Learning to nurture intimacy in families

Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim launching the book Between Spaces at the symposium yesterday, with PPIS chief executive Mohd Ali Mahmood.
Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim launching the book Between Spaces at the symposium yesterday, with PPIS chief executive Mohd Ali Mahmood.ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA

Social service experts discuss ways to help in two-day forum

The most common underlying cause driving families to seek therapy is the lack of intimacy in their relationships, a Muslim welfare organisation has found.

Out of 1,572 cases of families and couples seeking therapy seen by the Singapore Muslim Women's Association (PPIS) since 2015, 95 per cent can be attributed to a lack of understanding and intimacy.

To address this, the association is holding a two-day symposium at Concorde Hotel, which ends today, to encourage discussions about intimacy and culture among practitioners working with families.

Participants will discuss intimacy across cultures and the importance of expanding it to multiple contexts, such as addiction, in working with families.

They will learn ways to nurture closeness in couple and family interactions, and find out about new research and writing tools in the practice, PPIS added.

At the event, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs, told reporters: "The most important thing is to get into the dynamics of a family.

EXPRESSING INTIMACY

The struggle with our community is that people wonder, 'Can I express intimacy in the presence of other people?'

MADAM MAIMUNAH MOSLI, clinical supervisor and principal family therapist at the PPIS Family Therapy Institute.

"I think we have to go down to the basic fundamental level - what brings couples together, and what is it we can do to help them to strengthen their relationships."

PPIS, a non-profit organisation that helps women and families by providing family services, student care and early childhood education, started a Family Therapy Institute to offer family therapy services in 2015.

Madam Maimunah Mosli, clinical supervisor and principal family therapist at the institute, said the definition of intimacy must be expanded beyond that which is sexual.

Couples must be more willing to express their emotional vulnerabilities, she said, adding that this problem is not exclusive to any particular ethnic group. "The struggle with our community is that people wonder, 'Can I express intimacy in the presence of other people?'," said Madam Maimunah.

She observed that instead of a caring touch, couples might become brusque in their interactions, or misinterpret each other's affection for sexual desire.

Madam Maimunah said many people are not well versed in the rich and complex language of intimacy.

However, families must discuss their emotional, psychological and religious intimacies to be in tune with one another in healthy relationships. Mr Terry Real, an American author and family therapist of more than 25 years, gave tips on how social service practitioners can effect lasting change on people they work with, in a more precise and effective manner.

Social worker Udhia Kumar, 48, who was at the symposium, said: "I realised that we have to know and be aware of our own intimacy experience and needs, and how it shapes us when we are in conversation with others."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 12, 2018, with the headline 'Learning to nurture intimacy in families'. Print Edition | Subscribe