A career in clinical psychology is on the cards for Master of Dance Movement Therapy student and Kupe Scholarshsip recipient, Mackenzie Henderson-Wraight.
Mackenzie grew up in Cambridge, New Zealand and studied at St Peter's School before joining the University of Auckland in 2016 to study a Bachelor of Arts. What led her to take up a master's degree in Dance Movement Therapy really brings home the breadth of opportunities available at the University.
Why did you choose to study a master's degree at the University of Auckland?
"Studying at the University of Auckland has given me a piece of city life which I craved, and allows me to study what I am passionate about. Auckland is a place where I can become more independent while still being only a two-hour drive from home. In Auckland, there's always something new happening.
"In my final year of my bachelor's degree, I knew I wanted to continue in the psychology realm. My ultimate goal was (and still is) to become a clinical psychologist, but I knew it would be a journey to get there. In the meantime, I had a lot of options available to me. I could follow my interest in social psychology and become a researcher, or I could join the workforce and gain the ‘life experience’ that is needed for entry into a clinical psychology programme.
"I had no real idea and time was running out. Then Associate Professor Alys Longley and Head of the Dance Programme Ralph Buck walked into my dance lecture. They shared that a brand new master’s programme was starting the following year: the Master of Dance Movement Therapy. The therapeutic use of dance. A combination of psychology and dance. I was sold."
What has stood out for you so far as a highlight of the programme?
"As I was in the first group of students to ever study this degree, I had no expectations. I had no one to tell me what I would be studying before I arrived for the first day of classes. I felt like I was going in blind.
"Coming from a psychology degree, I expected to be relying on a lot of psychological principles. I wasn’t expecting dance therapy to have its own theories about how inner states are expressed through the body. I didn’t expect to use movement analysis systems developed nearly a century ago. And I certainly didn’t expect the huge breadth of populations that the degree would prepare me to work with.
"I came in wanting to work with mental health concerns, but along the way I have worked with adults with disabilities, children in kindergartens and primary schools, and even in a music therapy centre! Any expectations I had were blown out of the water and I have been overjoyed with all of the surprises that this degree has given me."
Can you tell us about the Kupe Scholarship?
"One of the highlights was becoming a Kupe Leadership Scholar for the inaugural cohort in 2019. This scholarship took my master’s degree from excellent to incredible. I was part of a cross-faculty group in which we studied the act of leadership, what makes a leader, and how we can implement leadership in our respective fields.
"As part of this scholarship, I had the opportunity to visit Ihumātao with my fellow scholars, and we met the mana whenua who are leading the reclamation of their whenua. They taught us their history and talked with us about how their leadership arose from kaitiakitanga and kotahitanga.
"I learnt so much from this experience, and it showed me that leadership is not some abstract concept held up by people who seem untouchable. It can be seen all around us, as long as you know what you are looking for.
"Another highlight has been my placement at an eating disorder unit. I feel very lucky to be able to run my own group dance therapy sessions with these clients and even take on individual clients. Sometimes I need to pinch myself because I can’t believe that I got such an incredible opportunity! I am considered as part of the team, and I have picked up so much practical knowledge about how inpatient mental health programmes work – something I would’ve never learnt in a classroom.
"Being trusted to work in this environment is not something I take lightly, and it has been an amazing experience to make a difference in the lives of these clients."
This scholarship took my master’s degree from excellent to incredible.
Tell us about your lecturers and supervisors
"All of the lecturers on the Master of Dance Movement Therapy programme are dance therapists themselves. They have real-life experience of working with clients, running their own practice or charity, and being board members of dance therapy organisations. They have come from across the world, from Europe, North America, Asia, and Australia, to inform and guide the growth of dance therapy in Aotearoa. They bring all of their professional experience with them and we frequently learn from what they learnt when working with their own clients.
"I feel grateful that we have such established therapists passing their expertise onto the next generation, and it is heartening to see cross-cultural understanding and partnership reflected in the teaching staff."
Do you feel your master's degree will help you achieve your goals for the future?
"When I finish my degree, I hope to work in a mental health organisation to deliver dance therapy sessions. As my degree allows me to be registered in Aotearoa, Australia, and Asia, there is the possibility that I could move overseas to do this too.
"I aim to do this work for at least five years before I start to expand my therapist toolbox with other qualifications. My ultimate goal is to become a clinical psychologist so that I can use both talk and dance therapy with my clients.
"Clinical psychology programmes are selective and often require previous work experience in the health sector. This master’s degree gives me an excellent pathway to gain the required experience, as I will be able to work directly with clients and deliver therapy sessions with them. It will show that I have a passion for mental health work and that I can stand the rigour of achieving professional healthcare registrations."
"It is the perfect launchpad for achieving my goals, and I will take everything I’ve learnt from it into my future clinical career."
What advice would you give to somebody considering postgraduate study?
"Apply for scholarships! My Kupe Scholarship improved more than just my postgraduate experience; it also influenced how I work with my classmates and colleagues, and how I view the concept of leadership. It also gave me the chance to meet people from faculties within the university that I would never have met otherwise.
"Scholarships can have a profound impact, and I would encourage you to apply for as many as you can. However, I know scholarships are not always smooth sailing. In 2020, I applied for four scholarships and I was rejected from every single one, but in 2019 I applied only for the Kupe Leadership Scholarship and I received it.
"The University has a massive number of available scholarships. Be resilient; you will find your place. Be flexible. Covid-19 threw a massive spanner in the works of my second year. But we adapted by delivering therapy sessions online. We also got to listen to guest lecturers from across the world, an opportunity that would not have happened without worldwide lockdowns.
"Being flexible and figuring out how to work with the inconveniences will make your experience easier and more enjoyable.
"Be passionate. If you are interested in studying something in the arts or a field that is relatively small in Aotearoa, it can be challenging and disheartening at times. But you’re interested in it for a reason. Believe in that reason.
"One of my placement supervisors shared that my dance therapy sessions had changed her life. By being confident about the worthiness of my field, I had shown her the impact that dance therapy can have. By being passionate and believing in my work, other people believed in it too. Your studies will have the same impact on people around you."
One of my placement supervisors shared that my dance therapy sessions had changed her life. By being confident about the worthiness of my field, I had shown her the impact that dance therapy can have.
Mackenzie was born feet-first as a footling breech on 10 September - World Suicide Prevention Day.
"I like to think that I almost came into the world with my feet leading the way to dance for suicide prevention. I guess it should be no surprise that I'm interested in addressing mental health concerns through dance movement therapy!" - Mackenzie Henderson-Wraight