What can The Handmaid’s Tale teach us about intersectionality in institutional life?

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale focuses on women living in a theocratic totalitarian regime in a newly created dystopian, pronatalist society called Gilead. The regime attributes declining fertility to women’s rights, same sex relationships and an environment damaged beyond repair, which it solves with  the creation of a society predicated on women stratified into their biological destinies to reproduce (Handmaids) or to fulfil household obligations in the private sphere (Marthas). The women are all white, and the story is told through Offred, the plucky white narrator enslaved in a white male supremacist society, where all the people of color have been banished to ‘the colonies'(we are also left uncertain about whether this includes indigenous peoples).  Margaret Attwood doesn’t need to attend to characters of color in the book because in a matter of sentences we already know that they are not included in this new world. This lets Attwood off the hook for engaging with with characters of color in the novel. However, critiques of the book from an intersectional perspective have noted that the narrative banishment comes to extrapolate white women’s experiences as representative of the experiences of all women, even though many of the exploitative and cruel mechanisms to curtail maternity and bodily autonomy used on the white women were used specifically against women of colour in actual North American history that underpins the life of the author and the novel. Or were used on enslaved Africans in the United States including public lynchings and being named after their owners.

The television version attempts to address the invisibility and exclusion of the book where people of color were banished or exterminated. People of colour are visible on screen, as loving husbands, loyal running mates, a daughter, a housekeeper.  The women of color characters are dispersed through the stratified roles of Handmaids or Marthas which also assumes levels of social mobility. But these characters are merely backdrop cardboard cutouts, holograms, one-dimensional, devoid of depth in this white supremacist tale. Characters like Luke and Moira don’t get to explore their racial identities, much less how religious totalitarianism would specifically affect their racialised experiences. In ignoring racism, the show misses an opportunity to show how racism would manifest and evolve in a puritanical theocracy. In the show, The Handmaid’s Tale assumes that racism has been solved or that it is trumped by gender in the cause of preserving fertility. But there is a lost opportunity to consider ‘racist sexism’, that is how policies and practices that discriminate against women, also discriminate in different ways against racialised women. It also fails to acknowledge that America has always been a dystopia for people of color or that American dystopia is founded on anti-Black violence.. It appears on the surface that all subjects other than the commanders and their wives are treated in much the same way as each other. Seemingly the biblical rules of law are applied equally for transgressions. But Bastien asks: 

Are white Commanders and their wives really okay with having a handmaid of color? Is there a caste system for handmaids of color in which some are considered more desirable than others? Do Commanders of color have the same privileges as their white counterparts? If Gilead is meant to imagine a possible future for America, how could deeply entrenched racial dynamics disappear?

In this color-blind, post-racial idyll, there are people of color, but they are hollow and we know nothing about them, past or present. Evan Narcisse suggests it is like the comment made when you’re a non-white person in a predominantly white institution: “When I look at you, I don’t see a marginalised/minority person, I just see a person.” Although meant kindly, in its unmarked privilege it erases the fact of your difference and what it means to inhabit your body and your life. Whiteness is still the unacknowledged default. As Stephanie Brown observes, the men in power are white, as are most of the women. It’s important though that we care about all of this in real life, not just as fiction, as Berlatsky notes:

Because fictional tyrannical dystopias are primarily envisioned as affecting white people, it can be harder to see negative policies that oppress others. At the point where the fictional metaphor matters more than the current reality, something’s gone terribly wrong.

Several critics suggest that The Handmaid’s Tale represents a failure of intersectionality. The term ‘intersectionality’ originates in African American theorising and activism, and is most commonly associated with work by Kimberle Crenshaw and Patricia Collins. It describes how systems of oppression are viewed as interlocking. Therefore, attempts to dislodge one axis of oppression will impact on another. Globally, the term intersectionality is being appropriated as a way to activate attempts to address issues of under-representation in institutions without reverting to a single focus lens on issues such as gender, race, class, or sexuality. Intersectionality provides an understanding that identities can be simultaneously privileged and marginalised, depending on social context. Consequently we are all interpellated differently by racism and sexism through a ‘matrix of domination’ (Collins, 1990).  For example, I can be a migrant woman of color who is marginalised through sexism and racism, but I am also privileged through class position, education, able body and heterosexuality. 

Intersectionality is being introduced into diversity initiatives in Universities and is gaining momentum in the Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths and Medicine disciplines (STEMM) disciplines. Intersectionality is seen as a strategy  for addressing the barriers to success and to widen and increase participation by women, working class, indigenous and ethnic minority groups, in order to leverage a diversity dividend. The use of an economic metaphor valorises innovation and economic competitiveness, rather than attempting to address a pressing social justice. Metaphors to account for inequities and the underrepresentation of groups in STEMM disciplines include the old boys club, the glass ceiling and the leaky pipeline. These metaphors also guide the strategies developed to address these failures of inclusion and their limitations. Merely creating a pipeline and applying force to propel people forward does not guarantee an increase numbers (Núñez, 2014). In the case of a pipeline, we know that it leaks at various stages and is still designed for an implicit ideal input, consequently women and ethnic minorities are more likely than white men to leak out. We also know that the leaking is progressive, so the farther along the pipeline, the fewer these groups are in number (Clark Blickenstaff*, 2005). Merely focusing on increasing or diversifying the supply hides the real issue which is at the ‘demand’ end of things, that is, the organization and the need for it to change (Riegle‐Crumb, 2009, p. 4). Similarly, the metaphor of the glass ceiling assumes the barriers facing marginalised groups are a one dimensional insurmountable barrier experienced at the ‘top’, when in fact marginalised identities experience discrimination and ‘hurdles’ throughout their careers (Husu, 2001, p. 177)Instead the analytic of intersectionality is being vaunted as an antidote to under-representation.

Diversity management is fast becoming a feature of the public image of the corporatised entrepreneurial academy. Standing in for structural or organisational change, diversity risks reproducing the issues I’ve identified in the screen version in the Handmaid’s Tale. Damon Williams suggests there are several political, social and economic imperatives for Universities to respond to diversity. In its place in the knowledge based global economy, it must respond to changing demographics and meet the need for creative and capable students and also demonstrate the viability and vibrancy of diversity. The diversity management strategies it employs range from access and equity; to creating a multicultural and inclusive campus climate; enhancing domestic and international diversity research and scholarship and preparing students for a diverse and global world (Damon Williams, p.19). However, the emphasis on diversity as a way of increasing numbers and improving Human Resources, is often not supplemented with an explicit engagement with the systems of power and inequality that structure the processes of knowledge production. Consequently, the white, elite and middle class structures and structural arrangements that reproduce inequality remain both invisible and intact (Dill & Zambrana, 2009). The neoliberal assumption of an asocial and ahistorical individualised world of meritocracy, means sometimes ignoring racism and sexism (Ong, Wright, Espinosa, & Orfield, 2011). Unmarked white, masculine values and norms instituted through colonial processes of political, cultural, and military dominance favor dominant epistemologies which claim universal truths that overlook social locations and identities (Carlone & Johnson, 2007).

The Handmaid’s Tale is being flagged as a universal wake-up call, about a white feminist dystopia. But as critics note, this ‘feminist’ rallying point ignores enduring prior calls by indigenous and women of color and is a failure of intersectionality. The assumption of a post-racial, ahistorical world limits the possibilities of imagining alternative futures for people of color, in a time of Turnbull, Trump, Macron and Trudeau. Similarly efforts in academia to engage with ‘diversity’ without attention to intersectionality and attending to systems of power and inequality, risks positioning people of color as economic resources who are mere backdrop in a white supremacist institution.

      Refs

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Using forum theatre to facilitate reflection and culturally safe practice in nursing

Unpublished manuscript for those who might be interested. Cite as: DeSouza, R. (2016, July 16). Using forum theatre to facilitate reflection and culturally safe practice in nursing [Web log post]. Retrieved from: http://www.ruthdesouza.com/2016/07/16/using-forum-theatre-for-reflective-practice/

High quality communication is central to nursing practice and to nurse education. The quality of interaction between service users/patients and inter-professional teams has a profound impact on perception of quality of care and positive outcomes. Creating spaces where reflective practice is encouraged allows students to be curious, experiment safely, make mistakes and try new ways of doing things. Donald Schon (1987) likens the world of professional practice to terrain made up of high hard ground overlooking a swamp. Applying this metaphor in Nursing, Street (1991) contends that some clinical problems can be resolved through theory and technique (on hard ground), while messy, confusing problems in swampy ground don’t have simple solutions but their resolution is critical to practice.

Rocks Philip Island
Rocks Philip Island

Australian society has an indigenous foundation and is becoming increasingly multicultural.In Victoria 26.2 percent of Victorians and 24.6 per cent of Australians were born overseas, compared with New Zealand (22.4 per cent), Canada (21.3 per cent), United States (13.5 per cent) and The United Kingdom (10.4 per cent). Australia’s multicultural policy allows those who call Australia home the right to practice and share in their cultural traditions and languages within the law and free from discrimination (Australia Government, 2011, p. 5). Yet, research highlights disparities in the provision of health care to Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) groups and health services are not always able to ensure the delivery of culturally safe practice within their organisations (Johnstone & Kanitsaki, 2008).

An important aspect of cultural safety is the recognition that the health care system has its own culture. In Australia, this culture is premised on a western scientific worldview. Registered nurses (RNs) have a responsibility to provide culturally responsive health care that is high quality, safe, equitable and meets the standards expected of the profession such as taking on a leadership role, being advocates and engaging in lifelong learning. RNs who practice with cultural responsiveness are able to ‘respond to the healthcare issues of diverse communities’ (Victorian Department of Health [DoH], 2009, p. 4), and are respectful of the health beliefs and practices, values, culture and linguistic needs of the individual, populations and communities (DoH, 2009, p. 12).

Culturally competent nursing requires practitioners to provide individualised care and consider their own values and beliefs impact on care provision. Critical reflection can assist nurses to work in the swampy ground of linguistic and cultural diversity. Reflection involves learning from experience: not simply thinking back over an event, but developing a conscious and systematic practice of thinking about experience in order to learn and change future behaviour. Critical reflection involves challenging the nurse’s understanding of themselves, their attitudes and behaviours in order to bring their views of practice and the world closer to the complex reality of care. This kind of process facilitates clinical reasoning, which is the thinking and decision-making toward undertaking the best-judged action, enhancing client care and improve practitioner capability and resilience.

Didactic approaches impart knowledge and provide students with declarative knowledge but don’t always provide the opportunity to practice communication techniques or to explore in depth the attitudes and behaviours that influence their own knowledge. Drama and theatre are increasingly being used to create dynamic simulated learning environments where students can try out different communication techniques in a safe setting where there are multiple ways of communicating. A problem based learning focus allows students to reflect on their own experiences and to arrive at their own solutions, promoting deep learning as students use their own experiences and knowledge to problem solve.

In 2015 I developed and trialed a unit for students at all three Monash School of Nursing and Midwifery campuses in their third year. The aim of the unit was to provide students with resources to understand their own culture, the culture of healthcare and the historical and social issues that contribute to differential health outcomes for particular groups in order to discern how to contribute to providing culturally safe care for all Australians. The unit examined how social determinants of health such as class, gender, race, sexual orientation, gender identity; education, economic status and culture affect health and illness. Students were invited to consider how politics, economics, the social-cultural environment and other contextual factors impacted on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) communities. Students were asked to consider how policy, the planning, organisation and delivery of health and healthcare shaped health care delivery.

The unit was primarily delivered online but a special workshop was offered using Forum theatre developed by Augusto Boal in partnership with two experienced practitioners Azja Kulpińska and Tania Cañas. Forum theatre is focused on promoting dialogue between actors and audience members, it promotes transformation for social justice in the broader world and differs from traditional theatre which involves monologue. Simulated practices like Forum theatre allow students to address topics from practice within an educational setting, where they can safely develop self-awareness and knowledge to make sense of the difficult personal and professional issues encountered in complex health care environments. This is particularly important when it comes to inter-cultural issues and power relations. Such experiential techniques can help students to gain emotional competence, which in turn assists them to communicate effectively in a range of situations.

Students were invited to identify a professional situation relating to culture and health that was challenging and asked to critically reflect on the event/incident focusing on the concerns they encountered in relation to the care of the person. Through the forum theatre process they were asked to consider alternative understandings of the incident, and critically evaluate the implications of these understandings for how more effective nursing care could have been provided. Through the workshop it was hoped that students could then review the experience in depth and undertake a process of critical reflection in a written assessment by reconstructing the experience beyond the personal. They were encouraged to examine the historical and social factors that structure a situation and to start to theorise the causes and consequences of their actions. They were encouraged to use references such as research, policy documents or theory to support their analysis and identify an overarching issue, or key aspect of the experience that affected it profoundly. Concluding with the key learnings through the reflective process, the main factors affecting the situation, and how the incident/event could have been more culturally safe/competent. Students were asked to develop an action plan to map alternative approaches should this or a similar situation arise in the future.

Forum theatre has been used in nursing and health education to facilitate deeper and more critical reflective thinking, stimulate discussion and exploratory debate among student groups. It is used to facilitate high quality communication skills, critical reflective practice, emotional intelligence and empathy and appeals to a range of learning styles. Being able to engage in interactive workshops allows students to engage in complex issues increasing self-awareness using techniques include physical exercises and improvisations.

My grateful thanks to two Forum Theatre practitioners who led this work with me:

Azja Kulpińska is a community cultural development worker, educator and Theatre of the Oppressed practitioner and has delivered workshops both in Australia and internationally. She has been a supporter of RISE: Refugees, Survivors and Ex-Detainees and for the last 3 years has been co-facilitating a Forum Theatre project – a collaboration between RISE and Melbourne Polytechnic that explores challenging narratives around migration, settlement and systems of oppression. She is also a youth worker facilitating a support group for young queer people in rural areas.

Tania Cañas is a Melbourne-based arts professional with experience in performance, facilitation, cultural development and research. Tania is a PhD candidate at the Centre for Cultural Partnerships, VCA. She also sits on the International PTO Academic Journal.
She has presented at conferences both nationally and internationally, as well as facilitated Theatre of the Oppressed workshops at universities, within prisons and youth groups-in in Australian, Northern Ireland, The Solomon Islands, The United States and most recently South Africa. For the last 2.5 years has been working with RISE and Melbourne Polytechnic to develop a Forum Theatre program with students who are recent migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

References

  • Australian Government. (2011). The People of Australia: Australia’s Multicultural Policy, Retrieved from https://www.dss.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/12_2013/people-of-australia-multicultural-policy-booklet.pdf
  • Boud, D., Keogh, R. and Walker, D. 1985. Reflection: Turning experience into learning. London: Kogan Page.
  • Gibbs, G. 1988. Learning by doing: A guide to teaching and learning methods. Oxford: Oxford Further Education Unit.
  • Johns, C. 1998b. Illuminating the transformative potential of guided reflection. In Transforming Nursing Through Reflective Practice (eds). C. Johns and D. Freshwater. Oxford: Blackwell Science. 78-90.
  • Johnstone, MJ. & Kanitsaki, O. (2008). The politics of resistance to workplace cultural diversity education for health service providers: an Australian study. Race Ethnicity and Education 11(2) 133-134
  • McClimens, A., & Scott, R. (2007). Lights, camera, education! The potentials of forum theatre in a learning disability nursing program. Nurse Education Today, 27(3), 203-9. doi:10.1016/j.nedt.2006.04.009
  • Middlewick, Y., Kettle, T. J., & Wilson, J. J. (2012). Curtains up! Using forum theatre to rehearse the art of communication in healthcare education. Nurse Education in Practice, 12(3), 139-42. doi:10.1016/j.nepr.2011.10.010
  • Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia (2006). National competency standards for the registered nurse, viewed 16 February 2014: www.nursingmidwiferyboard.gov.au.
  • Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia (2008). Code of professional conduct for nurses in Australia, Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia, Canberra.
  • Schön, D.A. 1987. Educating the Reflective Practitioner. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
  • Street, A. 1990. Nursing Practice: High Hard Ground, Messy Swamps, and the Pathways in Between. Geelong: Deakin University Press.
  • Turner, L. (2005). From the local to the global: bioethics and the concept of culture. Journal of Medicine and Philosopy. 30:305-320 DOI: 10.1080/03605310590960193
  • Victorian Department of Health. (2009). Cultural responsiveness framework Guidelines for Victorian health services, Retrieved from http://www.health.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/381068/cultural_responsiveness.pdf
  • Wasylko, Y., & Stickley, T. (2003). Theatre and pedagogy: Using drama in mental health nurse education. Nurse Education Today, 23(6), 443-448. doi:10.1016/s0260-6917(03)00046-7
  • Also see DeSouza, R (2015). Communication central to Nursing Practice. Transforming the Nations Healthcare 2015, Australia’s Healthcare News.

Improving collaboration between nursing professionals and support workers in the New Zealand mental health system– A position paper

In 1998 I began teaching the first mental health support work cohorts in New Zealand at Unitec Institute of Technology. I had the privilege of working with Maori and Pacific mental health workers, peer support workers and consumer providers until 2005. I wrote this position paper for the Australian and New Zealand College of Mental Health Nurses way back in 2003. I have taken it out of the vault in case it is of use. I have listed more up to date references at the end of the document for those who might want to do some further reading.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The Mental Health Commission (1997) states that mental health is the concern of all. Support workers are a reality of today’s mental health system in New Zealand and this paper looks at their relationship with community mental health nurses. This paper is a response to the major changes in mental health care in New Zealand over the last decade, which have dramatically altered the landscape of the mental health workforce. It seems timely to look at a way forward and to develop guidelines for nurses working with support workers in the community. In this paper “support workers” include community support workers and consumers as providers and the term “nurses” refers to community mental health nurses.

No one group can meet the needs of consumers. Together these two groups can provide complimentary services to improve client care but a model of cooperation is necessary and further clarification of roles and overlap is required. Effective teamwork between nurses and support workers in the mental health community in New Zealand must occur so that the care delivered is flexible and responsive to the needs of consumers and their families. The changes in the socio-political context of mental health care in New Zealand are challenging nurses to re-define their scope of practice. These developments and their implications are summarised and options for the nursing profession are discussed and recommendations given.

ISSUES

Competition for funding

The creation of the Regional Health Authorities (RHA) in 1991 was part of a new system of purchasing health services which replaced Area Health Boards (Yegdich & Quinn, 1996). This new funder /purchaser /provider system encouraged competition between providers and led to many new services entering the health sector. These included non-governmental services who were now able to compete directly with Crown Health Enterprises (CHE), previously there was an obligation for boards to concentrate funding on their own services (Yegdich & Quinn, 1996). In 1996 the new coalition government initiated another review of the health system leading to funding being centralised under the Transitional Health Authority (THA). Competition for central funding begs the question of whether competing services with different philosophies and types of workers can cooperate with each other. When community support services were established in Auckland there was antagonism from nurses as these new services were seen as better resourced, with lower caseloads and were seen to be eroding the role of the professional nurse.

Culturally appropriate parallel services

The changes in funding have also lead to the development of specialised Maori and Pacific Island support work services. In Auckland, the Maori community support work (CSW) service has dramatically reduced the rate of admission and re-admission for Maori . Previous statistics had shown that Maori were entering the mental health system at the same rates as non-Maori but required longer stays and more frequent re-admissions (Te Puni Kokiri, 1993). Increased numbers of immigrants and refugees from Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe have led to the formation of specialised mental health services, for example the Refugees As Survivors (RAS) centre. However, a disadvantage of parallel services is that nurses in main stream services lose the opportunity to develop specialised skills for working with cultures other than their own.

Case management

Case management originated in the United States in the 1980’s in the context of deinstitutionalisation, normalisation and the development of community mental health centres (Sledge, Astrachan, Thompson, Rakfeldt & Leaf, 1995; Willis & Morrow, 1995). It was seen as a way of improving the connections between services and linking both clinical and rehabilitation services together to ensure that “severely mental ill” clients received adequate services (Sledge, et al. 1995). Versions of case management are used in New Zealand although little has been written about the experience locally. Universal agreement has not been achieved regarding the scope of practice of case managers and the level of education required. The assumption that nurses are the most suitable group to provide case management services is being challenged by the emergence of support work services and parallel ethnic mental health teams.

Role change

Yegdich and Quinn (1996) have observed that the role of nurses has extended with the move from institution to community. Needs of clients now include housing, income, employment and social networks. However, an audit of community services in Auckland found that the dominant activity of nurses was crisis intervention (Yegdich & Quinn, 1996). Support work services have evolved in recognition of the gaps in community care provision. This movement to the community has also resulted in an increased emphasis on tertiary prevention, rehabilitation and recovery. New postgraduate training courses in mental health nursing have been developed as a result of a growing dissatisfaction with comprehensive nurse training and what is seen as inadequate preparation for working in this area (Ministry of Health, 1996). This is also important from a case management perspective particularly as broader skills are necessary for this role, for example knowledge of community resources.

Changing relationship with consumers

The consumer movement is influencing the movement of mental health service delivery from a medical to psychosocial rehabilitation model (Worley, 1997). New opportunities have arisen for consumers to interact with policy makers, professionals and others from a position of strength. Consumer operated programmes and initiatives have been developed due to the dissatisfaction with clinical mental health services. Consumers have found consumer-staffed organisations more empathetic, tolerant and understanding because of their own struggles with psychiatric disability (Worley, 1997). Consequently, guidelines have been developed as a result of increased consumer participation in professionally run mental health agencies (Ministry of Health, 1995). This has also led to changes in relationships between consumers and professionals. There is growing recognition on the part of professionals of the value of experiential knowledge and what consumers have to offer other consumers.

Safety and extended roles

  • Assessment by a nurse is required to detect changes in the mental state of a client. Where a support worker is the predominant contact, changes may be missed particularly if they have no clinical experience or assessment skills. In an article about extended roles, Rieu (1994) stated that discussion about accountability (“professional” and “legal”) and competency is needed. Other questions that need to be addressed include:
  • What preparation and training are support workers given?
  • What supervision do they get and how are they regulated?
  • How well are they resourced and supported?
  • Is their scope of practice clearly defined?

ADDRESSING THE ISSUES

Recognising the strengths of support workers

Support workers are seen as filling the gaps in community care, particularly in terms of work with clients with complex needs not met within the reductionist medical model (Davies, Harris, Roberts, Mannion, McCosker & Anderson, 1996). Other advantages include breaking the barrier of client-worker distance, providing a bridge between clients and mainstream staff and providing a role model for clients of similar background (Davies et al., 1996). Studies have shown that support workers are considered more effective than health professionals for several groups with varying mental health needs (Davies et al., 1996; Grant, Ernst, Streissgut, Phipps & Gendler, 1996). These include abused women, who have viewed the health system as sexist, fragmented and professionals as judgemental and insensitive (Davies et al., 1996). Other studies have shown that chronically drug-dependent women have become distrustful of “helping” agencies and in turn many professionals see these women as a hopeless population (Grant et al., 1996). They describe an advocacy model of case management using support workers, who worked intensively with women, who used drugs or alcohol heavily during their pregnancies and were alienated from community services. This alienation increased the risk of delivering children with serious medical, developmental and behavioural problems. It also prevented them from seeking assistance from agencies that were designed to help them. These ‘advocates’ were support workers experienced in social services with high-risk populations, had a variety of life experiences and came from a similar cultural background to their clients. They were seen as positive role models, providing hope and motivation. It was found after one year that clients now engaged with treatment agencies, decreased drug use, increased use of birth control and increased their involvement with supportive and skill building groups, such as parenting classes (Grant, et al., 1996).

Training and education of nurses

Nursing training must incorporate concepts such as recovery and consumer perspectives. Nurses need to be supported to work as case managers and build on their roles as more than adjuncts to the medical model. Mental health nurses working in the community must clarify their current roles and define what pathways they will follow.

Diversity in the workforce to provide culturally appropriate services

Reviews have shown that there are a paucity of culturally safe services for Maori and Pacific people (Ministry of Health, 1997). Furthermore, the provision of resources and devolution of resources have not supported other views of mental illness (Mental Health Commission, 1996). “Moving Forward” (Ministry of Health, 1997) national objectives states more trained mental health workers are needed before culturally appropriate services can be provided by mainstream and kaupapa Maori mental health services. A better partnership is needed between education and health sectors so that training can be specifically targeted to Maori. The Pacific Island objective also recommends that work be done so that mental health services become more responsive to the diverse needs of Pacific peoples. The national objectives recommend educating consumers as providers, community support workers and Maori and Pacific Island workers.

Better cooperation with ethnic support workers

In an Australian article, Fuller (1995) argued that health care practices by professionals continue to be predominantly monocultural despite recognition of the need to be responsive to the culturally diverse population. Fuller added that different ethnic groups practice illness prevention and health promotion differently. Some prefer direct, practical and immediate assistance from the Western care system rather than long term strategies. Fuller argued that nurses could not attain all the necessary cultural knowledge to provide total care to clients without a partnership with cultural intermediaries. According to Fuller, this expectation would result in lists of stereotypical traits being produced rather than an improved understanding of clients individual needs. Fuller added that the values and assumptions of primary nursing with contradictory notions of empowerment and autonomy have resulted in rigid professional boundaries which restrict multi-disciplinary team work, thereby increasing the need for an ethnic support worker.

Alternative structures and models

The Ministry of Health (1997) recommends that mental health promotion and prevention for Maori and Pacific Islanders be strengthened. They suggest using traditional (Pacific and New Zealand) structures to promote mental health including circulating Pacific language descriptions of key western mental illnesses. In addition, the Report of the National Working Party on Mental Health Workforce Development (Ministry of Health, 1996) suggested that Maori consumers become integrated into the provider culture of mental health services, so services reflect the wealth of Maori consumer experience. This is in line with the request by Maori consumers to have more Maori community support workers, patient advocates and crisis teams. This leads on to the next area for discussion about who can best provide services for those with mental health needs. Takeuchi, Mokuau & Chun (1992) found that the establishment of parallel services improved mental health for minorities and led to an increase in their use.

Multiskilled, multidisciplinary and comprehensive

According to Øvretveit (1993), it is rare that one profession alone is able to meet the needs of a person with a social or health need. Usually the skills and knowledge of a range of specialists are beneficial and coordination is crucial to prevent costs of duplication and staff frustration. This is echoed by the Report of the National Working Party on Mental Health Workforce Development (Ministry of Health, 1996). It suggests that the best way to deliver mental health services to consumers is by having a team of multi-skilled and multi disciplinary workers. This team would be able to address the many facets of care required by sufferers of mental illness and would include community support workers as well as Maori and Pacific Island workers. “Moving Forward’s” National objectives are to increase the Maori and Pacific Island mental health workforce. In addition, a flexible system is required where a case manager might need to spend more time with someone as the nature of mental illness changes rapidly.

A proposed model of cooperation

The mental health of consumers will be maximised if professionals and support workers are able to work in partnership and combine their skills, knowledge, life experience and expertise in a coordinated way. This would ensure that services are respectful, relevant, flexible, responsive and effective and that they are available to consumers to reduce the barriers that prevent them from achieving their full health potential. The framework for community service delivery for people with mental health problems needs to be comprehensive, health promoting and collaborative; a partnership that is committed to client empowerment and the elimination of barriers to access (Association of Ontario Health Centres, 1994).

RECOMMENDATIONS

Several recommendations are proposed:

Liaison

  • Adopt protocols for networking within all services so that inter-agency cooperation is maximised and clients receive a seamless service.
  • Improve the interface between clinical, cultural and psychosocial models to increase understanding and collaboration from both perspectives.

Training 

  • Educate support workers to understand the role of the nurse but not to the extent that traditional healing structures are negated in favour of psychotherapeutic methods.
  • Formalise traditional roles into the mental health system, for example the role of Kaumatua (Street & Walsh, 1996).
  • Train nurses in cultural and psychosocial models.

Role and Scope of practice

  • Develop job descriptions for support workers in cooperation with nurses to prevent role ambiguity, promote job satisfaction and decrease discontent.
  •  Support and safeguard support workers to ensure that their role does not compromise the safety of clients and staff or the role of the nurse.
  • Use nurses appropriately and ensure that they are not substituted by support workers for fiscal or political reasons.
  • Define core competencies for support workers at a national level and ensure on-going monitoring of standards.

Alternatives to the medical model

  • Recognise that the clinical model has limitations and cannot meet the needs of all clients.
  • Increase familiarity with alternative models of mental health amongst nurses, for example recovery and cultural models.
  • Review and clarify the role of nurses working in mental health.

Cultural safety 

  • Acknowledge the importance of spiritual issues, land rights, whanau reconstruction and physical health (Street & Walsh, 1996).
  • Resource nurses appropriately for the cultural component of their work.
  • Involve nurses in developing appropriate policy and healthcare services to Maori and ethnic minorities in New Zealand (Street & Walsh, 1996).
  • Familiarise nurses with the work of ethnic mental health workers and Maori support work services.

Consumer participation/consumer focused

  • Recognise the experiential and personal knowledge of consumers.
  • Ensure that consumers are key players in planning and accountability structures which are linked to outcome measures.

CONCLUSION

This paper has shown how support workers can reach clients who are lost to or fearful of the mental health system, whether this is because of social, ethnic or cultural reasons. In an evolving mental health system moving from institutionalisation to community-based care, these new roles provide a bridge between the clinician and the consumer. No one group can meet all the needs of consumers. Support workers can widen the focus of the mental health system in a way that better meets the needs of clients in the community at large, whatever their background. Friction has existed between nurses and support workers, the former often viewing the latter as eroding their role and of being unskilled. Alternatively support workers have sometimes viewed nurses as part of a system that they see as having failed them. Support workers are seen by some as being a political solution to eroded health care funding. Although there are several issues requiring on-going discussion, not least the legal and ethical requirements for support workers and their regulation, a synergy exists between nurses and support workers and together they can provide complimentary services to improve client care. For this to be successful a model of cooperation is necessary and further clarification of roles and overlap is required. Effective teamwork between nurses and support workers in the mental health community in New Zealand must occur so that the care delivered is flexible and responsive to the needs of consumers and their families. A guiding framework of principles for working in harmony should be developed.

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