Para-counsellor policemen lend an ear to other cops

Volunteer police para-counsellors Dalip Kaur and Jason Loke are trained to help their colleagues deal with  personal issues, whether marital, financial or work-related. Para-counsellors go through a rigorous selection process. -- ST PHOTO: DESMO
Volunteer police para-counsellors Dalip Kaur and Jason Loke are trained to help their colleagues deal with  personal issues, whether marital, financial or work-related. Para-counsellors go through a rigorous selection process. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Superintendent of Police Jason Loke does not just catch crooks.

He also catches problems - the personal kind.

The 40-year-old is one of a growing number of volunteer police para-counsellors who are trained to help their colleagues deal with life's issues, whether marital, financial or work-related.

Once, he noticed how another policeman was under-performing at work. He took him out for drinks, and the married colleague revealed that he was having an affair with an old friend.

"He wanted to end the extramarital affair. He was concerned that it would affect his family and career," said Mr Loke, an assistant director of the Forensics Division at the Criminal Investigation Department. "I told him that if he gave up his family or career, it may not be the best way forward. Ultimately, he ended the relationship."

A 2008 police survey showed that work, relationships and issues with other colleagues were the top three problems which para-counsellors had to deal with.

Mr Loke, who has served in the force for 16 years, noticed how officers are more comfortable sharing their problems with one of their peers instead of an in-house psychologist.

That was one reason the voluntary para-counselling programme was launched in 2001. It started with 100 counsellors, but there are now 330, with at least one para-counsellor in every division.

It may be a volunteer position, but those who sign up have to go through a rigorous selection process, which involves passing a psychometric test to see whether the volunteers have the traits of a good counsellor, and a selection interview.

And then there are five days of training. During this time, they are taught basic counselling skills and learn how to support officers and their families in a crisis.

They also go through a suicide intervention and prevention course, in which they learn to spot signs of suicidal behaviour, such as depression and sudden withdrawals from social interactions.

Ms Ho Hui Fen, 32, the head of resilience and counselling at the Police Psychological Services, conducts the training. She believes that suicides can be prevented when signs are spotted early.

The work of a police officer can be challenging and stressful, added Ms Ho, pointing out that some may be reluctant to seek professional assistance since they view their job as providing help to others.

Others may be embarrassed to discuss financial problems. But it is easier to talk to a colleague one is familiar with, explained Ms Ho.

The volunteer para-counsellors also work with full-time national serviceman.

Staff sergeant Dalip Kaur, 37, remembers how the para-counselling skills she learnt helped her deal with one of her recruits at the Training Command.

He was having problems dealing with the fact that he could not go home to play computer games, said Madam Dalip.

"It was just a few more weeks to passing out and the trainee had refused to talk, as if he had lost his voice," she told The Sunday Times.

"I showed him a calendar and tried to explain to him that he could go home to his games soon, after taking away the Saturdays and Sundays.

"After that, he seemed okay. I didn't think that a calendar could do such wonders."

joycel@sph.com.sg

Register here to get free digital access to The Straits Times until Aug 9, 2015.
Comments