Mental health professionals with a Muslim background are likely to be in short supply and high demand over the coming weeks.

Canterbury executive member of the NZ Association of Counsellors Christine Macfarlane said there was a "gap" when it came to counsellors with a background in or knowledge of the Muslim belief system.

"We have a Western dominant culture. That's mainly what we've been trained in."

A complicating factor was that the Muslims involved were from many different countries with their own cultures and languages, she said.

Advertisement

Meeting the demand for culturally appropriate support for those affected by the mosque shootings in the coming weeks could be an issue, Macfarlane said.

Refugees as Survivors chief executive Ann Hood said they were one of the few agencies which had mental health and trauma experts who spoke a range of languages and had the cultural knowledge to support those most affected.

"Resourcing is always an issue," she said.

The Auckland-based organisation was organising support groups in different languages that those who felt affected could take part in to share and learn how to support their families.

Hood said they acknowledged there was a large need and would not be restricting their services to refugees.

She said while the cultural knowledge was important and could make a big difference, people needed to remember that all humans had the same basic reaction to trauma.

Flowers and tributes at the Al Huda Mosque in Dunedin. Photo / Dean Purcell
Flowers and tributes at the Al Huda Mosque in Dunedin. Photo / Dean Purcell

"The natural human response in situations like this is to be kind, be gentle, be patient - it's doesn't matter what religion they are."

It was the little things that made a difference and Hood encouraged people who felt like taking baking or flowers to the community to do so.

Advertisement

Being able to speak to people in your native tongue during difficult times was important because trying to think of the words in English was an added stress, Hood said.

"There are many different communities that have been affected. It can be really helpful for people to express their feelings in their own language."

The organisation had a clinician in Christchurch helping the other support agencies but Hood said she believed it would be in the coming weeks as things got back to normal that their help working directly with the victims would be needed.

"This isn't short term. This isn't going to go away quickly."

While the Muslim community was the most directly affected, other ethnic groups also now felt unsafe and scared, she said.

"They feel different, they feel that people see them as different. So if Muslims can be attacked then could other communities be targeted?

Clinical psychologist Neil Thompson said those in the field were always sensitive to other people's cultures and needs but few would have a good knowledge of the culture.

"It is unfortunately likely that many clinical psychologists will have limited knowledge of Muslim/Islamic customs and traditions. Clinical psychologists will often start an assessment by trying to make sense of a person's cultural needs before offering clinical interventions."