New qualifications for three Tui Ora mental health (Oranga Hinengaro) staff add to their toolbox of health and wellbeing expertise.
- Brendon Whitmore has completed a professional certificate of Ecotherapy.
- June Sto. Domingo (above, on left) finished her post-graduate diploma in health sciences (Level 8) through Auckland University.
- Katrina McGregor (above, middle) achieved her post-graduate certificate in health science, specialising in perinatal mental health, through Otago University.
Brendon's study focuses on therapy that harnesses nature-based activities to address physical and mental health. "It's an approach that helps people remember they are part of nature not separate from it," he says. It fits well into the Te Ao Māori worldview of connection to whenua, community, unity and kotahitanga.
Brendon, a co-ordinator in the Activity Based Recovery and Physical Health Outcomes programmes, began his study in November 2019 and began training through a combination of online courses and a New Zealand workshop. He says there are eight attributes that people work towards in ecotherapy.
"Ecotherapy is really about connection with self, others and the natural world allowing attributes of connection to flourish optimising our nervous system and allowing us to remember that we are part of nature.
"When we do this, we are happier, vital, fully alive, have empathy, able to listen deeply, have lots of love to share and have an unshakable presence and quiet mind."
He says many Western practices disconnect people from natural surroundings and ecotherapy helps them understand the interconnection and the impact on health and wellbeing. As well as working at Tui Ora, Brendon is part of Tahi, a collective group of therapists https://tahi.life/team/(external link)
Showing humanity in practice
June has studied for six and a half years in New Zealand and jokes that she could have become a doctor in that time.
Arriving in New Zealand 12 years ago from the Philippines with a business management degree, the mother of two grown-up children, embarked on a pre-nursing course at WITT before completing the degree programme (three years) and then the post-graduate diploma in health sciences (two and a half years) through Auckland Uni.
She started at Tui Ora in October 2018 and works alongside Rose Taylor as a clinician in the Co-Existing Problems service, which supports people who are mentally unwell and at the same time use substances such as alcohol and drugs.
"I like the role because we can help whānau change things a little bit, step by step, which for them makes a big difference in their lives."
She says, "fancy names" are given to treatment, but at heart, it's about "being human and being respectful to each other." Finishing the post-graduate diploma will help to improve and enhance her nursing practice and the way that she delivers the mental health service for tangata whaiora.
June also trained as a massage therapist on different modalities but specialises in myofascial release therapy and sports massage. She worked for four years at Countdown supermarket, progressing from night filler through to checkout operator and into a managerial role.
Caring about mama and pēpi
Katrina says she's always had a keen interest in mental health, particularly peri-natal, and is aware of the lack of funding and services in this area, reinforced when she worked at Plunket.
"Suicide and psychiatric disorders are the leading causes for maternal deaths. Women often speak out about not being able to get help in that first year." Katrina is a consumer advocate in the Consumer Advocate and Peer Support service (CAPs).
"Research has shown that if pēpi have good attachment and experience during the first five years, and mothers and other whānau are helped with their attachment and mental health, then we would have fewer adults in future generations needing our services, which is a massive win in my eyes."
Since working at Tui Ora, Katrina's education has evolved from social work to health science papers. She has now completed post grad certs in social work and peri-natal mental health.
The latter consisted of two papers - introduction to peri-natal psychiatry and introduction to infant mental health.
"I was excited that this qualification covered both the mother and pēpi and during the block courses we looked at the wider whānau as well. We focused on what can help whānau and their attachment.
"Next year I am looking forward to starting study towards becoming a psychotherapist in interpersonal psychotherapy, which I am passionate about as I know it will be of great benefit."