Whaiora project - psychotherapy and Māori healing working together

Otago Girls' High School. guidance counselling head Kirsten Taylor, who is leading a new project called Whaiora, says her students' complex psychology became obvious during the first Covid-19 lockdown.

“They became really isolated, not looking after their own tinana, their own body, and their own wairua. Their mauri (life force) was really low.”

But now students in the south are coping with trauma and improving their wellbeing thanks to a combination of psychotherapy and Māori healing methods.

Twelve students participated in talk therapy, massage treatment, and waiata as part of the Whaiora pilot project, which began in August last year.

Taylor says the first therapy she tried was one she learned as a Massey University trainee counsellor, which comprised psychotherapy and Sir Mason Durie's initiatives such as"whakapiri - engaging the person; whakamarama - gaining insight and whakamana - empowerment," that work in tandem with mirimiri (massage) practices taught by Jolie Davis through Manawa Ora.

“The combination of talk therapy but also physical grounding that comes through mirimiri was really invaluable,” she says.

'Lifeforce burned brighter'

The students participated in a two-day wānanga at Puketeraki Marae and then a whānau day where they taught their whānau the techniques they had learned and therefore showed her the potential of the project to go further and she says, “They've really flourished, in terms of their own mauri, their life force really started to burn much much brighter, and they became increasingly empowered in themselves to seek their own kind of wellbeing.”

The students had coped with early detachment and the trauma that sat within their bodies, according to Taylor, and the hands-on technique helped them to connect spiritually and physically with their own whānau, allowing them to repair intergenerational trauma.

The focus group consisted of 12 students who had had suicide ideas and trauma from early childhood experiences. The number was limited due to the number of practitioners available and the time allotted to administer the project.

The project is still in the kākano or seedling stage, according to Taylor, but the requirement for Māori knowledge inside the practices must be safeguarded so that they do not become mainstream.

“It's an entirely right timing for this but we need to be careful about the way that we introduce this I think but the timing is definitely good for a renaissance of these methods.”