Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Occupational Therapy

Maori Mental Health Consumers' Sensory Experience of Kapa Haka and Its Utility to Occupational Therapy Practice

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Occupational Therapy

Maori Mental Health Consumers' Sensory Experience of Kapa Haka and Its Utility to Occupational Therapy Practice

Article excerpt


Sensory modulation is an emerging occupational therapy intervention within adult mental health services. However, cultural variations in the use of sensory modulation have not been directly explored. In New Zealand, the traditional performing arts of kapa haka are used within Maori services as a cultural intervention. This qualitative study explored Maori mental health consumers' sensory experiences during kapa haka via in-depth interviews. Participants experienced feeling safe, being grounded in their bodies, and having an enhanced cultural identity. The findings support the use of culturally-responsive sensory modulation activities within occupational therapy practice and highlight the need for further research.

Key words

Sensory modulation, cultural responsiveness


Hollands, T., Sutton, D., Wright-St. Clair, V., & Hall, R. (2015). Maori mental health consumers' sensory experience of Kapa Haka and its utility to occupational therapy practice. New Zealand Journal of Occupational Therapy, 62(1), 3-11.

Sensory modulation intervention uses specific sensory input via objects, activities and environments to achieve optimal levels of arousal, assisting with self-regulation of emotion and behaviour. The intervention is gaining acceptance within adult mental health services on a national and international scale (National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, 2009; Te Pou o Te Whakaaro Nui, 2010). However, New Zealand's bicultural social and healthcare contexts, and the higher levels of mental disorder in Maori (Oakley Browne et al., 2006), require interventions be explored for relevance and responsiveness to this population. While the sensory modulation approach has been explored within psychiatric populations using standardised Westernised intervention methods (Champagne & Stromberg, 2004; Knight, Adkison, & Stack Kovach, 2010), there has been no exploration of the applicability of the intervention with a diverse range of cultures, including Maori. In order for occupational therapists to provide culturally-relevant sensory modulation, research is needed to understand sensory experiences during culturally meaningful occupations and explore links between these and the sensory modulation approach. Therefore this study asked the question "What are the sensory experiences of mental health consumers engaging in kapa haka (Traditional Maori performing arts involving various forms of group-based song, actions and dance) within a Kaupapa Maori unit?" The purpose of the study was to reveal mental health consumers sensory experiences and to instigate discussion about how this culturally-meaningful occupation can be used to increase or decrease arousal levels and enable self-regulation.

Literature review

Sensory modulation interventions are derived from Sensory Integration theory, which was developed by occupational therapist and educational psychologist, Jean Ayres (1972). Underpinning the theory is an assumption that neurologica processes organise multiple sensations so that an adaptive, purposeful interaction with the environment can occur (Bundy, Lane, & Murray, 2002). However, the processing and integration of sensory information can be significantly affected by stress, trauma, anxiety and other mental health symptoms (Abernethy, 2010). Recent sensory modulation practice has focused on improving emotional and behavioural responses by increasing self-awareness of sensory preferences and reactions, as well as people's self-management of sensory input (Champagne, Koomar, & Olson, 2010).

Self-regulation is a fundamental skill used to facilitate recovery within mental health settings (Rapp & Goscha, 2006). Traditionally, 'top down' approaches, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, have been used to assist with selfregulation. These involve the use of thoughts, inner dialogue and visualisation techniques to calm one's mind and physiological responses (Champagne et al. …

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