By Cheryl Giam
The Counselling Ministry in CCMC was initiated on 1 December 2021, with the mission to provide a safe space for individuals in the church as well as the community (non-believers) to share their struggles, receive professional therapy and experience the healing love of God.
Since its inception, the ministry has received more than 40 enquiries and requests for professional counselling support from individuals within and outside of the church, and served more than 13 groups of families/couples through their journey of healing and self-discovery. Helmed by our full-time resident counsellor, Mrs Cheryl Kee-Giam, as well as two volunteer professional counsellors, the counselling ministry is constantly committed to uphold prevailing service standards recommended by the Singapore Association for Counsellors (SAC) and Association for Christian Counsellors Singapore (ACCS) as it continues to expand its capacity to help the distressed and broken-hearted.
To restart social gatherings and bring people back together after 2 years of isolation-fatigue from Covid-19 measures and lock-downs, the counselling ministry organised a guided 2-Part Spiritual Retreat in May 2022 at the Singapore Botanical Gardens, in hopes to create a new space in CCMC for individuals to focus on self-care and connecting with God in nature.
The event was led by Ms Esther Tzer-Wong and a total of 23 participants signed up for the retreat, including three participants from Sembawang Family Service Center (SFSC) sponsored by the Outreach and Social Concerns Ministry (OSC) as part of our outreach to non-believers. The Lord held up the rain for us on the scheduled day of the walk, and Covid restrictions were also further lifted just 2 weeks before our scheduled retreat date to allow our facilitator to lead the team through Botanical Gardens as a full group of 20 instead of breaking us up into smaller groups of five, Praise the Lord!
Besides providing professional counselling service, the counselling ministry also stands to advocate for mental health and emotional wellness in both the church as well as the community at large.
In each quarter, careful thought had been given to each area of advocacy that the ministry would like to focus on. The speakers invited to speak on the topic were also prayerfully considered, such that the one empowering them to share their rich experiences is not of their own will, but of God’s.
In 2022, a total of four talks were organised under the online “CCMC Mental Health Talk series” (link: CCMC Online - YouTube), and more than 100 individuals (including non-Christians) from over 25 churches across Singapore and Malaysia were represented in the sign-ups. The average number of attendees per talk ranged from 25 to 40 persons, and each online recording uploaded post-talk had an average of 200 views. Permission was obtained beforehand from the speakers as well as the participants to allow for the recording of the talk so that more people can watch/rewatch the talk again on the CCMC YouTube Channel.
The talks are held online to facilitate better outreach, and each session is 2 hours long. Cheryl, our resident counsellor, usually opens up the session with a word of prayer before passing the time over to the invited speaker who will give a 45-minute presentation. After that, there will be a short break followed by a panel discussion or Q&A session where Cheryl serves as the moderator. All participants who signed-up for the talk have the opportunity to send in questions for the speaker beforehand during their initial sign-ups, and their questions will also be addressed during this section.
The areas covered in the talks included: differentiating services in the sector, trauma, families, inter-generational conversations, as well as caregiving and self-care. Some of the most impactful anecdotes by our speakers have been summarised below for your reading:
1. Differentiating Services for Mental Health & Wellness
Meaningful Quote by speaker Rev Sam Kuna: “People face various presenting challenges in life (e.g. cannot get a job, unemployment, poor work performance, anger management, difficulty getting to work on time, can’t socialise well to get a partner etc.). These can be supported and resolved by solution-oriented help in the community (ie. Job coach/mentor, enter a course to improve self-confidence, sign up for yoga or meditation and inner peace, getting a dating coach etc). However, for challenges that evoke emotional and psychological triggers, eg. where the presenting issues tied in with other mental health struggles issues are overwhelming and debilitating (ie. they develop behaviours that are out of control such as crying every day, lock self in room, go out aimlessly everyday, whereabouts hard to trace), it can indicate trauma in a person's life that has not been processed or attended to. This will require a trained professional for therapy as processing the deeper underlying issues are not the same as just helping him/her to get a job, providing advice for caregiving or self-care, or buying them a scheduler to help him/her organise their lives better etc.”
2. Becoming a Trauma-Informed Faith Community
Meaningful Quote by speaker Ms Grace Koh: “When we come alongside someone with a breakdown, we should validate and inform the person that you really want to hear what happened to them. Be mindful of the discomfort and fear of your own competency which may be what is stopping you from engaging the person deeper, and not because the person themselves are not able to be helped. It can take many steps before a person is able to seek help. Past positive experiences of being 'heard' and not brushed off as 'why are you still feeling this way?' are building blocks for a person eventually being more open to help seeking.”
3. Emotional Health & Well-being – How can we do our part at Home
Meaningful Quote by panellist Ps David Ho: “Adult children are not young children anymore. One needs to communicate with them as equal adults and not top-down i.e. ‘I'm your parent so listen to me’ kind of stance anymore. At each stage of a child's development into an adult, parents need to adapt to new ways of communicating and ‘Listening’ to their children to be most effective.”
4. Preserving Self & Family in Caring for a Loved-one with Mental Health Challenges
Meaningful Quotes by speaker Ms Margaret Ong: “If you are the one with the sound mind and you are living with someone ill/suffering from mental health issues, the one tasked to handle things appropriately and with respect is You. Treating the person who is ill with disrespect and rejection, especially when it is for a condition that they cannot always control is not helpful in setting good boundaries and respect at home between the ill and the rest of the family.”
“Do not keep focusing on what is not working. Mindset transformation starts from appreciating the characteristics of a mental health illness, learning to accept that, and not just try to change that. Otherwise it is a losing battle. Grief and loss of a relationship with the ill person is real and something not to be trivialised. Memories of activities done together are stored there for a caregiver to negate the grief of loss and negative emotions (eg. for me, it helped me when I miss my husband and when I am feeling lonely). It is important that when you have the opportunity to celebrate progress, you hold on to ‘hope’ because you can make memories with them that you can keep and remember your loved ones by. Because if you don’t try during that time, you can only take away the ugliness of the illness all the way till the end. And that is no good. We need to build a reservoir of positive emotions for resilience. While we cannot change the fact that someone is ill, struggling, we can adapt!”
We thank God for guiding the Counselling Ministry in 2022, and enabling CCMC to be a channel of love, love and care for those in need.
If you are facing some difficulties in your life and wish to speak to a professional counsellor, do email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our website https://www.ccmc.org.sg/counselling for more details on our services. If you are a CCMC member or regular worshipper, and are also practicing as a professional counsellor with relevant credentials and experience, we welcome you contact Mrs Cheryl KG (Cheryl.email@example.com,sg) to explore possibilities of becoming a volunteer professional counsellor with us as well.