Reducing symptoms of depression among Maori

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A new treatment manual developed as part of doctoral research could result in significant improvements and outcomes for Maori receiving treatment for depression.

Clinical psychologist Simon Bennett(Te Arawa, Nga Puhi, Kai Tahu) graduated today with a PhD in Psychology. His doctoral research included the development of a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy programme and manual adapted for use with adult Maori that was then successfully trialled with 16 Maori clients.

Dr Bennett says the trial found that the adapted therapy was effective in reducing depressive symptoms and increasing wellbeing, and in general the adaptations were positively received.

Clive Banks, a clinical psychologist at Rangataua Mauri Ora health service in Porirua who uses aspects of the adapted model in his practice, was one of Dr Bennett’s clinical supervisors during the data gathering aspects of his research. Mr Banks says the study is likely to create international interest.

“Simon’s PhD research and study have benefits at a number of levels. He’s done a good job of adapting behavioural cognitive therapy – which is a well established model – to make it more accessible for Maori,” Mr Banks says.

He says the study shows the model can be used effectively and have direct clinical benefits for Maori. “It also adds to the body of knowledge about cognitive behavioural therapy and validates Maori ways of working. It’s quite huge and I expect it will be noticed internationally.”

Dr Bennett received a Health Research Council career development award to help complete his doctoral research. He trialled his adapted therapy with Maori receiving treatment at Capital Coast Health’s specialist Maori mental health service, Te Whare Marie. The manual was developed in consultation with local and international literature and the recommendations of an advisory team made up of psychologists, kaumtua and other mental health workers.

It was while working at Te Whare Mrie that his ideas began to formulate for his research.

Psychology is a field where the scientific approach and empirical evidence is considered paramount. There is very little research in this area and one of the tensions that exists for clinical psychologists’ working with Maori clients is that processes integral to engagement with Maori, such as whanaungatanga, do not have an empirical foundation.”

The treatment programme Te huanga o te Ao Maori: Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Maori clients with depression integrates Maori concepts with the traditional Western strategies associated with cognitive behavioural therapy.

Key adaptations included the incorporation of principles articulated by Professor Mason Durie, in his books Mauri Ora and Whaiora. These include whanaungatanga (connectedness), sharing of whakapapa (genealogy), taha wairua (spirituality), utilising whakatauki or Mori proverbs in the sessions, involving whnau and use of te reo Maori.

The way we connect with one another as Maori is quite different than in a pakeha clinical setting.” As an example, Dr Bennett says sharing of whakapapa, and making a personal link with clients is generally discouraged in the traditional delivery of cognitive behaviour therapy. Psychologists are trained to have strong personal boundaries, and not give a great deal of personal information to the clients they work with. In the adapted programme, making connections is seen as an integral aspect of therapeutic process.”

Dr Bennett grew up just south of Whangarei and attended Tauraroa Area School where his parents were both teachers, and Bream Bay College. He began his psychology training at the Manawatu campus in 1995. He completed a Bachelor of Science majoring in psychology in 1999, a Postgraduate Diploma of Clinical Psychology and a Master of Science (Hons) majoring in clinical psychology in 2002 and is a member of the New Zealand College of Clinical Psychologists.

He is one of 12 Maori PhDs to graduate from Massey over the past six weeks, and one of more than 380 Maori to have graduated, almost 30 per cent with postgraduate qualifications.

He will be a guest speaker at a special ceremony to honour 14 of the 39 Maori graduating in Wellington at 10am tomorrow. The ceremony will be held at Te Kuratini Marae on the campus. It is an opportunity for graduates to celebrate and acknowledge the support of whanau, friends, University staff and council members.

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