Supporting Aotearoa's Rainbow People - A Practical Guide for Mental Health Professionals

Reviewed by Louisa Woods, Guidance Counsellor


(2020). RainbowYOUTH, InsideOUT, and Gender Minorities Aotearoa, and Victoria University of Wellington’s Youth Wellbeing Study.


The first thing that strikes you about Supporting Aotearoa's Rainbow People is its colour - the native flora and fauna that adorn its pages thanks to the design and illustration talents of Bo Moore. Flowers, plants and birdlife in all colours, shapes, and sizes are featured throughout the guide and beautifully represent the diversity and vibrancy of our rainbow community.

But the beauty in this guide goes well beyond how it looks. There is a genuine respect and care for the wellbeing of rainbow people woven through the text. This is clear from the very first page where the authors acknowledge their intention to use inclusive language, whilst also acknowledging that their language choices may not be a good fit for everyone. It is a resource in which diversity is not only accepted but is celebrated, and the information it provides supports mental health professionals to join that celebration.

Supporting Aotearoa's Rainbow People is based on a kaupapa of five guiding principles: take an affirmative stance; respect self-determination; engage in self-reflection; acknowledge the diversity of rainbow people; and learn about rainbow experiences and needs. It encourages mental health professionals to bring these principles into their work by including a range of information about what works (and what really doesn’t work) for rainbow people who engage with mental health services.

The guide also includes sections on appropriate language and pronoun use, definitions of some common terms related to sexuality and gender, and some background information about the rainbow community in Aotearoa and their treatment in mental health settings. The information is clear and comprehensive, though not overwhelmingly so, and there is specific advice throughout the text that people can use to guide their practice. 

The third section of the guide, ‘Understanding the Diversity of Experiences Among Rainbow People’, reiterates the fact that not all rainbow people have the same experiences and face the same issues. Educating ourselves on the different forms of discrimination and other sexuality and gender related challenges people may face can improve our ability to provide appropriate and useful support. 

Possibly the most powerful element of the text is the inclusion of quotes from members of Aotearoa’s rainbow community throughout the guide. Their voices add depth and lived experience to the information and recommendations for practice featured in the text. At times their voices are sad or frustrated, telling stories of a system that has let them down or experiences that have left them hurt, but these voices encourage us as practitioners to reflect on our own behaviours, assumptions, and attitudes, and challenge us to do better in our work.

The guide ends by reminding us that while rainbow people may face challenges in our society and may need support, they are an incredible bunch of people, and being rainbow is also a source of strength, solidarity, and joy. This guide is an excellent resource in helping mental health practitioners to make mental health settings a source of those three things too.

This guide is for anyone who provides mental health support in Aotearoa, including (but not limited to) counsellors, psychologists, psychiatrists, psychotherapists, tohunga (Māori healers), social workers, mental health nurses, and GPs. It will also be helpful for youth workers, group facilitators, and peer supporters.

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Supporting Aotearoas rainbow people cover
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