Choosing to Cross by Sea

Keynote conference address: A World Congress for Psychotherapy Regional Conference -hosted by the Atlohsa Native Family Healing Centre


Aotearoa, a long white cloud in view

In Aotearoa, New Zealand our indigenous people are Maori. I cannot in any way represent the thoughts, values or aspirations of Maori and I understand my task at this conference is to speak about the ways in which I view my role as a psychotherapist in a land where people with insight know that there are many meanings we share and many we are yet to understand biculturally. It is, in many ways, not accurate to speak of Maori culture. Different iwi (tribes) have different cultural views and iwi in one part of Aotearoa will differ from iwi in another part of the country. “The culture concept is not bright, hard, cold and clear but warm, fuzzy, slippery and covered in adhesives and hooks. Nor is it fixed in time or place, or fixable in any sense” (i)

Maori must be allowed to speak their own history and explain it for themselves. It is not a history or a set of meanings we should borrow or use to support our own ends. I am a beginner with the language of the indigenous people, Te Reo Maori. As I greet you in that language I am aware I am crossing a bridge. I am moving from the language of my childhood to the language of a people who allow me to walk on land which is Papatuanuku (mother earth).

Tena koutou katoa.
Papatuanuku o London Ontario tena koe
E te reo karanga, tena koe
Nga tipuna
Nga mate
Tena koutou
E te whare o Atlohsa Native Family Healing Services tena koutou
E te whanau whanui o the World Congress for Psychotherapy tena koutou
Gloria Mulcahy, Darlene Ritchie, Candice Lawrence, Lydia Clapton, tena koutou
Rau rangatira ma tena koutou
E te iwi e tau nei
Tena koutou tena koutou tena koutou katoa.

Greetings to you all. Greetings to this house in which we meet. Greetings to the land, the earth and to the voices that called us here. To the ancestors, to those who have died, greetings. Hello and greetings to the house of learning of Atlosha Family Healing Services, The World Congress for Psychotherapy and the organising committee for this conference. To the teachers, important guests and the family in this place, greetings.

Psychotherapists whose training is based on foundation theorists residing in Europe, the United Kingdom and the United States have been trained to honour the soul of the individual. I am a psychotherapeutic healing practitioner who was originally taught to explore the individual psyche. This presentation is a comparison of psychotherapy which highlights the way one person functions and the different views I discover when meeting with Maori.

People of the land

Individuation in perspective

Individuation is “the process leading to individual existence as distinct from that of the species” (ii)

The long history of the psychotherapy I know highlights pathways in the mind, layers of feelings and complicated desires embedded in the body of one person, one separate soul. The relentless pursuit of knowledge about the person of each individual has often been the sole focus of traditional psychotherapies and, in Aotearoa, New Zealand, I have been part of an emerging movement which challenges this view.

Over the years in New Zealand, therapists have broadened their vision to include systemic influences which surround each person. Movements such as family therapy have made some inroads but many therapists remain intensely fascinated by what happens inside the skin and inside the mind and heart of a single human being.

When I cross the bridge from my culture to the indigenous Maori culture in New Zealand I need to honour something quite different. I need to honour a belief system which sees each person not only as an individual but as someone who is interwoven with the natural world, with ancestors who are still alive in the community of the living and with unseen influences often named as spiritual. Maori have taught me that Tangata Whenua, the people of the land, place importance on relationship, interconnection and interdependence. While there is individuality, personal identity is taken from the land, the iwi, the hapu and the whanau, which are names for the tribe extended family groups and the family unit. Identity is interwoven with the cultural grouping.

When I begin to cross the cultural bridge I am about to encounter an atmosphere in the indigenous culture that is a huge challenge to the way I see my ‘self’. Accordingly, I am increasingly impatient with the view that psychotherapy only exists to heal the individual.
When consulting therapists for my own therapy I have been encouraged to view my ‘self’ as a separate identity which no other person has a right to touch without permission, intrude upon or manipulate by ignoring my personal preferences and boundaries. That kind of therapy satisfies my need to understand the complicated pathways set within my own skin but fails to acknowledge the way I merge with every other important influence. The challenge to think differently comes not only from indigenous people. It comes from the perceptions of authors like Ken Wilber who introduced the idea that maybe the skin is not a boundary.
The idea that the skin is a permeable membrane is found in philosophical, psychological and spiritual writings. It is an insight which moves me away from isolated individualism and helps me move traditional psychotherapy closer to healing paradigms based on interdependence. Ken Wilber’s words have had a lasting influence on me: “The most common boundary line that individuals draw up or accept as valid is that of the skin boundary surrounding the total organism. Everything on the inside of that skin boundary is in some sense ‘me’, while everything outside that boundary is ‘not me’”. And later, “Any sort of boundary is a mere abstraction from the seamless coat of the universe, and hence all boundaries are pure illusions in the sense that they create separation (and ultimately conflict) where there is none.” (iii)

My thesis is that when we draw boundaries between individualism and interdependence the bridge between traditional psychotherapy and indigenous people is very difficult to cross.

One sea, many places to land

What lies between the emphasis on the internal psyche which underpins most psychotherapeutic modalities and the indigenous culture which surrounds me in Aotearoa is an ever changing sea of meanings. To cross from one to the other I will cross by sea and not through the sky or over land. If I cross by air I will not experience ocean currents that teach me to carry my ‘self’ with me. If I travel over land I will be comparing the landscape with what I know already. If I move through the waters of meaning I must be content to allow them to come and go, for they are fluid and defy definition. The shores of the culture I reach will also be changing as the sea of meanings works away at the boundaries of the land.

In New Zealand pakeha have often asked the question, “How should psychotherapists who are non-Maori work with Maori?” It is a question that ignores an important insight. The insight is that there is no such phenomenon as a static set of cultural meanings. To decide that there is a static pakeha culture and a static Maori culture is to make the same error as psychotherapeutic theorists have made throughout history. Theorists have decided there is ‘an individual’ and ‘a group’ as if there is a time to be an individual and a time to be psychically connected to a group or culture.

Of course there are meanings which arise when a person is alone and different meanings when a person meets with a group but they exist within a sea of meanings and one paradigm ought not to be at the expense of the other. The divisions in traditional psychotherapy emphasise separateness. Each modality chooses an aspect of human development to highlight. Some highlight an aspect of mind, others emotions, and the body is, of course, another choice. Many offer behavioural formulations.

The fascinating array includes methods based on historical figures while others centre around living legends whose work is copied by practitioners. The anomaly is that these separatist paradigms exist in a profession that purports to be focused on the whole person in a connected universe surrounded by multiple cultures, belief systems, and values. The profession has divided itself into communities which adhere to different belief systems. While each modality offers extensive research to support its world view it manufactures a single method and suggests applicability across the spectrum of emotional dis-ease, cultures, and the variety of human systems. All the information we have advises us that human beings function as total systems. The longer we believe psychotherapy should encourage separate modalities the longer we perpetuate the myth that people are disconnected within themselves and separated from other cultures. When constructing modalities or methods our profession has often made assumptions. One assumption is that because the method works for the founder of the modality in his or her cultural setting it can then be transported around the world. The false belief is that humans are the same anywhere.

The bridge from Pakeha culture to Maori culture in New Zealand cannot be crossed if I am already a convert to a particular approach to psychotherapy. The last thing we need in an age of global psychotherapy is missionary zeal. Singular belief systems perpetuate the myth that client persons can be successfully approached using a premise first and relationship as a secondary consideration.
In New Zealand this separatist process sits uneasily alongside the indigenous culture which has the notion of interconnection as fundamental.

Nothing stands alone in Maoritanga, no one part of the person can exist without every aspect of existence cooperating to provide impetus for the life force. While the mind (hinengaro), the body (tinana) spirit (wairua) and the family (whanau) are named separately one cannot be highlighted or studied without reference to the other three.
Whenever human development is discussed the focus is on weaving threads together. Almost without exception the symbols in Maori art and carvings are based on ideas woven together, there is no stark separation of body mind and spirit and no separation of the individual from community or history. One cannot be a psychotherapist in this cultural setting and work towards health by focusing on parts of the personality or by using separate concepts such as behavioural change, emotional catharsis or body centred therapy.

Therapists who decide that Jungian therapy has links with Maoritanga or assume that Gestalt, Hakomi or Transactional Analysis have ideas in common with the way Maori see the world are moving quickly down the path of colonisation. It is important I move towards indigenous people in my country with an open mind. My mind needs to be so open that I am ready, if necessary, to change my mind about some of the basic tenets of psychotherapeutic process.

To work with an overall model promoting the idea that human beings have separate parts which function independently and can be treated independently of each other is often culturally inappropriate. I am not suggesting we abandon research into the human brain, the body or emotional chemistry. Nor am I suggesting we abandon theoretical paradigms. I am suggesting we redefine psychotherapy as a process which reflects the interdependence of human knowledge. The knowledge we are privileged to own in this millennium highlights the point that meaning and health are embedded in connections that may be indefinable.

Psychotherapy modalities choose defined portions of human systems and expect adherence to methods which are definitive about human systems. To move away from definition and structured premise is to move into uncertainty. An un-certain approach leads to creativity and challenges therapists to work without pre determined ideas.

No fixed bearing

As I step off the cross cultural bridge I can retain the person I am and the therapist I am but I must greet the other culture knowing I might have to question all I know. There cannot be an agenda, there cannot be certainty, there cannot be evangelism. The challenge is to allow meanings to merge and resist analysing. Most traditional approaches to psychotherapy depend on an analytical framework and focus on taking wholeness to pieces in an attempt to understand intra psychic, inter personal or systemic connections. If I am to make good connections with my cultural partners I will need to suspend analysis and define therapy as “the contemplation of multiple insights”.

These multiple insights are different in each place in the world. A single modality cannot propose a way to connect with the diversity of insight which is first formed within culture. Modalities assume insight is first formed emotionally, physically, intellectually or spiritually. Now that we have a global awareness the truth is that insight can be grounded in culture.

The facets of the diamond I contemplate with clients in New Zealand are flash points filled with cultural meanings. There are a number of cultural truths in our multi cultural society which capture insights. Insights are mirrored in ancient stories, rituals watched by children, experiences in peer groups, adolescent transitions, marriage and family observances. The multi faceted diamond which beckons in the moment of insight is affected by ancient ancestors who are living in the present. Any attempt to introduce a designed intervention method while an ancestor is speaking to the heart of the client is very intrusive. Maori clients, like people in other cultures, know their mountains, rivers and land forms are speaking, acting, reminding and calling while the therapist joins the person in contemplation. Psychotherapy can be made out of a tradition stretching back to the beginning of time, to Te Kore, the void. In this cultural environment it is also possible that historical events are being replayed in the present. The abuse of land, women and children, a time when one social grouping offended another, ravages of war and colonisation which have never been forgotten. These memories cannot be attributed to individualised psychological dis-ease, they are more powerful than that.

Psychotherapy is made within the context of cultural moments. If it is pre designed and pre formatted, it will ignore the sea of meanings which are always changing.
To make psychotherapy in moments when myth and legend are being relived is a process I cannot design and must not surround with theory. There is something much more exciting to do. I can establish cross cultural therapeutic moments when I suspend definition. The only definition we need is one which expects psychotherapists in different cultural settings around the globe to believe in their own creative ideas. These ideas will change as each client appreciates a therapeutic connection which comes from the therapist and not from a
The connection arises out of an appreciation of the moment, permission for the client to discover their own world of meanings and a willingness to work with what both Maori and Greek insight has called ‘the nothing and the not nothing’.

Psychotherapeutic formulations will always exist in world class libraries and teaching rooms. It is good to read them but it is important to close the door of the library before we meet our clients. Clients have a world wide web in their hearts and minds and pages filled with surprises which are worth downloading in the moment. They should never be saved to a file. A culturally based psychotherapy will rely on description rather than analysis. Once an analysis is made the cultural truths have been colonised.

Throughout the history of psychotherapy we have done little to investigate the therapeutic power of description. The descriptive therapist will be curious and reflective without relying on formulations. Attempts at understanding are born of the desire to capture and to possess. A culturally sensitive psychotherapy reflects the world it senses and describes what it observes. Imagine the power of allowing description to be sufficient. In this room we have the opportunity to meet with people from a variety of cultures. If each one of you allowed me to join you in a psychotherapeutic moment with no pre-designed parameters, no assumptions about who we each happen to be and no attempts to capture meanings we might discover merged edges of understanding.

The future of a psychotherapy which creates good cultural connection lies in the willingness to describe psychic and social associations rather than analyse them.

“There is no progressively refined story to tell about the human condition which leads to a single view of the nature of reality. There is, instead a concept of truth as a mobile army of metaphors that capture our minds so we see the world in certain ways. The increasingly rational view of the world trumpeted by scientific realism is characterised as an illusion, and particularly when we try to understand human beings, a much more fluid formation is suggested.” (iv)


How does this work in the New Zealand situation? As a therapist trained in concepts formulated in the United States, the United Kingdom, Europe and Australia I have been taught to imagine each person with an individualised psyche holding personal historical information best released (or integrated) through some form of psychologically based therapy. My training leads me to focus on client emotions, thoughts and physical responses to their relationships. I am also trained to look for causal relationships thinking that one historical event or trauma causes another to occur later in life. In addition, I have been trained into an expectation that unhappy, disturbed or unsettled people can be ‘helped’ or ‘treated successfully’ by meeting with a sensitive therapist.

I will have a very narrow experience and learn little if I cling to those injunctions when I walk on the marae (the place where the tribe or iwi gathers). The comparisons I am about to make are based on my view that the marae is not only a place where iwi gather and participate in all the facets of successful community life it is also a place I perceive to be a place of healing.


The first challenge during the powhiri (welcome ceremony) is for me to say where I come from and to name the place where I belong. This is not a question about the way I view my psychological beginnings. It is a question which relates to where I see myself in the natural world of mountains, rivers and land forms. Psychotherapy tends to start by focusing on the person or the personal issue which is so different from beginning with the world of nature. The difference gives rise to extensive philosophical debates. Are there connections between land forms and association patterns in the mind? Can mountains encourage inner certitude capable of lasting for ever? Where does a person begin and nature start?

The second challenge is whether I know my own genealogy (whakapapa). This is not a question limited to my family influences in personality terms, it is related to stories about ancestors which go back to the beginning of time in my cultural history. Family psychotherapy acknowledges genealogies and analyses them. Whakapapa is more than genealogy. It is the way the past lives in the present, the gift of knowledge through oral tradition and the re-emergence of archetypes played out, not only in the psyche, but in social and communal connections. It cannot be diagrammed or predicted, it has a life of its own.
I am being pushed back to a past beyond my great great great grandparents. The voices of ancestors add a dimension no therapist can provide. I am now facing the implications of psychic material which is not only handed down through generations but continues to affect the way I think, feel and behave in the present.

“Whakapapa (family history) is not just a line of ancestors but goes beyond ancestors to what Europeans would call the gods, then beyond the gods to conditions of mind, states of abstract thought and deeper into abstract qualities. So it contains in itself, as it were, the origins of the world and the origins of its peoples”. (v)

The third challenge is to my mana, my integrity, or the way I have earned standing in my culture and the world. This is not a question about my moral self or self perceptions, it questions the way I am perceived by the larger community of people who know me for who I am. I do not wish to translate the word mana. It has many powerful meanings. Overall it reminds me of pakeha concepts such as earned dignity, personal value, or honour, within and around the person. Psychotherapy works with the individual’s sense of self. There are many modalities which assist people to face the mirror and imagine how others see the image. The challenge to my mana seems different. Who am I within the context of the way the earth is shaped or within the honourable traditions handed down from my ancestors? Who am I with regard to the way I have contributed to the achievements of my own communities or the preservation of faith and values?

My pakeha tradition, to be focused on my inner self, to struggle with emotionally charged events from the past, to gain importance from within my own personality and to stand out as a self contained individual seems less important as I join a different cultural view. If there is a psychological aspect to my existence when I visit the marae it is perhaps, that my intra psychic patterns seem isolating and self preserving. Traditional therapy has taught me to focus on an inner world that is checked by looking in a mirror to self reflect, a mirror which takes its imagery from the world of one human being. On the marae relationship is the focus. Protocols make spaces for people to speak and the resolution of conflict is followed by supportive waiata (song). The inner world of each person is honoured by creating spaces for silence and the wharenui (meeting house) is a place where people can retreat to meditate with the carved figures of ancestors adorning the walls. Individuality is constantly drawn outwards and connects with meanings created within the group. I have spent many hours in contemplation as a guest on marae. Whenua (the land) is not just ground, it holds the seeds of life and resources for continuance. Psychotherapy taught me that the basis for my personality was formed by the influences I inherited from grandparents and parents. Voices on the marae teach me that my being is very much in formation when I acknowledge the sacredness of the earth. It is as if my psychological self has emerged through my skin and found archetypes in the soil. If my psyche is grounded in the earth, guarded by mountains and watered by rivers then concepts such as attachment theory need serious re-formation. Is it sufficient to speak of attachment to nurturing parents or significant others?
While on the marae I am also taught that emotions such as anger, sadness, grief and excitement are expressed therapeutically within the community of people who live closely together. There is concern when one person seems isolated by strong emotion. It may be helpful to tell the story to one other person but the most powerful resolution of emotional conflict comes from the group.
Psychotherapy also works with emotional release but works with it one person at a time. Once emotion is expressed there is often only the therapist there to hold meanings and release them into the universe. I begin to question the sufficiency of the therapy room where containment seems so important and emotion is projected on to one other person.

Psychotherapy which highlights individual emotional struggles takes great care to preserve confidentiality. The effect is to turn people back in on themselves and then they gain insights into their own psychic patterning. Group therapy is an artificial way of encouraging people to share personal journeys but on the marae trust is a given, respect is not created from a group exercise and participants are very much ‘family’.

Carthartic experiences happen naturally through the kawa (rituals) on the marae and the turmoil of one person is a shared experience eventually woven into a cloak of song. My marae experience is leading me to connect my inner world with influences outside of ‘self’. I can feel these truths around me on the marae. My psychological self expands to the point where I can trust it to elements in the universe and trust people who have gone before me to hold the foundations of my existence. This is therapy of a different kind. Therapy that has moved beyond intra psychic and inter personal realms to atmospheres that are best left undefined.

The people of the land have a word that in my opinion cannot be adequately translated because it holds meanings which reach beyond words. It is more than a word, it is an action, a response to atmosphere. The word is ‘aroha’ and pakeha think of it as ‘love’. The word ‘love’ of course, has indefinable meanings as well. In the context of the marae aroha is often the key to the healing of relationships and the healing of souls. Psychotherapists use a different word, ‘attunement’. Why do I say the words are different? It seems to me that attunement sits alongside psychic material and responds with understanding whereas aroha sits alongside the person in situ, the person in the cultural milieu, the person in relationship. We can think of times when therapeutic attunement is powerful and follows a person into relationship but its potency is mainly directed at pathways in the mind and waves of emotion. “All aroha is expected to be reciprocated as is declared by the proverb, ‘Aroha mai, aroha atu’-literally, Love towards us; love going out from us’. (vi)

There is another difference here. Psychotherapists do not expect empathy to be reciprocated. In New Zealand the traditional psychotherapist who allows a client to return empathy towards them is questioned closely about their understanding of transference and their understanding of professional boundaries.

In Aotearoa we speak of bicultural understanding. The differences between the way healing takes place on marae and healing processes used by psychotherapy are important as I think about two cultures side by side. A bicultural understanding would bring two equally potent processes together and I turn my attention to that possibility now.


When visiting a marae and accepting the hospitality of the iwi, I, and the people who have come with me, offer a gift known as koha. The people of the marae (tangata whenua) usually accept the gift if they accept the visitors have come in friendship and with good intent. If psychotherapy is to sit alongside our indigenous people and their healing practices it needs to bring a koha. The giving and receiving of koha completes the circle of reciprocity. Relationship is being established.

What is the nature of my koha as a psychotherapist? It could be the wealth of knowledge about pathways in the mind of each person. This knowledge needs to be offered with caution because it tends to explain the mind using set definitions. It does, however, have an historical culture of its own stretching back to ancient philosophical insights.

The psychological view of mind is often presented as a definitive reality. It is however, capable of a wider vision as instanced in the connections between two worlds, one psychoanalytic and the other transpersonal. Before offering the gift of psychological knowledge it is important to establish relationship, to test the meaning of the meeting about to take place and to accept that what will be given in return is just as powerful as any insights fashioned in my culture. It is tempting to build a bridge between psychotherapy and concepts in cultures. Pakeha have no right to build the bridge without first entering the sea of meanings and risking not knowing. I will risk not knowing enough in what follows.

Mason Durie, who is both Maori and a psychiatrist lives with perception in two worlds. He has developed the notion that there may be a Maori psychology although he is careful to say he is not sure. I will not attempt to introduce his conceptual framework but here are some domains he lists as being important to Maori. Notice how they link with what psychotherapists call psychological concepts. Firstly it is important to establish a space in which relationship can take place. Te Marae Atea, the ground on which the people stand around the meeting house, is the domain of space. People are called on to this ground and there is kawa (ritual) which makes room for speeches. During speeches of welcome and reply relationship safety is established. There is no immediate assumption that the visitors’ message will be acceptable. The safety and boundaries of relationship are set in place first. Psychotherapists know the psychological importance of space. Sometimes they know the importance of testing the relationship before attempting to dialogue in a psychological milieu. At other times we move into relationship far too quickly, there is no domain to test trust or safety.

Whaikorero, are the speeches made using metaphorical domains. History, nature and people are woven together alongside events and social issues. It is story telling with meaning and powerful images float from one speaker to another. Psychotherapists know the power of imagery and association. In therapy the imagery is internalised and the meanings are private rather than public. On the marae very personal accounts are spoken into the public domain and the opportunity to contemplate comes before any desire for resolution. The contemplation of imagery is what takes time in psychotherapy. We need to take care that the desire to resolve issues does not destroy meanings in the moment. Tauparapara and karakia, (chanting and prayer) emphasise interconnectedness. People are connected by voices filled with music. Perhaps this is the place we need to reflect on what is missing from the psychology of psychotherapy. Song and repetitive musical form can lift complicated emotion towards harmony and eventual resolution in moments where words fail. Traditional psychotherapy sees words as paramount and in New Zealand, therapy which uses music or art or other means of self expression struggles to make an impact. One of our members challenged me to see the potential in dance as therapeutic process and as I watched her story without words unfold I realised how word bound we are in the psychotherapeutic world. The psychology of abstract meanings and the connection between the self and music is expressed spontaneously and naturally on the marae. I notice how quickly my emotional lethargy and the borders of my depression fade away when karakia or waiata (song) are introduced as part of interdependence and interconnection. (vii)

The connections I have made are part of my slow movement across the sea from the culture of psychotherapy to my experiences with Maori. I do not have a need to be definitive and that helps me stay curious.
I am strongly of the view that psychotherapy will progress further in a mixed cultural environment only by relinquishing the drive to define moments, develop fixed theories and establish modalities. There is no openness to culture when definition is the goal. Ideas need to flow like the sea. How then can we proceed?

I draw your attention to a belief which is centuries old in the indigenous culture of Aotearoa New Zealand and in Greek mythology. “The Maori traditional belief is that the whole of creation is a dynamic movement I te kore, ki te poo, ki te ao maarama, ‘out of the nothingness, into the night, into the world of light”. (viii) It is, in a less profound way, a description of the way I work. It involves the desire to focus on ‘the nothing and the not nothing’.

What is the nothing and the not nothing? I have been told by people willing to share with me that it can be described as ‘the void’, ‘potential’, or ‘energy’ in Maori understandings. It can be represented as ‘the void in which nothing is possessed’, ‘the void with nothing in union’, ‘the space without boundaries’. It can also be ‘the void in which nothing is felt’. If I establish a relationship with people from another culture psychotherapy is created in moments. The moments must begin as if there were nothing apart from the light and perhaps the darkness we both bring. As I hold the sum total of who I am in my being and wait for my ‘self’ to be met by ‘the other’ we make psychotherapy for that spontaneous meeting. The psyche is merging with therapeutic process, the soul is surprised by relationship. Within that relationship moment every strand of knowledge I have absorbed, each conditioned aspect of my existence, every cultural icon and intangible spirit affects the foundation of my being. I dare not allow my mind to conjure a theory of personality or a therapeutic method. If I search for explanation or method I will stifle my own creativity, I will lose my ‘self’. Recall a theory and connection is lost. Apply a method and the other person will be imprisoned.

Psychotherapy may offer something to cultures which is beyond method. Perhaps we offer the innate skill that must form in the heart of every therapist; the ability to be present and vulnerable. Therapists practice different rituals to maintain vulnerability. They are more important than rituals which maintain certainty. Therapy is, after all, an art form. Artistic endeavours create magnificent bridges across cultural divides. Therapy as an art form makes way for ‘not knowing’ from which arise creative moments that produce understanding. Another gift is, perhaps, our awareness of word meanings. Earlier I mentioned that words have been the main focus of psychotherapy and suggested a wider perspective to include other channels for expression. Our gift is perhaps the ability to teach the importance of nuance and the tracking of pathways called associations. We know how to listen for meanings beneath the surface of the mind which are not only important in the psyche but may be important in cultural formation.
What we are trained to listen for is what Gillett calls discursive narrative. This is story that cannot be defined only in scientific terms. He says “The human psyche is a remarkable creation born of the impingement of word on flesh, or, if you prefer, discourse on the body. This soul or psyche is a unique metaphysical species which, in itself, has given birth to both metaphysics and epistemology. Unfortunately the psyche has a tendency to become bewitched by the beauty of its own creation. The light of reason can, however, allow us to take and ironic or even gay (in Nietzche’s sense) attitude towards our epistemic offspring-philosophy, psychiatry and psychology-and it is in that attitude that this (Gillett’s) book has been conceived”. (ix)

The psychological meanings of words in their cultural contexts may, therefore take us into realms we participate in by being content with the way the stories are told.
It is an area where we need to tread with caution as theorists often claim ownership of meanings and take them away from cultural contexts. The process is more important than the ownership of meaning. The skill lies in being able to describe and let lie. To highlight and listen for response. To give up the desire to capture words and allow them to fill moments in time. The gift from the trained psychotherapist ought to be offered unwrapped. It might mean suspending knowledge.

Perhaps it is strange to end a paper suggesting that knowledge should be suspended. In Aotearoa Maori have kete or baskets of knowledge which are highly valued. It is my challenge to psychotherapists to keep our baskets of knowledge open beside us instead of using them as shields. As our cultural partners lift their taonga or treasures from their kete it is a sign of trust. Psychotherapists know that the moment of trust is the moment to release profound truths for only in those moments will one person become two. Relationship can function only if both people are being themselves in the moment. I return to the word ‘moment’. It is the creative moment, the moment when two people trust themselves and the universe so well that old paradigms are reborn and ancient myths have new meanings. Cultural understandings begin, and may end, with not knowing.

A Roy Bowden
Aotearoa, New Zealand
July 2003


(i) Ritchie J (1992) Becoming Bicultural Huia Publishers, Daphne Brasell, Associated Press, New Zealand. p 99
(ii) Onions C T (1973) Shorter Oxford Dictionary Oxford University Press p1059
(iii) Wilbur K (1979) No Boundary Shambala Publications, p 40
(iv) Gillett G (1999) The Mind and its Discontents –An essay in discursive psychiatry. Oxford University Press p 38
(v) Ford J B (2001) in Making Connections, John Bevan Ford, Maori Artist and Carver J and P Smith, Gilt Edge Publishing, Lower Hutt, New Zealand p 25
(vi) Patterson J (2000) People of the Land Dunmore Press, Palmerston North New Zealand p 112
(vii) Durie Mason (2003) Effective Interventions with Young Maori, The Aotearoa Reality Published Seminar notes (p 6)
(viii) Shirres M P (1997) Maori Theology and Maori Knowledge in Te Tangata, The Human Person Accent Publications Auckland New Zealand p16
(ix) Gillett G (1999) The Mind and its Discontents –An essay in discursive pyschiatry Oxford University Press p 426


Aotearoa Whole of New Zealand, North Island
Aroha Love, sympathise, relent, pity
Hapu Sub tribe, pregnant, clan, conceive
Hinengaro Mind, heart, intellect, conscience, psychology, spleen
Iwi Tribe, bone, race, people, nation, strength
Karakia Prayer-chant, religious service, incantation
Kawa Protocol of dedication, acid, pepper tree, pile of rocks, kara
Koha Donation, gift, parting, message, scar
Maori Ordinary, fresh, native people, plain style
Maoritanga Maori culture, Maori perspective
Marae Meeting area of whanau or iwi, focal point of settlement, central area of village and its buildings, courtyard
Nga Tohu Emblem, mark, sports field
Pakeha Non- Maori, European, Caucasian
Papatuanuku Mother Earth
Tangata Whenua Local people, aborigine, native
Tauparapara Chant, verse to start speech
Te Kore The void
Te Marae Atea Space on the marae
Tinana Body, oneself, intrinsic
Waiata Song, chant, psalm
Wairua Spirit, soul, attitude, mood
Whaikorero Make a speech, oration, rhetoric
Whakapapa Genealogy, cultural identity
Whanua Delivery, give birth, extended family
Wharepuni Main house, guest house of village

Source: Ryan P M (1999) Dictionary of Modern Maori Heinemann Education (Reed Publishing, NZ)


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