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Speech by Min of State Sun Xueling at 2023 Webinar Series: Counselling in Southeast Asian Contexts

Associate Professor Justina Tan, Associate Vice President, Strategic Partnership & Engagement 
Associate Professor Lim Lee Chin, Dean, S R Nathan School of Human Development
Associate Professor Timothy Sim, Head of Programme, Master of Counselling
Ladies and Gentlemen

1. Good afternoon. It is my pleasure to be a part of the 2023 Webinar Series on Counselling in Southeast Asian Contexts. 

2. While I am unable to join you ‘live’ due to work commitments, I thank the organisers for giving me this opportunity to speak with you, at this platform that has brought together a distinguished group of academics, practitioners, and students from Southeast Asia and beyond. 

Acknowledgement of counsellors and their work
3. Allow me to begin by conveying my appreciation to all the counsellors who have worked tirelessly to help clients navigate their various challenges. In recent years, there has been growing concern about mental health issues brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. As counsellors, you play a pivotal role to support the mental well-being of the community. Thank you for your commitment and dedication!

Current landscape of counselling 
4. Recognizing the importance of mental well-being, in 2021, the Singapore government established the Interagency Taskforce on Mental Health and Well-being to provide greater support to families, children and youths. Through various public education efforts, including the “Beyond the Label” campaign, we are encouraged to see more people coming forward to seek help. Our main message is that seeking help is a sign of strength, and not a sign of weakness.

5. As mental health issues can affect anyone, regardless of background, our counsellors will have to be prepared to support a wide range of clients. This includes adapting interventions to suit clients with diverse needs and different social and cultural backgrounds.  Counsellors also need to adapt the ways in which interventions are delivered. For example, with a rapidly aging population, home based sessions or digital consultations are becoming more common. 

6. The convenience of tele-counselling can allow clients to reach out for help whenever they need it, especially during crises. 

  1. For instance, the Samaritans of Singapore (or SOS) has a 24-hour hotline where trained volunteers provide emotional support for those in distress.
  2. Similarly, the Philippines has a 24-hour crisis hotline as part of a National Suicide Prevention Strategy. 

7. Such ease of access to services will allow more individuals to come forward to seek help, allowing timely support in situations that require urgent care from counsellors.  

Integrating Counselling with Local Context, Case Management, and Other Disciplines
8. Kindly allow me to share some thoughts about possible areas of focus the counselling profession may want to consider, to better support individuals and families with complex needs. 

9. The first area of focus would be integrating theory with local knowledge & practices. 

  1. Every country possesses a unique set of values and practices that differ from country to country. As practitioners, we are aware that individual challenges our clients face require us to tailor our approaches to best fit their needs. At the same time, we know that counselling takes place in the context of differing social norms which require us to redesign models of care and skills to best fit the needs of each community. 

10. The second area of focus I would like to suggest is to integrate counselling with case management, so that we not only support the immediate needs of our clients, but also support their holistic wellbeing. Case management is not just about coordination of services but should include consultation, collaboration, as well as communication with stakeholders.  Supervision is also key in ensuring effective intervention.

11. A third area of focus would be to explore how therapy can best fit the needs of society, while not restricting ourselves to traditional talk therapy. We can progressively upskill ourselves to adapt our services to cater to more members of society. For instance, integrate talk therapy with other forms of evidence-based expressive therapy such as art therapy and play therapy. This can be particularly useful when working with young children with mild mood-related symptoms, which allows them to better understand and express their emotions.

  1. We can see this in Thailand especially, where many universities offer art therapy and related programmes to help children and people with disabilities. We should extend art therapy to more people, especially to children and people with disabilities who may have difficulties verbally expressing themselves.

12. I believe these three areas of growth can be helpful in the development of the counselling sector. 

Supporting Families of Children with Special Needs 
13. Finally, I am critically aware of the need to serve vulnerable members of our society, such as supporting families of children with special needs. Children with special needs benefit from counselling, but let us also not forget about their caregivers who may be parents, relatives and guardians. 

14. Caregiving is not an easy task, especially for caregivers of children with special needs. By supporting our caregivers and letting them know that support is available, they will be able to better care for their children emotionally and psychologically.

15. For instance, KK Women's and Children's Hospital has launched a programme called “DayOne” to support caregivers of children with special needs.
16. The support includes guiding caregivers on parenting skills, as well as providing counselling or psychological services for caregivers who require more support.  Such programmes are important as they support caregivers from the very beginning of their child’s journey. 

17. I look forward to more of such programmes, to provide counselling support to caregivers so as to protect them from burnout and help them build healthy relationships with their child.

18. Finally, the Ministry of Social and Family Development in Singapore has designated 2023 as the Year of Celebrating Social Service Partners. We hope that everyone in the counselling sector come together, to work as partners, as we strive to improve our services with our clients. We must also set aside time to upskill ourselves on the latest developments in the sector so that counselling continues to remain culturally and socially relevant to our clients. This way, we can help build a more caring and inclusive society.

19. Thank you and I wish everyone a fruitful webinar.


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