Life is a rich tapestry of the good, the bad and the in-between. Sometimes traumatic events can set your life off-balance and feelings of grief and loss can lead to bad mental health. SALLY MOUNIR is a psychotherapist in Singapore who is passionate about helping people work through such issues, to return to a happier place with trauma therapy. We sat down with Sally to hear more about her process.
Tell us about yourself and your journey to becoming a psychotherapist in Singapore.
I’m a trauma, grief and loss counsellor and psychotherapist in Singapore, with a focus on supporting clients from diverse backgrounds who feel unheard and afraid of judgement. Over the past 31 years, I’ve lived in eight different countries. This has given me a unique perspective on human behaviour and mindsets.
My journey to becoming a psychotherapist was not planned. It started with my own personal struggle with anxiety a few years back when I was living in Jakarta. Through group art therapy, I experienced first-hand the transformative power of therapy and realised how much I missed working with people. When I moved to Singapore, I sought out similar trauma therapy services and found the diplomas offered by The School of Positive Psychology.
I believe that everyone can get better, and that psychotherapy can be a tool to help a person unleash their potential and regain control of their lives. I’m what my colleagues lovingly refer to as an “accidental therapist”.
Trauma and grief in young adults and adults is your specialty. Why did you decide to focus on this issue?
Trauma can be life-changing, both in a big and small ways, and everyone reacts to it differently. There are two kinds of traumas. Small “t” trauma refers to the cumulative events that are distressing or damaging to an individual’s emotional health, such as divorce, bullying or incidents that affect a person emotionally depending on their sensitivity to an event. These experiences may not be life-threatening, but they can still have a significant impact on an individual’s mental and emotional wellbeing.
The second type is big “T” trauma, which refers to severe or life-threatening events such as physical or sexual abuse, natural disasters, combat and more. These experiences can have a profound and lasting impact on an individual’s mental health, causing conditions such as PTSD or complex trauma. This can result in defensive behaviour and a fundamentally different outlook on life.
Grief, on the other hand, can stem from a variety of sources, from losing a loved one to something as simple as relocating. But it can last a long time and often manifests itself as depression or even suicidal thoughts. The person loses their flair for life. Many mistakenly use the term “depression” to describe all forms of sadness, but true depression is a serious condition that requires time and care to heal.
Just like how changing clothes is only a quick fix for dissatisfaction with one’s appearance, trauma and grief cannot be remedied by a simple solution. The healing process for these conditions requires time, effort and a deep understanding of the underlying issues. It’s akin to recovering from an illness like the flu. The body needs to unlearn and retrain itself to fully heal. Ultimately, my passion for supporting people to overcome and heal from trauma and grief is what led me to specialise in this field.
How does childhood trauma affect people in adulthood? How can trauma therapy help?
Trauma can fundamentally alter how an individual interacts with the world, creating a range of negative effects that can emerge in adulthood. Childhood trauma, if left unaddressed, can lead to feelings of low self-esteem, body dysmorphia, unexplained panic attacks, clinical depression, anger and even violence. These triggers can manifest at any time, often leaving people feeling helpless and confused. I feel very lucky as a psychotherapist in Singapore to be able to help these individuals.
I had a female client who experienced severe panic attacks, even in times of calm, and believed that something was inherently wrong with her. Through a combination of Clinical Hypnotherapy and Narrative Therapy, I was able to help her shift her perspective from “what” to “why”, fostering curiosity and creating awareness around her inner child and unmet needs. Additionally, I encouraged her to begin journaling and engaging in self-care activities.
After only six months of trauma therapy, my client became a much more confident and centred person, with new-found courage to explore relationships and other areas of her life.
You also specialise in grief and loss; how do you help clients deal with these issues?
Grief and loss can refer to various life events, including the death of a loved one, a significant relationship breakup, a job loss or a significant change in life circumstances. People who experience grief and loss may go through a range of emotions, including shock, denial, anger, depression and acceptance. Sometimes they try to suppress their feelings and emotions.
I remember one client who lost her mum, the main pillar of support in her life. She tried to avoid pain and move on, which impacted her mental and physical health. In her case it was vital to observe and understand who she was before the death and integrate only useful characteristics into who she would become in the future. It’s also important to learn from the experience and not keep repeating the same mistakes, keeping in mind that it’s okay to make new mistakes as life goes on.
I use a variety of techniques to help clients process their emotions and work through their experiences. This may include talk therapy, such as cognitive-behavioural therapy, which can help clients challenge negative thought patterns and develop healthy coping mechanisms. Other techniques I incorporate include mindfulness practices or creative expression to help clients explore their feelings and find meaning in their experiences. Additionally, support groups and other community resources can benefit people experiencing grief and loss.
What is the most rewarding part of your job as a psychotherapist?
The most fulfilling aspect of being a psychotherapist in Singapore is witnessing the remarkable progress of my clients over time. It’s truly gratifying to see them flourish and reclaim their lives. Receiving tokens of appreciation, such as surprise flowers or heartfelt letters is very emotional for me. One of my most cherished memories was when the mother of a client who was struggling with mental health issues acknowledged how much I’d helped her child. This deep moment left a lasting impression on my heart. It’s moments like these that motivate me to keep going even on the toughest days.
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