CHERYL KEE-GIAM: CCMC'S RESIDENT COUNSELLOR

Cheryl Kee-Giam is no stranger to CCMC. She first joined the 9 am service worship team as an understudy/back-up singer in 2010. Twelve years on, Cheryl is now a praise leader that brings much joy, warmth and spiritual influence in her service. She also leads ‘Nourishing’, a Young Adults small group founded in 2015, and is a member of the prayer team for the Japanese Outreach Ministry since its inception in 2017.


Cheryl is also a professionally trained counsellor and a member of the Singapore Association for Counsellors (SAC). It is in this capacity that she joined the staff of CCMC as Church Counsellor on 1 Dec 2021. Prior to her joining CCMC, Cheryl held positions of Child Protection Officer, Secretariat/Case Manager for tertiary students facing disciplinary proceedings, and a crisis, trauma and suicide grief counsellor. She is a certified crisis worker with the American Association for Suicidology, possesses a Master of Arts in Counselling from TCA College and has over six years of working experiences in the social service and education sector.

Cheryl is currently on track to complete her certification in Grief Therapy as Meaning Reconstruction (GTMR), as well as Internal Family System (IFS) Therapy (Level 1) to become a certified GTMR therapist and IFS practitioner this year. Apart from being the full-time counsellor of CCMC, Cheryl also serves as the lay-executive staff overseeing the Social and Outreach Concerns Ministry (O&SC) and the advisor to the Sembawang Family Service Centre (SFSC).


Loaves+Fishes interviewed Cheryl to get to know her better.


*******





What was your journey to joining CCMC as a counsellor?

It was a journey that spanned a full year. It started when I first heard about the departure of Raymond Chow from CCMC in November 2020 and the portfolios he left behind, including Social Concerns and counselling in the church.


I asked God for three signs to guide me towards the CCMC counselling ministry. Besides the occasional cajoling of church friends to consider the vacant position, the first sign that made me take the role seriously was when CCMC Pastor-In-Charge, Rev Dr Malcolm Tan, told me to give it some consideration. It reminded me that my ‘first love’ for counselling was to learn how to include God into therapy in a professional and safe way without discrimination.


The second sign was the invitation I received from a past lecturer to volunteer as a facilitator for lay-counsellor training in Paya Lebar Methodist Church. I realized that just as God was fanning a small flame in my heart, he was also fanning the flames in the hearts of many other counsellors in other churches to serve their communities with their skills and God-given compassion. The thought that came to me about the CCMC counsellor’s position at that time was: “If not me, someone else will get to work with God in this good plan!” Hence, I told Rev Dr Malcolm Tan to include me as a candidate in the recruitment process.


Knowing the importance of good clinical supervision in counselling work for accountability and personal growth, the last sign that I sought in seeking God’s direction was the provision of a clinical supervisor (counselling-trained individual/pastor) that personally felt led to supervise me. This was to be for me a clear sign as I knew that most pastors/church worker in Singapore do not hold an active counselling degree that also qualifies them to supervise others. So, I was grateful that Rev Sam Kuna, Associate Professor and Dean of the School of Counselling at TCA College was agreeable to take me as his group-supervisee after I broached the subject with him. With over 40 years of counselling experience in both the Church and secular setting, he is a highly sought-after supervisor in the private, public, and faith-based counselling field. I was further assured when God led me to reach out to Ms Julianna Toh, previous Executive Director of the Counselling and Care Centre in Singapore, who was another trauma-informed supervisor. God had already prompted her to supervise me individually before I even asked her. Hence, that was a prayer answered.


As I connected the dots of God’s grace, I was convicted to follow His direction into church ministry. I believe that God has the desire to pour mercy and healing into churches through soul-care – be it through counselling, mental health advocacy or just deeper levels of pastoral care.

I thank God for His patience to reveal Himself and His plans to me. I learnt that He will reveal His will to us one step at a time when we are prepared for it.


What were your concerns when you first considered the position of CCMC counsellor?

I fought internal battles from the outset as I was reluctant to change the nature of my relationship with people in CCMC, feared possible lack of affirmation as a church worker, and questioned my competency. The story of how Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:36-40:), two good friends that had disagreements and went their separate ways to expand their ministries, gave me greater insight into the world of ministry workers, and how important it is to put our love for God and His calling first before we love our neighbours and others through ministry work. Also, being driven to duty is different from being called to serve. In discerning God’s will, we need to look at our own heart and ask if we are trying to please Man or God?


After overcoming each internal battle with God's help, I was left with the final and hardest challenge – to trust in Him and His timing. I resigned from my previous job in SOS in early August 2021 and stopped work there in September. Confirmation of my role at CCMC only came in end November. The three months of unemployment from September to November tested my faith. My plan was to start working again by 1 December, and waiting for a firm offer from CCMC was stressful. The offer came just a week before my deadline! What kept me from back-pedalling and finding other job opportunities was keeping my eyes fixed on God's revealed plans for me. I was uncomfortable leaving SOS without a confirmed new job, but I learnt to be thankful for the respite after working in crisis-driven emergency units for most of my working life. I also had support from two spiritual mentors. Both prayed for me, and were non-judgemental and patient especially when I kept going back to them every other week for encouragement and reminders of God’s goodness. Indeed, it takes a community to support a believer.


What also sustained me through that period of doubt and uncertainty were two familiar Bible stories – Israel’s rebellion which led to God’s judgement (Numbers 14:1-12), and how God intervened in Abraham sacrifice of Isaac in the nick of time. I knew that in tests of faith, one has to hold fast, and that God will not allow circumstances to bewilder us beyond what we can bear or without a way out (1 Corinthians 10:13).


Faith-based counselling involves spiritual dimensions with clinical expertise. What are your thoughts on this?

I wanted counselling to bring me closer to God, not further away from Him. Thus, I chose to study in TCA college, a faith-based school instead of a secular university. The School of Counselling at TCA College is dedicated to training Christians who have a passion to serve as highly skilled, competent and professional counsellors, and I am proud to be a graduate of this vigorous program even though I had to go through 4 years of part-time work-and-study arrangements to self-finance my education. It was my internship and early years of work in the Ministry of Family and Social Development (MSF) that first convicted me of the need to include and follow God’s direction for deep transformational healing, apart from using the various evidence-based counselling methods for therapeutic intervention.


In faith-based counselling, I believe firmly in the effective use of clinical expertise to channel God’s compassion and freedom to individuals in pain. Having received vigorous training in how to listen, attend, ask questions and extend compassion in the most non-judgemental ways that can prompt greater connection with people and their struggles, I am convinced that counsellors that take rapport-building seriously are not far away from learning how God desires for us to speak to each other in love. Counselling doesn’t need to be overtly ‘God-promoting’ to be faith-based, for the counsellors themselves – when they learn to embody the characteristics and fruit of the Holy Spirit­ – can be the face of God that facilitates a non-Christian client’s first encounter with God. I believe God not only wants Christian counsellors to help others see Him through the counselling, but also for the counsellors themselves to see and receive a portion of God’s love and mercy as they learn of His heart for those bound by sin and fear.


Infusing biblical language into counselling can be another effective way to help us find parallels in the way God views the human condition. It points us towards the paths of healing that is ultimately determined by the level of identity and self-worth that each individual can reclaim as a child of God made in His image.


I appreciate and use the psychospiritual conceptualisation model of the human condition from the Internal Family System’s Therapy (IFS) model. It posits that we are all made up of multiple parts and each serves a protective function, even our most destructive and undesirable parts. At the centre of each human being is a core self that is the image of God in us – similar to a DNA imprint. Thus, we are capable of healing from within once we learn how to connect with God. IFS brings room for hope, compassion and honour for the deepest secrets in a person, and introduces a therapeutic language that allows the helper to treat these parts with special honour instead of condemnation (See 1 Corinthians 12:23). I look forward to introducing more aspects of this model to CCMC through upcoming mental-health-related talks and training.





What key tenets do you hope to anchor your counselling practice on?

It is my desire to see members of the CCMC community grow in greater unity and appreciation for each other, even for the seemingly weakest link. As it is written in 1 Corinthians 21-26:


The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.


This prompts the promotion of compassion and honour so that CCMC becomes the safest place for the lost and suffering to find comfort and shelter.

Having said that, I believe that the first step to begin trying to live this verse comes not from the outward expression of hospitality and acceptance of others around us, but an inward examination of our own attitudes towards our own body parts – and soul-parts – that we may have criticized. Such judgment causes self-hate which may bring about overt behaviours like anger and procrastination, or covert behaviours like lust and addiction. Let us start to be better stewards of our own souls by trying to extend compassion and honour to those hidden parts of us that may be driving some of our insecurities and lifestyles.

If you want someone to journey with you, do connect with me via the CCMC’s Counselling webpage. It is never too late to learn to love, heal and extend compassion together in a safe and encouraging way.