John Raeburn - Teacher, practitioner and innovator

A 60 year passion for promoting health, mental health and community wellbeing.
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John Raeburn - Teacher, practitioner and innovator

Kia ora koutou, 

I appreciate this opportunity to share with you some of the key resources influencing my 60 year passion for  promoting health, mental health and community wellbeing. A psychologist by trade, my roles have primarily been as practitioner, teacher, researcher and (hopefully) innovator in community and public health. What follows is a sample of books and publications I’ve used or worked on over that period. However, I must add that the greatest resources of all have been the people and communities I’ve interacted with. 

1960s: While in Canada for postgrad study, I was inspired by civil rights and radical movements and their common value of empowerment, reading influential books including Millett’s Sexual Politics and Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. While working as an early behaviour therapist in a Montreal hospital, my practice was transformed by Albert Ellis’ Guide to Rational Thinking, arguably the first form of CBT. 

1970s: Started teaching at Auckland Medical School and read about the innovative American Community Mental Health Movement, which led me to undertake wellbeing-enhancing community house projects. The original Birkdale-Beachhaven Community Project is still flourishing today. I also read the 1974 Canadian Lalonde Report which essentially invented health promotion, and I was instantly hooked.  

1980s: Set up community houses in Te Taitokerau (Kawakawa and Moerewa), where I deeply experienced Te Ao Māori and encountered Te Tiriti with its powerful health promotion messages of tino rangatiratanga and partnership. Then, while I was in Canada for the conference that produced the Ottawa Charter (still health promotion’s primary resource), I managed to get “empowerment” into it.  And back in my day job, I found Sarafino’s Health Psychology good for communicating some of these principles to medical students. 

1990s: Here I shamelessly mention my 1998 book, People-Centred Health Promotion, written with Canadian Irv Rootman, which emphasises the key roles of people, community, empowerment, culture and spirituality in health promotion. For teaching, I found the new discipline of community psychology helpful. A good resource on this is Thomas and Veno’s Aotearoa book Psychology and Social Change.  In this, you will find a chapter called The PEOPLE System, describing the planning and evaluation method I developed to implement this community approach, successfully used in about 40 projects.   

2000s: Applied the PEOPLE System approach to the new field of public health and gambling, summed up in the joint University/Hapai Te Hauora document Te Ngira.  Also got some of this approach into the (sadly neglected) 2002 MOH mental health policy document Building on Strengths. In 2005, I got involved with the Bangkok Charter, to which we Kiwis contributed concepts of mental, cultural and spiritual health. 

2010s:  With arrival of Auckland Supercity, we developed a strategy called Supercommunities to assert the key role of empowered local communities in the big city. This concept is described in ADCOSS’s Community Network magazine between 2017 and 2019. Its principles also appear in Auckland Council’s 2019 Thriving Communities Action Plan. From 2016, I worked with colleagues to help set up the Planetary Wellbeing Network (PWN), based on a 2014 Lancet article From public to planetary health: a manifesto.

2020s: Development of PWN continues. Now hosted by the Health Promotion Forum, it aims to have empowered local communities drive “ecological health promotion” aimed at addressing current challenges to the wellbeing of people and the planet. Central to this are online and printed resources usable by communities. However, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, these are still under development. 

Thank you for reading this. I hope you find some of these resources helpful. Go well in your work. Mauri ora. 

About John

John Raeburn is a retired university academic psychologist who has worked in health promotion, mental health promotion and community wellbeing, was a past Chair of MHF, has a QSO for Community Service, and was the 2015 Public Health Champion. 

Background article on the Auckland North Community and Development Inc website

John Raeburn - Teacher, practitioner and innovator