Just talk? Lots of creativity in counselling

Ms Tan says her parenting style has also changed "as I've learnt more about myself".
Ms Tan says her parenting style has also changed "as I've learnt more about myself".ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

She was once a high-flying corporate executive but Ms Tan Yih Sze took a big left turn five years ago and now helps people heal and transform. Hers is a job that would likely be tough to automate even for the most advanced society.

The 44-year-old became a counsellor and psychotherapist at Psycare Consultants after 17 years solving problems and driving change in the front line of business.

She first got an inkling a move might be on the cards when she attended a counselling session following major changes and retrenchments at her previous organisation.

"I found it very useful and it got me thinking about a possible career change ... I began to realise my own strengths lie in facilitating changes in organisations, and transformation and development in people."

Ms Tan made the move after obtaining a master's degree in professional counselling. Though she is now taking home significantly less pay and her family has had to scale back their spending, the mother of one says she has no regrets.

"It may not be a recession-proof profession, but it is personally fulfilling for me to see the transformation in my clients ... My parenting style has also changed as I've learnt more about myself," she says.

"It fits my character and my own sense of personal growth ... This personal growth doesn't feel like it's driven by a fear of becoming obsolete, instead it is driven purely by internal motivation. It's a very different perspective from the corporate world."

The human touch is essential in her job and would be difficult to replicate with technology, says Ms Tan, who frequently works with clients who have been through severe trauma and emotional distress.

"I sometimes have to hold the hands of my clients without saying anything ...That sense of compassion and humanity is hard to replicate," she adds.

There is also no single way of helping clients as each person is different, says Ms Tan, who sees six to seven clients a day on average.

"People think counselling is just about talking. But there's a lot more creativity involved ... I can use the environment (around the office), the weather, toys, anything."

One of the biggest challenges counsellors face is dealing with their own emotions, Ms Tan says.

"Day in day out, you're seeing people who are feeling very stuck and helpless, and encountering a lot of sadness and grief.

"For me, I have to be very conscious of how many sessions I take in a row... I also use the tools to teach my clients to release difficult and disturbing emotions."

Chia Yan Min

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2015, with the headline 'Just talk? Lots of creativity in counselling'. Print Edition | Subscribe