Thursday, June 13, 2024

National teaching honour for UC psychology expert

University of Canterbury (UC) Associate Professor Eileen Britt (pictured) has received the ‘Progressing educational partnerships and collaboration’ prize in Te Whatu Kairangi – Aotearoa Tertiary Educator Awards 2022, it was announced today.

In a statement, UC said the Associate Professor’s 36 years as a registered clinical psychologist and dedication to biculturally-responsive learning had made her an exemplary teacher.

“I have been interested in psychology since adolescence,” Associate Professor Britt says.

“I come from a large extended family and witnessed the inevitable struggles that can arise due to the disparities of ethnicity, education, disability, and income.

“I came to clinical psychology because I was interested in others’ stories and in their wellbeing, and I was interested in working with evidence-based approaches to empower others to foster their own wellbeing.

“Being situated at the nexus of ‘caring’ and ‘science’, clinical psychology was a good fit for me.”

After 15 years of clinical psychology practice, Associate Professor Britt says she was drawn to teaching at UC, initially as a Clinical Educator, with UC’s Postgraduate Diploma in Clinical Psychology programme.

She says responding to inequality was important to her from the beginning.

“As a clinician who had witnessed the disparate mental health outcomes between Māori and Pākehā, I felt it was important to redress this within the psychology department, and the clinical programme in particular.If we were training clinical psychologists to work in a bicultural country and if we were to attract Māori trainees, I believed we needed to include a greater bicultural component, and I hoped that I might be able to facilitate this change.”

A Māori student said in student feedback, “I also found she would incorporate Māori customs and values into the work which was tremendously helpful for me”. 

Motivational Interviewing (MI) has informed Associate Professor Britt’s practice, research and teaching, she says.

“As a trainer of MI, I had experienced the power of creating collaborative partnerships with learners, fostering an environment in which each learner is valued for the knowledge and experiences they come with, and which allows learners to be active partners in their own learning. I found this an enormously satisfying experience, and still do,” she says.

To explore whether MI could also be useful in helping unemployed people in Aotearoa New Zealand, Associate Professor Britt collaborated with Work and Income New Zealand (WINZ), where she trained some of their staff who were working with long-term unemployed clients and evaluated the results.

“The study was shortened by Covid-19, but in short, the WINZ staff conversations with their clients changed from an expert-driven question and answer style conversation to one in which there was greater partnership and empathic listening demonstrated by the WINZ staff and greater talk about change from their clients.”

Similar results happened when Associate Professor Britt partnered with UC’s Faculty of Engineering.

“I provided MI training and ongoing coaching for engineering academics and support staff to build their skills. This enabled the staff to change their style of conversation to have more collaborative conversations with students so that students could share their perspective, feel heard and understood, and find their own solutions, consistent with universities being places for learning and self-discovery,” she said.

Te Whatu Kairangi, the Aotearoa Tertiary Educator awards celebrate outstanding tertiary educators who are making a difference to learners, their whānau and communities.

Associate Professor Britt said she was “surprised and delighted” to win the prestigious national award.

“It is lovely to receive this recognition, especially as the award is in the educational partnership and collaboration category. For me the whakataukī ‘ehara tāku toa i te toa takatahi, engari he toa takatini’, which refers to the collective effort necessary for success, really resonates with me,” she said.

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