Counsellors seek to fill the gap for migrants' needs

HARRY PEARL
Last updated 05:00 24/01/2014
Kou Kunishige
FOREIGN SERVICE: Kou Kunishige has started a counselling service that caters to immigrants in the Waikato.

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Demand for counselling among Waikato's growing ethnic communities has prompted a Japanese counsellor and clinical psychologist to start a service in Hamilton.

Immigrant support services in Hamilton have welcomed the arrival of Diversity Counselling New Zealand, a newly established charitable trust that offers counselling services in five foreign languages, with plans to add more.

The initiative is said to fill a gap for culturally aware and foreign language-friendly support in the region, which according to last year's census is becoming increasingly diverse.

Kou Kunishige, acting manager and counsellor at Diversity Counselling New Zealand, said the service has six counsellors, including two from Japan and a counsellor each from Sri Lanka, Argentina, China and Hungary.

Mr Kunishige, who is from Japan but received a masters of counselling at the University of Waikato, said he noticed a need for a service tailored to immigrants when he attended a conference hosted by the New Zealand Association of Counsellors last year.

"The number of migrants [in New Zealand] is reasonably high . . . but I found I was the only Asian counsellor and I did not see any Muslim or African counsellors."

Mr Kunishige said new immigrants often lacked English competency and were unfamiliar with local culture.

"The first hurdle is language. Unfortunately a lot of immigrants aren't confident in socialising. A new environment sometimes changes an entire personality."

Census figures revealed that Waikato's smaller ethnic groups grew significantly between 2006 and 2013.

The region's Asian population increased 45 per cent to 26,382, and the combined tally of Middle Eastern, Latin American and African people grew 47 per cent to 3564.

Jo de Lisle, who is a member of Diversity Counselling's board of trustees, said immigrants and refugees often found a new culture challenging and support for non-native English speakers was hard to find in Hamilton.

"There have not been counsellors that speak different languages or that have had a perspective on being an immigrant or refugee."

Refugees in particular often needed help dealing with issues of trauma and loss, she said.

Operations manager at Hamilton Multicultural Services Trust, Ellie Wilkinson, welcomed the service and said it would help fill a gap in immigrant support.

"I think naturally when you come into a new community and you've got a different cultural understanding, a different language and a different journey - especially if you're a refugee - then obviously there's counselling support that's needed.

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"And if that counselling support is with someone that has the same cultural understanding and the same language that possibly provides better support."

- Waikato Times

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