Opening Remarks By Professor Cheong Hee Kiat, President, Singapore University Of Social Sciences, At SUSS Master Of Counselling 12th Anniversary Webinar On 18 June 2022, 3:00 PM
Guest-of-Honour, Dr Mohamad Maliki Bin Osman, Second Minister for Education,
Distinguished Local and Overseas Partners,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good afternoon. It is my pleasure to welcome you to the SUSS “Creative & Ethical Use of Technology in Counselling Post COVID-19” webinar. And, thank you, Minister Maliki for joining us.
This event is hosted in celebration of the 12th anniversary of our Master of Counselling programme. It is also a useful platform to gather practitioners and partners to exchange best practices, ideate and learn from one another, all for the good of the counselling profession.
In my younger days, I used to go to Woodbridge Hospital along Yio Chu Kang Road, near where Gerald Drive is today – no, I wasn’t needing treatment. My relatives were working there. It was forbidding, a place to be avoided. Today, Woodbridge Hospital is re-named the Institute for Mental Health, is modern and welcoming. Needing counselling, psychological or psychiatric treatment isn’t such a stigma any longer. I am glad, as many under stress of all sorts or afflicted by certain medical or mental conditions can now be helped. And I am glad, too that many more, like you, are coming forward to help these in need, and therapies and treatments are available at many places now. These changes much improved mental health services and mental wellness appreciation in our country.
Digital Counselling in a Post-Pandemic World
Yet another change has come to the counselling world. The pandemic has accelerated digitalization in every industry and profession. The counselling and psychotherapy profession has likewise needed to rapidly digitalise, adopt new and novel ways, and innovate to render services to patients. According to the Ministry of Health, in 2018, it took an average of 27 days from making an appointment to see a psychiatrist and 28 days to see a psychologist in local public hospitals (thankfully these are for non-urgent mental health cases) 1. Since COVID-19 struck, counselling professionals swiftly turned to technology and pivoted to tele-counselling and online therapy for fast, on-demand delivery of virtual treatments to cope with the heavy caseload.
Hence, in today’s webinar, we hope to uncover more promises that technology holds for the future of counselling and therapy treatment, as well as the lessons learnt as technology is relied on increasingly as a norm. Some useful applications we see being adopted today include:
Artificial Intelligence (AI) enabling therapists to deliver high standards of care through the analysis of session transcripts so as to assign right treatments to patients and AI-processed analysis of their family histories, behaviours and responses 2.
Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality (AR/VR) used to triage levels of intervention for traumas, disorders, phobias and other conditions 3.
Social robots, which are increasingly human-like, deployed to care for those in rehabilitation effectively 4.
As we welcome technology to fast-track patient outcomes, we know that it also is a double-edged sword. This leads me to raise some key questions like:
What new limitations and risks will they present to our practitioners and patients?
Can applied technology, such as robot therapists, fully replace in-person or human interactions?
What security, ethical or legal implications will we face? Are we prepared to deal with them?
I will leave these perplexing and often moral and ethical questions to our panel of speakers and experts to address – in such dilemmas, every person has an opinion, so I urge all of you to join in the discussion and pose your comments and questions to inspire a rich exchange of views. Looking at today’s line-up, I am particularly glad that it will cover a full spectrum of stages across children, adolescents to couples, families and older persons in dealing with issues related to addictions, conflicts, grief, mental health challenges and others, in school, work and home settings. These issues have all risen to the fore of late.
SUSS Celebrating 12 Years & More in Training Counsellors
While the demand in mental care has grown, qualified counsellors, psychologists, social workers are far from sustainably meeting the high volume of patient cases. In 2020, it was noted that there were only 504 registered psychologists and 940 registered counsellors in Singapore 5. Why? Exhaustion and burnout are often the greatest pain points faced by practitioners, especially worsened with intensified caseload through the course of the pandemic 6.
In this regard, SUSS has been striving to train counselling professionals in Singapore for the past 15 years. We were the first university to launch a bachelor degree in counselling in 2007 when there was no local formal qualification in this field. As the fieldwork demanded more advanced knowledge, our Master of Counselling programme was launched 12 years ago to address rising societal challenges and complexities. To date, we have trained over 160 postgraduates 7 through this programme, who are in the field serving those in need today, realising SUSS’ vision in creating and championing good for our society.
SUSS remains committed and ready to enhance our counselling programmes to support the learning needs of future generations of professionals passionate who desire to enter this highly demanded and demanding field. Some new courses we will introduce to our current offering include:
- Telehealth and Online Counselling
- Couple and Family Therapy, and
- Bereavement Counselling
Finally, I would like to thank our SUSS Programme Advisory Committee and partners for your efforts in hosting this webinar to advance the knowledge and skills of this important profession. And to our Guest-of-Honour, Dr Maliki Osman, please accept our deep appreciation for gracing our event, and supporting the tough yet prized work of our counsellors, psychologists, physio- and occupational therapists, social workers, teachers and nurses in caring for the wellbeing of our people.
I wish you all a fruitful discourse and hope that the insights and connections acquired today will contribute to your knowledge and fieldwork.
1 MOH statement (6 Jan 2020) – The median waiting time to see psychiatrists and clinical psychologists
2 WEF (22 Dec 2021) – 4 Ways AI is improving mental health therapy
3 NY Times (3 Jun 2021): Virtual reality therapy plunges patients back into trauma
4 AIC-MOSAIC (7 Apr 2021): The Future is Nao: Is Robot Therapy the Next Big Thing for Seniors’ Rehab?
5 MOH Statement (14 Oct 2020) – Availability of future-ready counsellors and psychologists to help cope with potential increase in mental illness cases
6 ST (20 Sep 2021) – Singapore counsellors face burnout as more seek therapy amid COVID-19
7 SUSS’ Master of Counselling programme graduates as of 7 June 2022: 163 (provided by AR)