Playing with each other at the Manawaroa Maori mental health unit


Manawaroa mental health unit in the mid-1980s

14 year old Seann is arriving at the unit with his mother, step-father and his sisters and brothers. Despite Seann’s questions his parents will only say that they are all there for a family meeting. The meeting room is situated within a recently built prefab. There are plastic chairs for the family to sit on and a large lounge chair for the psychiatrist, Dr Mason Durie. One by one each member of the family is asked a number of questions and eventually each is allowed to leave the room; except Seann. Seann is left on his own with Dr Durie. He senses a set up. Across from Seann and Dr Durie is a mirror the size of an entire wall.

Dr Durie asks Seann whether he plays with himself or not and, if he did; what was it that he thought of as he did it.

Dr D: “Do you play with yourself…your penis…do you masturbate?”

S: “Yes”

Dr D: “Do you think of girls or do you think of boys while you masturbate?”

S: “I think of girls”

Seann is actually confused and he’s panicking as he doesn’t want Dr Durie – or anyone else – to know that he is attracted to boys. Seann is confident that he has duped Dr Durie but unfortunately for him he didn’t anticipate the follow up questions that would confirm for Dr Durie that Seann could be homosexual.

At the end of the session, Seann leaves and passes the large mirror on his way out. As he leaves the room he notices the door next door is wide open and people in white coats are standing up to leave. It is a small theatre type room containing about 12-15 people in white coats with clipboards. They could see into the room where Seann was being interviewed next door. Seann immediately figures out that the group were observing the interview and taking notes. He begins to cry and almost drops to the floor. His mum takes his arm, holds him up in time and goes to comfort him. Seann pulls away angry, tearful and confused.