Alumni Happenings

MCOU’s 12th Anniversary & Understanding Counselling

Written By: Alex Lim

In June this year, SUSS organised a webinar titled: “Creative & Ethical Use of Technology in Counselling, Post COVID-19” via a Zoom session.

This two and a half-hour session not only focused on the directions and challenges of using technology in counselling, but it was also in conjunction with the 12th anniversary of the Master of Counselling (MCOU) Programme at the university.

In the opening by the SUSS President, Professor Cheong Hee Kiat, he recalled an interesting observation in his younger days at the Old Yio Chu Kang Road where the former institute of Mental Health (IMH) was located. Back then – when mental health was not largely discussed – the former IMH was a place that many people avoided. However, he notes that the public is more accepting and receptive of the mental health landscape. In the area of technology advancement, while he recognises its usefulness, he also shared his reservations on the dependency on technology as it, unfortunately, lacks a human touch. Prof Cheong also touched on the increasing demand for counselling needs and was proud to share that SUSS was the first University to offer the Bachelor of Counselling, and would continue the good work to produce high quality professionals in this area.

The webinar was graced by our distinguished Guest of Honour, Dr. Mohd Maliki Bin Osman, Minister, Prime Minister’s Office, Second Minister for Education and Second Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr. Maliki commented that the graduates form the MCOU Programme were remarkably impressive. It took him by surprise when he learnt that more than half the graduates had no prior experience or expertise in this area.

In the area of counselling, Dr. Maliki mentioned how he viewed technology as an enabler during the pandemic period. When stress levels in families and individuals were high and face-to-face counselling sessions were absent, the quick deployment and adoption of technology helped to bridge the gap to reach out to clients. Dr. Maliki also acknowledges the existing stigma the public has on mental illnesses but emphasises that continued support for these individuals is more important and must be provided.

The webinar progressed to feature a distinguished panel of local experts led by notable figures like Panel Chair, Dr. Timothy Sim, Head of the MCOU Programme, Dr. Cherie Chan, President of Singapore Psychological Society, and many more. I had the honour of hearing Dr. Lois Teo, Head and Senior Principal Psychologist, KK Women and Children’s Hospital – who shared some benefits of telehealth services that were highly sought after during the pandemic. The new initiatives attracted new patients, including those who initially shied away from such services. Dr. Lois also highlighted several therapy services in a trial that employed the use of virtual reality and shared that they are seeing great results.

As the panel discussion came to an end, participants were given the opportunity to attend a workshop of their choice out of the 11 sessions, in separate breakout rooms.

While I was spoilt for choices, I decided on a workshop on Ethical Tools for Emerging Technologies in Counselling. The session was, to say the least, interesting and thought-provoking.

Delivered by Dr. Chin Chuan Fei, Philosopher and Counsellor Associate Faculty of SUSS, he touched on the need for a more holistic approach in the research field and went on to unpack the topic of ethical code in the application of emerging technologies and advocated a Person-Centred approach – in relation to the lifespan development theory, in a diverse, multicultural society.

Dr. Chin demonstrated how AI Chatbots have performed and excelled in allowing clients to open up about themselves as they communicate with these bots. The psychodynamics of these sessions naturally brought about concerns over dependency issues on artificial intelligence. The implications of AI involvement in counselling therapy could be alarming and Dr. Chin summarized the need to dive deeper to connect all the dots when the human aspect may not be the best approach in the first instance. However, he did reiterate that the human touch would still be essential as depending on AI alone would bring about a lack of compassion.

With the interesting interweaving of topics by the panel speakers as they pondered on pertinent issues related to the creative and ethical use of technology in the field of counselling, the webinar came to a successful end. Now that we’ve seen and heard a lot from our panel, we’d love to share what we’ve gained regarding these topics with our psychotherapists and social workers in serving different clients with different psychosocial needs, in the post-COVID-19 context. It was a fulfilling day indeed!

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