware of a single complaint about an inappropriate conversation with a counsellor, resulting from a request to discuss an abortion decision.
“At the end of the day, whether a counsellor is personally for abortion or against, it shouldn’t impact the acceptance and respect they show the client. They should have the tools at hand to provide the person with adequate and professional support. Counselling isn’t about having opinions and telling the client what to do, it’s about helping them to find their way to their own decisions.
“It’s my job to help the person to tease out the elements in their own decision making and work out what’s going to be best for them, based on their own values, circumstances and culture.
“The client, by and large, needs to become the expert on themselves. And the counsellor’s task is to help the client access and develop their own expertise.”
It is important for the general public to remember that counselling is not obligatory but the person’s own choice is. Additionally, counselling isn’t to be, and shouldn’t be, rushed either in making the decision, or in processing it after an abortion.
“It is a very significant decision which people need support in making and also processing afterwards. Because there’s often a time constraint, it’s easy for others involved to think that counselling can be quickly completed.
“My view is that it needs the time that it needs for the person to explore fully, both what their options are and what meanings their decisions will have for them in the long run.”
Zero Suicide Aotearoa
On the ground programmes like Mates in Construction are better proactive and practical examples of how to reduce suicide in New Zealand.
So says the NZ Association of Counsellors President, Christine Macfarlane, who believes the programme’s targeting of a traditionally “toughen up” industry by encouraging people to reach out will reduce deaths by suicide.
Her comments come off the back of the cross-party Mental Health and Addiction Wellbeing Group’s report Zero Suicides Aotearoa, released in July.
Comprising MPs from the Labour, Green, Act, National, and New Zealand First parties, the group aims to achieve cross-party dialogue to develop a collective vision about the future of New Zealand’s mental health.
While its “ideal future state” is zero suicides, the group’s immediate aim has five initiatives:
- The New Zealand national suicide prevention strategy Every Life Matters is implemented.
- New Zealand adopts a multilevel, holistic response to suicide prevention that also addresses the wider determinants of mental health and wellbeing.
- Evidence-informed suicide prevention interventions are delivered that target multiple levels of the system at the same time.
- Suicide prevention solutions are focused on life-promoting and strengths-based approaches to health and wellbeing.
- Many individuals, groups and sectors work collaboratively with one another to support initiatives that could help save lives.
“I think focussing on reducing deaths by suicide is really important, especially for New Zealand and our horrendously high suicide rate,” Christine says.
“And there are already a number of organisations, communities and individuals across the country collaboratively trying to speak to this.
“What they desperately need is extra government support for earlier intervention, to normalise the notion of speaking out is ok, and that mental health isn’t something to shy away from.”
Christine uses mental health advocate Mike King’s 1000 Letters report as an example of trying to understand those who are in pain, and how to help them before it is too late.
“It was controversial; however, it was crucial to developing our knowledge in a topic that a lot of people don’t understand,” Christine says.
“Coroner’s reports are great for gathering evidence when a person goes through all the right health channels, but not everyone will or will want to access those services. And it certainly can’t determine if a sudden death wasn’t caused by mental wellbeing or psychological issues.
“Striving to understand people and their decisions is important.”