Samoa needs own curriculum on counselling

Samoa’s drug and alcohol clinician Moana Solomona is excited to write a culturally unique addiction counselling curriculum for her people.

Following a week of training with international professionals on basic addiction counselling skills, the seasoned practitioner believes she can develop a program that suits Samoa’s culture.

“I think after all this training, that Samoa needs its own model. It’s the same as in the Drug and Alcohol court, because the New Zealand model didn’t work there either,” she said.

“I feel like I need to write one, especially around mental health.”

Ms Solomona works in the Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration in the drug and alcohol courts, one of two therapeutic courts in Samoa (the other being the family violence court). Offenders before this court are referred to rehabilitation and counselling and often face diminished sentences as a result.

For her work there, she wrote the assessment tool for the court to use and determine the level of severity of drug and alcohol problems facing people.

““I have had to change my language because clinical terminology is still not translated into Pacific languages,” she said.

“I have had to tailor things to Samoa and that’s a good thing.

To help manage growing drug and alcohol addiction, resulting in serious crimes in Samoa, Ms Solomona wants to see counsellors trained in a curriculum that recognises the nation’s complexities.

“There are some tools I would just never use here,” she said, reflecting on the training she and 16 other professionals from government agencies and civil society underwent last week.

“You cannot keep a Samoan in a room for an hour and half asking them millions of questions. 

“Samoans are not good with direct questions, but you would have to be a Samoan to know that.”

Samoa has a partnership with the Colombo Plan, an intergovernmental program focusing on development of its members states across the Asia-Pacific region. Last week was the fourth time they have sent addiction professionals to train local people in counselling.

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The head trainer from Sri Lanka, Dato Zainuddin said ensuring the trainees understand the science behind drugs and their effects on people comes before the actual skills of counselling.

“We do not teach them how intervention is done, because intervention is skill.

“If you ask me what [the trainees] need to know more of, I would say it would be counselling and treatment.

For his training, he wanted to impress upon trainees that drug addiction training is a holistic approach to this health issue.

“If I am doctor looking after a patient who is suffering from cancer, that’s all he suffers from: cancer.

“But if you are looking after a person who is suffering substance abuse disorder, who are looking at a whole range of problem. They could be medical, mental, and psychological. 

“You need to have service providers who are qualified to undertake all these things, and this is where this certification comes in,” Mr Zainuddin said.

But the training curriculum is universal, which means the actual counselling techniques are not necessarily appropriate for Samoa, Ms Solomona said. This extends to recognising that Samoa still does not largely understand mental illnesses, including understanding addiction as a disease.

 “Samoans still haven’t taken on the fact that people get depressed or diagnosed with depression or schizophrenia, they think it’s to do with the family or should be dealt with within the family.

“They don’t get the fact that it’s a disease; they just think it’s behavioural.”

But applying a foreign theory to local practice is not new. Even in her post-graduate degree graduation, Ms Solomona said she thanked her teachers for everything she learned, and informed them she won’t be practicing any of it.

“But New Zealand is strong in Pacific and indigenous people, so we were always saying that’s not relevant to us, and [our teachers] would ask us, how would we do it?”

The fa’aSamoa is good grounding for any counselling or therapy, Ms Solomona said, especially for professionals without counselling qualifications like her team of probation officers at the court.

“Theorists like Gestalt, Freud, they wouldn’t use them,” she said.

“I watch the way the probation officers talk, how their fa’aSamoa helps them work alongside these families.

“They are not qualified counsellors; their knowledge is really their primary advantage because they know the culture.”

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