November 17, 2023

European Health Psychology Society Conference Report

European Health Psychology Society Conference Report

Introduction to the conference

The conference is run by the European Health Psychology Society (EHPS) which is a professional organisation formed to promote empirical and theoretical research in, and applications of, health psychology within Europe.  There is also an interchange of information related to health psychology with other associations throughout the world towards an international achievement of these aims.

The EHPS organizes conferences annually, publishes journals, facilitates Special Interest Groups, and collaborates with other psychological organizations to spread knowledge and application of health psychology science and practice.

The conference was held at the University of Bremen.  There were approximately 800 in attendance, which included approximately 5 New Zealanders and 2 Australians.  The days consisted of a morning presentation session, morning tea, another session, with a lunch break, an afternoon session followed by a poster session and the keynote speaker.  There were a range of presentation topics focused on mental, physical and socio-cultural issues.  However, I did note that there were very little perspectives on spirituality or health issues related to the land.  There was a high emphasis on quantitative data which made me wonder how our Māori perspectives on holistic concepts of health and healing would be relatable.

Conference dinner

This year the conference dinner was held on Wednesday 6 September at El Mundo in Bremen, overlooking the Weser River, and it was a beautiful outlook.  There was a buffet dinner, and band entertainment was provided by conference attendees for a short period, before a DJ took over.  I met with Antonia Lyons from Auckland, Abigail Locke from Keele, England, Maria del Rio Carral from Lausanne, Switzerland (also presenters in the same session as me), Tina Cartwright from London, England, as well as my friend who travelled with me, Marine Hape, for dinner.  In addition, at the dinner, I met up again with James Green, ex-Otago University Health Psychology lecturer, now relocated in Limerick, Ireland.   The atmosphere was great and the food was delicious, but we left early, because four of the six women at our table had our presentation in the morning.

Conference presentation

The conference abstract that was accepted for presentation was as follows:

The cultural right to include traditional healing alongside Western medicine for health treatment

Glenis Mark, Ihope Limited, New Zealand, Amohia Boulton, Whakauae Research Limited, New Zealand, Tanya Allport, Whakauae Research Limited, New Zealand, Donna Kerridge, Ora New Zealand, New Zealand, Gill Potaka-Osborne, Whakauae Research Limited, New Zealand


Rongoā Māori (traditional Māori healing) is an important part of the cultural heritage for Māori in Aotearoa/New Zealand.  However, due to misconceptions about what Rongoā Māori encompasses, further study was needed to understand traditional healing concepts, which included perceptions of Rongoā in the health treatment system.  This qualitative study sought to illustrate the potential of Rongoā Māori to create wellbeing benefits for participants.


58 Rongoā practitioners and patients participated in semi-structured interviews and focus groups held throughout Aotearoa/New Zealand.  The Rourou Framework, which draws on mātauranga Māori (Māori Knowledge) was employed to analyse the data. Using the well known Māori proverb “Nā tō rourou, nā taku rourou ka ora ai te iwi" (through our joint efforts the people will be fed), each individual interview was analysed separately and all the cases were analysed together by the research team.

Findings:  We found that participants were dissatisfied with taking medical pills and prescriptions, preferring to take natural remedies; there was a misunderstanding, and discrimination against, people with culturally spiritual gifts; and yet, despite knowing there might be difficulties, participants still believed that collaboration between the Rongoā and Western medicine was possible.

Discussion:  Māori and Indigenous peoples have the right to  be able to access traditional cultural healing methods to support overall wellbeing.  Cultural aspects of health must be included in health treatment to reduce cultural inequities and misunderstanding and improve the health of the people.  Greater awareness, understanding and inclusion of Indigenous health and healing practices and values in public health treatment systems is critical.

My presentation was held on Thursday 7 September in a stream titled ‘Critical perspectives on Health Psychology’.  The session started with Abigail Locke and Maria de Rio Carral who shared that critical health psychology is less about quantitative research, and more about being inclusive of different theoretical lenses in health psychology.   They believed that while there is a focus on quantitative, that there is room for other perspectives, and this was a great segue way into our research presentation.

Before I began my presentation, I noted that there were a range of topics focused on mental, physical and socio-cultural issues in conference presentations, with little perspectives on spirituality or health issues related to the land.  But after listening to Abigail and Maria’s presentation, I felt as though it was not only possible, but likely valuable for more holistic approach contributions to health psychology.

I spoke for about 10 minutes and answered a few questions including whether we had looked at the international examples about collaboration between Rongoā and Western medicine.  I responded by saying that we can take note of the experiences in other countries, but they have different dynamics so we can’t duplicate what they have done.  For example, in Africa traditional medicine is the first choice of the people, and that isn’t the same here where Western medicine is the first choice of treatment.  Also in China, traditional medicine is respected there, and Rongoā healing principles are not respected the same here in New Zealand.  Support was voiced for sharing Māori perspectives on healing as there were similar issues being faced by indigenous people in Australia.  The attending audience showed great interest during the presentation, and later feedback was given that people did enjoy my presentation.  A couple of people also wanted more information about prior Rongoā research which shows there is interest in this research area.  The presenters collectively believed that our session, and session discussion, was the best of the conference, albeit a likely biased opinion.

Overall, the conference was enjoyable, as was the summer weather.  I think it was a valuable experience to note the lack of holistic perspectives in the health psychology research overall, and to understand how our Māori concepts of health and healing could potentially help more than just Māori in understanding unique and indigenous ways to best cope with health and illness.

Dr Glenis Mark Researcher (in collaboration with Whakauae Research Services)

Dr Glenis Mark

Researcher (in collaboration with Whakauae Research Services)

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