Singapore, my home, is a vibrant, multicultural, multiracial city, and I consider it to be a wonderful place to live and work.
But working life in Singapore is highly competitive. The urge to excel seems inbuilt within the Singaporean psyche, with the pursuit of money pervasive in most strata of society. Many would consider Singapore’s pace of life demanding and stressful.
As a result, there has been an undesirable emergence of emotional, mental and psychological issues and a growing recognition of the need for greater counselling, psychotherapy, psychological and social work services.
With the exception of social workers, however, these professions are still unregulated by the Government in Singapore.
In Singapore counselling and psychotherapy are regarded as two separate professions. There are several separate professional associations for counsellors, psychotherapists and psychologists, but no one single organisation bringing them together.
Over many informal meetings in coffee shops at the end of 2011, I and some like-minded friends and colleagues discussed the possibility of having just such a single organisation. We decided that, rather than set up yet another exclusive professional body, we would create a more inclusive organisation. Our dream was to create an organisation for professionals and semi-professionals, with varying skill sets and from diverse related backgrounds and trainings, who could provide holistic services to those in emotional, mental and spiritual distress. They would include counsellors and psychotherapists, and also hypnotherapists, early childhood therapists, play therapists, sand-play therapists, art therapists, and dance therapists, who might lack the traditionally accepted academic qualifications and clinical practice needed to join existing professional bodies. We hoped such an organisation could help them enhance their therapy skills and acquire further qualifications, as well as provide meaningful networking opportunities.
A pro-tem committee of 14 people was formed, the constitution drawn up, and in February 2012 the Association of Psychotherapists and Counsellors (Singapore) (APACS) was registered, with 14 chartered members.
The journey was not without mishaps and frustrations. Support and encouragement was in short supply, and there were those who jumped ship or for whom the original vision melted away. Many organisations and individuals expressed scepticism about the viability of such an organisation and stood on the sidelines, waiting to see how long we could last. Nevertheless, the remaining members weathered the stormy waters. Today, membership stands at 88.
APACS now has a Manual of Procedures and Code of Behavioural Conduct; it conducts counselling supervision courses accredited by ACA, the Malaysian Psychotherapy Association, the Asian Professional Counselling Association (Hong Kong) and the American Board of Medical Psychotherapists and Psychodiagnosticians; it publishes a quarterly in-house e-zine; it arranges monthly skills enhancement workshops; it runs bridging courses for members who lack the necessary academic qualifications to register as practitioners in counselling and/or psychotherapy. It also organises a quarterly membership networking event. In August we sent a delegation to the Third Asia Pacific Rim International Psychotherapy and Counselling Conference. And we are currently helping to start up a counselling and psychotherapy association in Indonesia, where none presently exists.
In February 2014 Prem Kumar, the current Vice-President, will succeed me. A visionary man, he hopes to take APACS to another level by connecting it with various institutions of higher learning. He also aspires to offer greater learning and career opportunities to members. APACS’s long-term vision remains the representation of counsellors and psychotherapists nationally in Singapore. It is my firm personal belief that, in the end, organisations survive and prosper through their own internal dynamics and resources – in other words, their dedicated and committed members.
Jeffrey Po is President of APACS. www.apacs.org.sg