Life is stressful – whether you’re adjusting to a new home, dealing with the COVID-19 crisis, striving to maintain a healthy relationship with your spouse or getting your kids through their emotional teenage years. If you are feeling close to a breaking point or just feel that counselling will help you manage it better, here are a few counsellors in Singapore to call. We got them to talk about issues that many of us are facing right now, and how counselling works.
Grieving the loss of someone – or something
There are many different kinds of losses throughout life – and different ways to grieve them, explains TANJA FAESSLER, coach and counsellor in Singapore at Counsellingconnectz.
Physical loss may be most familiar, she explains. Examples include miscarriage or stillbirth, death, or losing one’s home. However, Tanja explains that we can also grieve abstract loss; it may be just as painful to lose a relationship or job, or experience the unfulfilled desire to have a baby. Perhaps you’re even grieving the loss of a life you once knew before COVID-19 – a life filled with frequent tropical getaways, and trips to your home country to see friends and relatives.
“Though the pandemic has resulted in immense physical loss globally, there’s also an abstract loss as people under lockdown lose job security, routines or plans for the future,” says Tanja.
No matter what it is you’re grieving – whether it’s someone or something – she says it will likely be a process that takes time to unfold, and won’t be the same from day to day. “There are no fixed timelines for this process, and no unacceptable emotions. Ignoring or arguing with pain will not make it disappear. Instead, grief needs only two things from us: time and compassion.”
While support from friends is invaluable, Tanja says that for extremely deep, “stuck” feelings of sadness that never seem to go away, the help of a trained therapist may be more appropriate.
Counselling connectz’s team of counsellors in Singapore uses a broad range of techniques to provide emotional and mental support to individuals of all ages who are struggling with grief and loss, and has profound experience supporting couples who’ve experienced the loss of a baby.
If you’ve lost a baby, don’t be afraid to ask for the help and support you need. To learn more, visit babyloss-awareness.org.
Mending your marriage with counselling
A couple with relationship issues in Hamburg, Helsinki or Hong Kong won’t necessarily be better off in Holland Village. The pressures of living abroad can be many and varied, and issues that exist even before you move overseas are not likely to disappear – in fact, they’re more likely to be worsened by the stress of getting accustomed to a new environment, roles and expectations. Throw in some kids, long work hours and frequent travel, and there’s a lot of potential for disagreement and frustration.
Oh, and a global pandemic certainly hasn’t helped, with added stress and feelings of isolation. In fact, in 2020, many people have found themselves feeling lonely and disconnected despite physically being in partnerships.
PRU JONES is a counsellor at Counsellingconnectz with specialty training in trauma, grief and loss, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Gottman Couples Therapy. She believes that a marriage counsellor can be crucial to helping a couple work through the emotions that come with all of life’s challenges. And, while she says she can’t guarantee that every single relationship will be saved, the couples she works with come away with “insights, actionable points, tools to experiment with and, weirdly enough, in every session the return of some lightness, fun and discovery.”
But what should you do if your partner won’t agree to come with you to therapy? “Go yourself!” says Pru. “You may say ‘I’m not the problem’, but consider a few things. Firstly, the difficulties in a relationship often stem from internal struggles – what I call ‘the space within’ – and how that translates into the couple dynamic, ‘the space between’. We usually bring huge amounts of baggage to our relationships, built up from our individual stories and how our relationship has evolved. If we learn tools to manage and recognise these, we can choose whether we stay stuck in our destructive patterns.”
Secondly, there is a domino effect. “As your behaviour changes, your partner’s may change too. More often than not, your partner will see the benefits and come along.”
Additionally, Pru says that as you learn to manage and regulate big emotions, you create an environment that enables your partner to do the same. This will also help children impacted by the relationship change.
“The only variable we can ever really manage is ourselves. Good therapeutic tools help you be the best version of yourself, whatever life throws at you,” she says.
And, as a first step for those couples sceptical or nervous of therapy, Pru recommends the Gottman Online Relationship Checkup – a full survey of your relationship, completed by both partners. It gets the therapist and couple to the “nub of issues fast, based on decades of Gottman research”.
#09-01 Scotts Medical Suites, 9 Scotts Road
Love is… a work in progress
Love isn’t just a feeling, it’s a work in progress. That’s the view of couples and marriage counsellor, LEONARDO TALPO. In any relationship, there are ups and downs, learning opportunities, power struggles, and plenty of room for growth.
“Love and romance is what we all long for but, make no mistake, in the business of marriage, marriage is work!”
And, when it comes to trying to fix a “malfunctioning” relationship, taking immediate action is key. All too often, says Leonardo, marriages deteriorate to the point of no return before partners even decide that something must be done.
“Waiting does not help improve your marriage; very often it’s too late,” he says. “Successful couples can develop through a continuous process of self-study, education, trust, respect, commitment, love, experience, forgiveness and a sustainable healthy intimacy.”
Leonardo uses his “Model of the Marriage” model to help married and unmarried couples live more meaningful and fulfilling, individual and family lives.
“Hundreds of couples of different cultures – each with their stories – have equipped me with countless insights and knowledge that have helped me build and apply my couple counselling and coaching model. This tailor-made Model of the Marriage creates a sustainable breakthrough in struggling couples, helping them to organically progress and redesign the relationship they always wanted.”
Stress and your child
Elevated anxiety caused by isolation from loved ones, cultural adjustments, school stress, the constant noise of the online world or the current COVID-19 situation can certainly impact our children’s health and how they react to everyday situations. Getting counselling in Singapore for you will help them, too.
Clinical Psychologist and founder of Psych Connect DR SANVEEN KANG helps families manage all kinds of mental health issues, and provides comprehensive psychological testing and therapy for kids as young as two years of age, up to early adult years.
“When any child is growing up, they face uncertainty and adversity, both of which can cause stress – this can include things that we as adults might not pick up on,” says Dr Kang. “Everyone needs a certain amount of anxiety to perform well; yet, if children are chronically stressed, it means their stress levels remain perpetually high. When this happens for an extended period of time, it can have long-term effects.”
At Psych Connect, Dr Kang and her team help find ways to cope with life’s challenges through psychological therapy, focusing on understanding what factors led to the current experiences, and learning skills to navigate them. This may include everything from specific phobias, self-injurious behaviours and disordered eating patterns to sleep problems, attachment disorders and gender identity issues, to name a few.
“The aim of therapy is to enable people to cope with adversities and to assert a sense of control over their lives,” she says. “Most of our clinicians are trained in more than one therapy modality; they select a modality based on their client’s individual needs. For example, therapy is not limited to talking; we can also work with children using movement, play and art.”
So, what are the signs that a child may be suffering from mental stress?
“Notice if your child presents any learning, emotional and behavioural challenges; for example, a regression in milestones or increased emotional or behavioural outbursts,” says Dr Kang. “When in doubt, it’s essential that parents are open to consulting with a psychologist – a psychologist trained in assessments will be able to identify the underlying reason for the behaviours and recommend therapy if it’s required.”
Parenting teenagers always brings a lot of anxiety, says REBECCA VERSOLATO, a psychoanalyst, registered counsellor in Singapore and director of White Canvas Therapy. Rebecca has an extensive background in psychoanalysis, which explores relationship dynamics between families and helps individuals identify their patterns in life. She sees teen patients struggling with all kinds of issues, from bullying, abusive relationships and substance abuse to screen addiction, communication breakage and sexual initiation. Counselling can help.
“Pushing limits is typical teen behaviour. Out of frustration, parents give up or walk away, causing bad or dangerous behaviours to go unsupervised,” she says. “However, teens still need structure, limits and boundaries. Unlimited internet, gaming, social media obsessions, loose curfews and ignoring drug or alcohol use is sure to set the stage for bigger problems in your kid’s future.”
That being said, she says every freedom should be earned and preserved when achieved. And, achievements should be recognised and rewarded.
“Parents often feel numb, not requiring much, not recognising much and avoiding conversations where parents’ ideals are shared. All kids should receive clear messages of what parents want at each stage of their life, to allow them either to follow or to oppose parents’ desires by proving they were successful in other ways.”
Losing touch with your teen is also problematic, as it lands them in a higher risk category for negative outcomes, she says. Her suggestion is to hold weekly family meetings and plan family outings.
“If you sense your teen is struggling, spend more time with him or her. Don’t over-talk. To be a ‘TED talk’ kind of parent will generate more rebellion than attraction. Stay in touch, strengthen your relationship, listen and ask. Avoid comparing your upbringing with theirs, but let them ask how it was in your past; such small steps are the express lane to better children-parent communication.”
White Canvas Therapy
16 Mohamed Sultan Road, #06-02
This article first appeared in the October 2020 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase the latest issue or subscribe, so you never miss a copy!