Want to Beat Burnout? Get Thee to a Monastery: In the Prevention-Better-Than-Cure Tradition, a Hamilton-Based Charitable Trust Is Pioneering a New Service Its CEO Julie Nelson Reckons More Working Women Need. A Monastery?

Article excerpt

With more than 15 years' background in the not-for-profit sector, if there's something Julie Nelson knows a thing or two about, it's plugging gaps in New Zealand's mental health and social services.

Since the late 1980s, she has been involved with a series of initiatives aimed at improving the lives of people affected by mental illness. Her enthusiasm for creativity and innovation in this area started when she became one of the co-founders of an organisation that kicked off with a small grant of $40,000 and a dream of making a difference for people who were moving out of institutions and back into the community.

An emphasis on identifying and responding to people's needs has seen the original Pathways Trust steadily grow into an organisation that today provides a range of services employing 450 staff in seven regions. From this have emerged additional services specifically focused on learning and employment (the Blueprint Centre for Learning and Workwise). Altogether the group of charitable trusts and companies now has a combined operating income of $70 million.

Each of these trusts has its own board and is registered independently but they are linked through shared management services provided by the Wise Trust, of which Nelson is joint chief executive--but a reluctant spokesperson. That's because these organisations are not about individuals, but teams.

It is, she says, a fundamental part of the group's value system.

"What is really important to me is the sense of a team, working with talented individuals prepared to take risks, consider new ideas, and head where no-one has before."

Which is why this story is not about her but about the trust's work--more specifically, its latest initiative and where that fits on the continuum of mental health needs.

"What happened is that a few years ago, the Trust undertook some research," explains Nelson. "We believed there were women whose needs were not being met by the public health system because they're not sick enough to be in hospital. These are people who are perhaps dealing with some trauma--like a relationship breakdown--while struggling to retain a job, be competent in their professional life and care for their families.

"They may be getting some counselling but what they need is to go somewhere, take time out and get professional help while someone else does all the caring."

Hence The Monastery which, despite the name, is all about women's health needs and is something of a first in this country, reckons Nelson.

"It's a facility set up for women who've experienced stress, trauma or depression--and the rate of depression amongst women is twice that experienced by men.

"We looked at countries like Britain that have specific women's health policies and realised that would be an emerging trend here as well. If you look at people going into hospital in the public system, we lump men and women together but in reality, their needs are completely different."

What women want, according to their research, is some serious pampering which is what The Monastery delivers, along with plenty of professional help. It's what Nelson describes as a "short, sharp intervention" and a key target market is women in management or professional roles who need time to sort themselves out and tools to help them better run busy lives.

Although it's only been open two months, the $2 million retreat set in peaceful grounds alongside the Waikato River has already earned praise from guests surprised at how much difference five days of concentrated caring was able to achieve.

Programmes are structured on a 'work' week and are very tailored to individual needs, says Nelson.

"One of the things we wanted to do was to put this in the context of being serious about taking time out and do it Monday to Friday. Weekends are the time you need to be connecting back into your own network of family and friends. …

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