Counselling centre celebrates 50 years with 50 stories of hope

From left: Mr Steven Soh, 47; Mrs Dorothy Lau, 83; Ms Valerie Oh, 36; Mrs Juliana Toh, 56; and Ms Grace Lim, 41, form the team which brought out a new book, Becoming, as part of the Counselling and Care Centre's 50th anniversary.
From left: Mr Steven Soh, 47; Mrs Dorothy Lau, 83; Ms Valerie Oh, 36; Mrs Juliana Toh, 56; and Ms Grace Lim, 41, form the team which brought out a new book, Becoming, as part of the Counselling and Care Centre's 50th anniversary.PHOTO: TIFFANY GOH FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Narratives reflect work of Counselling and Care Centre, the oldest of its kind in Singapore

All that the four-year-old asked for was a hug, but her 10-year-old brother molested her instead.

Years later, she was raped by a stranger when she was just 11.

Jay (not her real name) blamed herself for asking for that hug, even years after the incidents.

As a teenager, she harboured suicidal thoughts and struggled with her sexuality and relationships.

Her outlook on life changed for the better only after she met a counsellor who showed her how to love herself when she was 14.

"I neither got answers nor was I offered solutions to these issues. However, the questions asked and the reminders given of how normal it is for a four-year-old to ask for a hug freed me," said Jay, now 46 and a financial adviser.

Her story is one of 50 narratives, about lives that have been transformed by counselling and training, chronicled in a new book.

Titled Becoming, the book will be launched by Singapore's oldest counselling centre - Counselling and Care Centre - to mark its 50th anniversary next week.

Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin will present awards to the centre's partners on Thursday at its 50th anniversary conference at Hotel Fort Canning. There will also be a dinner.

The centre was the first here to introduce counselling as a professional service in the field of mental health back in 1966.

The centre, which started as a collaboration between Wesley Methodist Church and St Andrew's Cathedral, was then known as Churches' Counselling Service and was located at 5, Fort Canning Road. It was renamed in 1975 to serve the wider community.

The late Anthony Yeo, often called Singapore's "father of counselling", was its first local director and is remembered for advocating the proper recognition of counsellors through training and registering qualified counsellors.

Over the past five decades, the centre has handled 25,000 cases. Most have involved couples' issues, followed by social and relational issues, as well as mental health.

"More couples are now open to seeking help for sexual and intimacy issues and more elderly couples who have been married for 20 to 30 years are exploring divorce," said Mrs Juliana Toh, clinical director of the Counselling and Care Centre.

"In general, cases are also more complex and accompanied by low self-confidence, abuse or neglect in early childhood and other traumatic events," she added.

The centre also offers an Employee Assistance Programme to organisations concerned about how personal or work-related issues of their employees may affect their job performance and relationships.

It also provides training and consultancy services for professionals and organisations, and publishes research work.

Ms Dorothy Lau, a member of the centre's management committee, said counselling "is not a doctor-patient relationship". She said: "It is an equipping process, enabling the client to take on the responsibility of making his own decisions... and to then find the courage to act on them."

The new book will be given out free from Sept 2 at the centre, which is at Block 536, Upper Cross Street.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 22, 2016, with the headline 'Counselling centre celebrates 50 years with 50 stories of hope'. Print Edition | Subscribe