Psychotherapists and counsellors have joined other mental health groups in criticising the make-up of the Ministry of Health’s advisory group on the Mental Health and Addiction Inquiry report.

Ministry of Health set up in October a Mental Health and Addiction Health Sector Leadership Group (HSLG) to “provide leadership and advice” as the Ministry develops a response to the 200-page report, and its 40 recommendations, that was publicly released yesterday.

Last month a mental health advocacy group led by former Mental Health Commissioner Mary O’Hagan spoke out about the Ministry setting up a DHB dominated group before the “flavour” of the Inquiry report was known.

Yesterday both the New Zealand Association of Psychotherapists  and the New Zealand Association of Counsellors joined O’Hagan in expressing concern at the ‘medical model’ domination of the group.

The 21 member group has 11 district health board-based members – including planning and funding, nursing and other clinical leaders – as well as single representatives of NGO, consumer, Māori and Pacific workforce groups.

Lynne Holdem, a spokesperson for the New Zealand Association of Psychotherapists welcomed the report’s release but said the Ministry’s HSLG make-up did not give psychotherapists much hope that the Inquiry would lead to a “major rethink on what the Government intends as healing for the sickness at the heart of Aotearoa’s mental health system”.

Holdem said psychotherapists recommend that DHBs not administer community mental health funding since it was “so rooted in the pharmaceutical and medical model”.

“The neo-liberal agenda and culture of managerialism implemented by previous governments throughout the mental health system has created a burned out, cynical, survivalist culture within the DHB system that creates the very ill-health that it is supposed to be treating. Long waiting lists create a depressing burden for clinicians; time pressures corrode the kindness required for good relationships with patients, making clinicians anxious.”

Holdem’s concerns were echoed by a New Zealand Association of Counsellors’ youth spokesperson Christine Macfarlane who said she feared the HSLG would see the Government’s response weighted towards the medical model as “up until now the Ministry and DHBs had been short-sighted and insular in how to address the mental health challenge facing New Zealand”.

“With our mental health system receiving the dire attention it deserves, it is concerning and disappointing that those who represent an outdated model are in charge of its rejuvenation,” said Macfarlane.

Dr John Crawshaw and Ron Dunham, co-chairs of the Mental Health and Addiction, responded to the criticism by saying the group had already identified that the perspectives of Māori and those with lived experience needed to be strengthened and were seeking to address this, and also that the group was “not a closed room”.

“The HSLG is intended to work within their own networks to provide advice and context to the Ministry as it responds to whatever is in the Inquiry’s report. The HSLG is wider than those on the list – they are bringing through feedback and perspectives from networks and stakeholders,” said the co-chair pair in a statement.

See full inquiry report here.

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