Our Story
Empowering Lives through Fostering Relationships
Ruth Wu
Psychiatric Rehabilitation Counsellor, Singapore Anglican Community Services (SACS)
Published on 30/07/20
As a Psychiatric Rehabilitation Counsellor for SACS, Ruth Wu works with clients with mental illness. She understands that not all individuals are the same, and the key to helping them is by connecting with them beyond structured counselling sessions. This is how she does it.
 
Rebuilding Family Bonds with Insight
Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve always wanted to join social service, and the reasons were close to my heart.
 
My relative suffers from Paranoid Personality Disorder, and I grew up watching my family treat them differently. This triggered a desire for me to not just comprehend what my relative was going through, but more urgently, to help everyone understand and accept them.
 
I was 16 when I decided to pursue a Diploma in Psychology and Community Services. Over time, I’ve since been able to help my family understand my relative’s condition, and their relationship has improved tremendously. More importantly, the training helped me land a role with Singapore Anglican Community Services (SACS), an organisation that rehabilitates persons with mental health conditions, so that I could use my skills to help others like my relative.
 
Undertaking a Path in Social Service
I became a Psychiatric Rehabilitation Counsellor in 2014. While counselling is my main role, I also conduct classes on anger management, stress management and wellness recovery. The counselling and classes work together to impart both practical skills and build emotional resilience in my clients on their road to recovery.
 
Most of my clients have resided in an institution for an extended period of time, so I work with them to rediscover their passions, dreams and strengths. This instils in them increased confidence, independence and eventually, the capacity to reintegrate society as healthy, happy individuals.
 
The Key to Connection
Therapy can be scary. It’s not easy to share deep secrets with a stranger. To ease my clients into my sessions, I speak to them not as an authoritative figure, but as a friend.
 
I’ve discovered that many clients open up when they feel relaxed, or when they are doing something they love. For example, I met Jane* two years ago. When I first met her, she was anxious, and I remember her clutching her bag tightly, as if forming a barrier between us. I began by asking her what she liked to do for fun. She revealed her love for the piano, to which I asked if she would like to play the Centre’s piano in the multi-purpose hall. She lit up immediately, and we proceeded to spend an hour playing the piano.
 
During the session, she began to relax, and it became much easier getting to know about her, her family and her history. This information played an important role later in helping us work through her deep-seated issues together. It’s been similar with other clients. I’ve since held therapy sessions whilst cooking lunch, playing basketball, and even crooning away in a karaoke room.
 
These casual settings have created a safe space for my clients to open up. They’ve also helped us build rapport, allowing us to communicate in an authentic and meaningful way. I believe that it’s important to be able to connect with my clients this way. This enables me to empower them, ultimately paving the way for them to reach their goals. 
 
Witnessing Individuals Grow
One of my clients who I was happy to see her achieve her goal was Tina*, who has Schizoaffective Disorder. When I first met her, she seemed defeated because she found it hard to hold on to a job due to her condition. She had not sustained a job for more than a month in her previous roles, and this contributed to her feelings of frustration.
 
Through our sessions, I learnt that Tina loved to party, and so I began sharing stories of my own social outings. This formed the base of our relationship, and when she felt she could relate to me, she began trusting me, allowing me to help her work through her issues.
 
Through counselling and wellness recovery classes, it took us two years for Tina to feel confident in her abilities. After all the time spent together, she was finally discharged from the Centre when she was able to sustain a childcare job for six months. I couldn’t be happier! I believe it must have taken a lot of strength on her part to be able to maintain her role, and I’m incredibly proud of her progress.
 
My Pillars of Strength
I’m thankful to have a team of like-minded and fun-loving colleagues – some of whom have become close friends. While my role is to support the needs of my clients emotionally, I too need that support and I’m glad that my colleagues are very encouraging. 

We unwind after a long series of sessions by simply chatting or exchanging silly videos. We’re comfortable with each other and can bounce off ideas when working on big projects. This light-hearted environment provides a balance to our work, and I’m grateful to be part of this team.
 
Lighting the Path for their Brighter Future
I believe that the work done by social service professionals who help individuals with mental health issues is important in different ways. The professionals equip clients with useful and practical life skills and may also have the resources to refer them to other agencies that may assist them in other aspects of their lives.
 
Most importantly, I believe that these professionals provide clients with a different perspective of life. Sometimes, just one episode of success can be the turning point for these clients, where change is indeed possible.
 
* The clients’ names have been changed to protect their privacy.
Ruth is sharing a moment with her client