SteveWhanau in Full Effect: Reflections On a Journey in the MH&A Workforce Space

I just returned from Single Session Family Consultation training in Melbourne, Australia! Those of you who have flown long-haul will know that navigating that kind of distance always provides long periods of time with little to do, waiting for planes and shuttles and queues to move – watching helplessly as the person in front of you opens their bag, spilling its myriad content everywhere in your path… Being a rather reflective type myself, I was totally stoked to have plenty of time to stop, to be still and to do just that - reflect!

My reflections took me to the realisation that I have now been in this role for about a year already.  Where did that time all go? I recalled being the new kid on the block, running around meeting a whole range of skilled up, dynamic people, all with STRONG opinions on how this thing called workforce ought to be done. GULP! I recalled learning this brand new model of care called SACAT.  I recalled being tasked to learn it FAST – and then to teach it!!  I recalled fronting some pretty tough meetings, explaining why there was no new resource for this thing called SACAT Ohhh myyyy!  I totally recalled the energy and the enthusiasm, the specialisation and dedication of some pretty stretched, yet totally creative individuals throughout the field that I have dealt with over the year and how awed and humbled I am to be working with these whānau…

And, of course, my reflections allowed me to gently meander back to the present.  To this place where people want to learn how to work with friends, whānau, family and significant others in order to build recovery in the communities that we serve… Building stronger networks that support recovery is, you see – at least from my perspective, the lynch-pin of the solution to the dilemma that we have in mental health and addictions – the dilemma of an aging and retiring workforce that will potentially leave the field even more under-served than it already is.

We need to build recovery networks through all of our communities.  We need to replicate the pervasiveness of the drugs market.  We need to be visible like dealers on the street, dispensing hope and wellbeing in place of chemical-dependency and melt-down.  We need to be open and honest and to talk the talk and walk the walk in our aspirations for a better world.  We need to inject positivity and connection, directly into the main-line leading to the heart of our communities.

That to me is what this is all about.  Single Session Family Consultation (despite the slightly distracting name) might provide a big step towards that aspiration.  The title is inaccurate, because the sessions are NOT a one off – or at least they don’t need to be.  It’s called a single session, because we may only get one opportunity to work with some whānau and we need to be prepared to do whatever we can within a single session.  Really, it’s more of a brief intervention that can be done over several sessions if need be, but our aim must always to be a complete session every time.

The session is designed to bring whānau together, along with whaiora to determine how everyone may work best to communicate well, to access whatever support the whānau thinks might help and to share information, expertise and aroha.  Sounds simple, right? Yeah – nah, it takes a bit to do all of that.

I took the approach that the whānau are the experts in all of this – after all, they’ve been living together all of their lives… The skills that I brought were simply facilitation, reflection and some big therapeutic-sounding words.  That’s not to take away from my expertise, but my role is just to be present and to, without judgement, hold the space to help that whānau to have that crucial dialogue and identify, their own ways forward.  That approach freaked some of the more structured types in the group out a wee bit, but it is simple, honest and straight forward and that’s what I am looking forward to running with back here.

There is a LOT of interest in both the Single Session Family Consultation and the 5-Step Family Intervention, both of which the Midland Region Mental Health and Addiction Network are supporting development of across the region.  I am looking to build whānau support hubs in each of the Midland DHB areas.  We envisage that over the next 2years the hubs will become centres of training, support and supervision networks for those who work with whānau.

As you can see, my reflections quickly become dreams, which in turn become ideas and then projects…. Projects such as these need the support and guidance of the communities that they seek to serve and therefore, naturally I will be happy to speak with anyone with an interest in this korero!

Naku noa na


Steve Neale - Workforce Planning Lead
Midland Region Mental Health & Addictions Network
HealthShare Ltd

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