Helping others manage stress and anxiety through mindfulness

Clinical psychologist Joy Chen was introduced to mindfulness and acceptance-based therapy approaches at JCU’s Master of Psychology (Clinical) programme

Learning about mindfulness and acceptance-based therapy at JCU led Master of Psychology (Clinical) graduate Joy Chen to further develop her skills in becoming a mindfulness teacher. PHOTO: NUHS Mind Science Centre

More people are showing feelings of self doubt, fear and anxiety these days, observes Ms Joy Chen.

This is because the Covid-19 pandemic is changing the way we interact with people around us, says the senior executive, clinical psychologist and mindfulness teacher at the National University Health System (NUHS) Mind Science Centre.

"As the whole family is confined in a limited space, more conflicts and an overall high level of irritation or frustration can be observed," she says. "On the other hand, for those living alone, the sense of loneliness and social isolation is much stronger."

This is where the 33-year-old's expertise in mindfulness coaching comes in. A typical day at the NUHS Mind Science Centre sees Ms Chen designing and conducting mindfulness-based workshops for healthcare professionals, stressed-out working adults and youth, and distressed elderly in the community.

During the circuit breaker period and through Phase 1 and 2 of the nation's reopening, she has moved her face-to-face workshops online in the form of video conferences and talks. They include weekday lunch-time practice videos designed to encourage participants to take a break amid their busy schedule to practice self-care.

She also designed and led an online silent retreat via Zoom designed to make participants pay more attention to their well-being as they calm down their minds and replenish themselves by cultivating introspection.

Ms Chen designs and conducts mindfulness-based workshops for stressed individuals at the NUHS Mind Science Centre. PHOTO: NUHS Mind Science Centre

Learning to be flexible and adaptive at JCU

Ms Chen's interest in pursuing a career in psychology stemmed from a family crisis during teenage years. The incident got her interested in studying what makes a person mentally resilient in the face of obstacles or setbacks.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Psychology at National University of Singapore in 2011, she joined the National Council of Social Services as a Senior Executive at the Research & Strategy department. She then pursued Master of Psychology (Clinical) at the Singapore campus of James Cook University (JCU) in 2014 because she wanted to further develop her career and learn more practical applications in clinical psychology.

She chose JCU because she found out from other psychologists that the university has an established history in running the two-year Master of Psychology (Clinical) programme in Singapore and that the programme is accredited by the Australian Psychology Accreditation Council (APAC).

Ms Chen also wanted to explore the Australian education system and learning environment. She found that the Master's programme at JCU focused more on hands-on applications, which enabled her to be more open-minded, flexible and adaptive in applying the knowledge and skills learnt in class.

JCU was also where Ms Chen was introduced to mindfulness and acceptance-based therapy, an area she is introducing and developing at the Mind Science Centre.

"My experience in JCU not only helped build my professional foundation in clinical psychology, but it also introduced me to the different mindfulness and acceptance-based therapy approaches, which eventually led me to pursue further training in becoming a mindfulness teacher," she says.

Mindfulness and acceptance-based therapy approaches are the third wave of cognitive behavioural therapy that adopt the Eastern philosophy of acceptance and mindfulness.Such a philosophy employs strategies, such as being present in the moment and practicing gratitude, to help people become more at ease with themselves and the world around them.

She recalls being inspired by professors like Dr Lim Kwok Kwang while completing her Master's programme. Dr Lim used methods like role playing to teach techniques for psychotherapy.

"Dr Lim's teaching has a personal impact on me because his teaching style is more integrative and spontaneous, which is more aligned with my personal style and has reminded me to keep the qualities of flexibility and spontaneity when working with others," she says.

Developing therapy approaches to benefit more people

As a mindfulness teacher, Ms Chen finds great satisfaction in connecting with people and helping them to overcome feelings of stress and anxiety.

"The most rewarding part of my job is to make human-to-human connections with others. This allows me to see the beauty in human beings and feel the deep sense of common humanity," she adds.

Her contributions in teaching mindfulness to participants have impressed Associate Professor John Wong Chee Meng, Director of the NUHS Mind Science Centre and Senior Consultant Psychiatrist, Department of Psychological Medicine, National University of Singapore & National University Hospital.

He observes that Ms Chen shows empathy and passion in her work, and that she is fully dedicated to her clinical work. He adds: "Her professionalism and clinical competencies in mindfulness practice and training contributes greatly to an important core programme at the Mind Gym at the NUHS Mind Science Centre. Her training participants have given her excellent compliments, which is a testimony to who Joy is and what she stands for!"

Ms Chen hopes to eventually pursue a PhD in the future, but right now she is focused on integrating different therapy approaches and applying them in preventative interventions to benefit more people.

She says: "I believe that the great wisdom from psychology and psychotherapy is not only for people with mental illness, anyone could make use of the knowledge and tools for self-development."

Visit to watch the course preview webinar for the Master of Psychology (Clinical) programme offered at James Cook University.

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