Otago Polytechnic
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Domestic violence narratives

Glenda Dixon

“A big part of what we do is to work with the language used around domestic violence,” says Dr Glenda Dixon, Senior Lecturer in the School of Social Services.

Traditionally, men’s behaviour-change groups are designed to educate and produce a change in the way men act. The group format challenges and confronts participants who minimise and justify their behaviour. However, facilitators can inadvertently reproduce power relations and practices that replicate the context for abuse within the group. Men often feel shamed and therefore disengage.

In response to this, Glenda Dixon and Rob Andrew (Senior Lecturer in Occupational Therapy at RAWA, Perth), co-wrote a new practice framework. One of the tools in that framework is a large diagram called The Mat. It is placed on the floor in the centre of the group.

“This provides the men with a visible and accessible language – a new territory in which to stand. ‘Preferred ways’ in the face of a long history of ‘prescribed ways’,” Glenda explains. “We lead each man around the diagram and get them to recount and deconstruct the abusive event through language and conversation.”

The Mat invites the man to move from the general ‘we were arguing’ response to the specifics of his actions and intentions. Glenda believes this approach “introduces action and choice and is political as it deconstructs the attitudes that support men in privileging themselves over women and children.”

“Many men oversubscribe to dominant discourses of masculinity,” Glenda says. “We call this The Prescription and it is enforced by ‘dangerous ideas’ of self-centeredness, exaggerated entitlement and abdication of responsibility.”

The Mat provides the men with a means and a language to move from an ‘ethic of control’ to an ‘ethic of care.’


Dixon, G.L., Andrew, R (2015) From prescribed ways to preferred ways. A language of change for men who perpetrate abuse. European Conference on Domestic Violence, Belfast, Northern Ireland. 6-9 September 2015.

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A co-constructed model

Margaret McKenzie

“Child protection work is a difficult area for practitioners with no silver bullet,” says Margaret McKenzie. And this is somewhat the point. While previous research has often focused on a favoured method, greater potential exists in how to judiciously and meaningfully combine the best of a range of strategies.

Now, working from practice experiences, five Social Work educators from Aotearoa/New Zealand, Norway and Western Australia, including Margaret McKenzie from the School of Social Services and Shayne Walker from University of Otago, have developed a blended model of practice for child welfare work. The model incorporates elements of collaboration, participation, family members acting as their own theorists, strengths-based practice, and the importance of physical environment and cultural identities. This is one of the first times these theories have been combined to create a coherent framework linking theory and practice from a basis of co-construction.  

“All five of us have backgrounds working in child and family work social agencies before we moved into tertiary education. At various points in our career we have each had concerns about how the work is done and how it is taught. Although theories about child abuse and neglect and its causations go through cycles of change, we discovered that the five of us shared similar theoretical underpinnings, so we drew together a group of ideas and principles that can be used to teach theory and practice based on our combined experience of best possible outcomes for children and families,” says Margaret.

This blended model of practice is the basis for two articles which the team of authors published in 2014. One of these two articles, entitled “What Can We Do to Bring the Sparkle Back into this Child’s Eyes?” was one of top three most downloaded articles that were published in 2014 in the Routledge Health and Social Care journals series. 

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Asking the tough questions

Maurice Vaughan

When women’s refuge Pioneer Erin Pizzey made the statement that “women in refuges are systemically violent to each other and staff,” she was subsequently ostracised from the counselling community for daring to present a forbidden narrative that women could be as violent as men. This is just one example of what Maurice describes as a “history of rigidity within counselling professional bodies” and a drift “towards moral certainties and preferred narratives”.

 In 2014, Maurice Vaughan published a column in Psychotherapy in Australia about the work and career of Erin Pizzey, an English family care activist who started one of the world’s first women’s refuges in the United Kingdom. Maurice’s column provided an insight into the political and personal struggle of Erin Pizzey as well as the politics of domestic violence and the counselling industry as a whole.

Maurice believes that it is important that the industry displays an appropriate scepticism of itself, and continues to engage with critiques presented from clients, society and other professionals.

“We have a moral and ethical obligation to rationally examine ourselves. We need to be able to effectively model the behaviour we teach our clients,” says Maurice.

Maurice’s research is at the cutting edge of current clinical thought. “It simply isn’t true that counselling is only ever useful and never abusive or contraindicated. Over the decades we have seen minority groups, including indigenous cultures and the homosexual community questions modalities which work in discriminatory ways. These challenges will continue to present themselves and we need to remain responsive and open to them.”


Vaughan, M. (2014). Erin Pizzey and the forbidden narratives about domestic violence. Psychotherapy in Australia. Vol 20. Number 3. May 2014.

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Drawing from experience

Margaret McKenzie

When tasked with the role of motivating her School of Social Services colleagues to create research papers, Margaret McKenzie used the appreciative enquiry strategy to develop a research culture and capacity. She encouraged her colleagues to draw from their already existing experiences. She then documented this process as a working template.

 “In response to the research imperative, I worked with my colleagues to identify existing areas of strength that they could draw from,” she says.

“Appreciative inquiry can be a matter of exploiting what already exists. Through conscious reflection and valuing everyday tasks and achievements, my colleagues began to reframe their thoughts about possible research papers that they could present.”

Some examples of the papers that emerged include one that focused on the retention of Māori students within the School of Social Services. This material was drawn from already existing statistics, reports and in-house knowledge through fulfilling compliance requirements.

Two other colleagues collaborated and wrote individual papers focusing on current counselling theory, in answer to the question: What are you teaching and why?

Another paper was created by a staff member who had co-written a reflective journal while her sister was dying.

“In this instance the material already existed.  It just needed to be acknowledged as the valuable resource that it was,” she says.

With encouragement, this staff member published their journal as an e-book. She was awarded a travelling scholarship, and presented her paper to a very receptive audience at an international conference. 


McKenzie, M (2013) Appreciative Inquiry Capacity Building with Colleagues Margaret McKenzie AASWWE Symposium Imagining Futures for Social Work Education and Research 3-4 October 2013, Curtain University, Perth WA



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Relationships key to student success

Chris Williamson

A commitment to Māori student success has led staff at the School of Social Services on a journey of learning that has resulted in a major improvement in Māori achievement rates.

“The statistics were pretty clear – our Māori students were not succeeding at the same rate as other students,” explains the Head of School, Chris Williamson. “We all wanted our Māori students to succeed as well as anybody else. It’s an equity issue and a social justice issue.”

The School’s challenge was to identify and implement meaningful, effective changes. To facilitate this, tau iwi staff members were guided through a series of workshops and hui, consulting with the Polytechnic’s Kaitohutohu Office and undertaking the Certificate in Mata ā Ao Maori courses.

“We learned there is a critical difference between the standard Western approach to working, and approaches that work for Māori,” explains Chris. “One thing we changed was a stronger focus on building relationships with all of our students before beginning the content delivery.”

This was fostered, in part, through an overnight camp attended by staff and new students, at which students develop relationships with their peers, and lecturers. Year Two students run workshops at the camp and talk to the new students about their experiences.

The results of such changes have been remarkable, with Māori student success rates climbing dramatically – there is now no significant difference between the Māori student success rates and those of non-Maori.

“There’s still more we can do,” acknowledges Chris, “and we are committed to working with the Kaitohutohu Office to continue this journey.”


Williamson, C. (2013) Developing a staff training package to support tau iwi engaging with a Maori Strategic Framework. Paper presented at the New Zealand Association of Counsellors Annual Conference, Napier. May 23-24, 2013

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A good fit: theory and practice

Dianne Begg

When the Polytechnic advertised a position for a lecturer who could help establish a counselling training programme in 2001, Dianne Begg jumped at the chance. “I just applied and thought, dream territory, I will never get the opportunity for a position like this again,” she said.

Dianne, now a Senior Lecturer in the School of Social Services, is in charge of finding work placements for students in the Bachelor of Social Services (BSS) endorsed counselling programme.  As part of the programme, students also need to produce a work portfolio to present to an expert panel.

Dianne’s become intrigued by how students integrate their theory into practice, and whether the match between students and placement providers was a good fit.

“That’s how my own research came into being. I wanted know whether we were meeting the developmental needs and standards of counselling, whether we were getting the right match between the students and placement providers, and whether what was presented to the panel was of a good and sufficient standard,” she said.

She was also interested in knowing a student’s journey through the process and wanted to understand their frustrations and drive to succeed as a counsellor.

“All the students want to become the best counsellor they can. That’s not always a simple process; for some, the academic learning comes more easily than the actual practice. For others, working with the clients is great but the academic learning is difficult. So each student has a unique set of frustrations and challenges. For them, success is being able to say that I have my BSS endorsed in counselling.” 

As far as the placement side of it went, there was a good outcome. Dianne found that all the placement providers were willing to take a student again. 

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A model metaphor

Tim Linzey

Tim Linzey believes that his model is invaluable in helping Social Services students and practitioners understand how their values, beliefs and ethics relate to their professional practice.

A Senior Lecturer in Social Services at Otago Polytechnic, Tim Linzey has particular interest in the role of imagery and metaphor in bringing about understanding. He has spent more than two decades developing his own structural metaphor: the model of practice. It is deceptively simple – a pyramid made out of four layers of wooden blocks – yet Tim insists that students and practitioners can use this metaphor to uncover their own professional philosophy. They can also describe their approach to practice, such as Person–Centred Counselling, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or Transactional Analysis.

So, what does each layer represent? “The top level of the pyramid represents how a professional describes their practice; including their methods, strategies and outcomes,” Linzey explains. “The next level represents their discourse about ethics, values and objectives. These might differ, according to their approach, but in each case they should line up with their practice. The third level of the pyramid is the beliefs, which logically underpin their objectives. This layer addresses our fundamental assumptions and beliefs about human nature and about ‘what makes people tick’. The base layer of the pyramid represents the social, political and professional culture we operate in. Are we in line with our workplace’s philosophy, approach and core values?”

The metaphor can also be seen as an iceberg. “The tip is the practice but what really matters is beneath it. We might not be able to see someone’s ethics, beliefs about humanity or the politics of their setting – but it all influences their practice.” Tim believes this is a metaphor for professional integrity on two levels. The first is in the integrity of the actual pyramid-shape – if the layers don’t line up then professional integrity can be undermined. The second is the integrity of actually working from your beliefs so that your environment and practice matches them – resulting in real and enduring job satisfaction.

“The strength of the metaphor is that it allows us to take in the totality and overall sense of our model of practice,” says Tim. “It gets you to consider what degree of consistency or coherence there is between what we believe and what we do. Ideally, there should be a lining up of our beliefs and attitudes – and these would be reflected in our practice.”