SGPsychStud: Psychology Happenings in Singapore 2013

You might not know it, but there were quite a few events and happenings in the psychological arena of Singapore this year.  Some of them happen every year, and some for the very first time.  They are written in chronological order, with talks organised by SPS in a different (bottom) section.

February:  2nd Annual International Conference on Cognitive and Behavioural Psychology
This conference is held for the last two years in the same venue, and hence the same again next year.  The early bird registration ends 30 December 2013 (gotta do it asap!), so if you wish to pay lower fees for the event next year, the link for the event is above.

March:  Changes in the SPS Executive Committee
As the term of office for the SPS Executive Committee is two years, this year was the year where a change of office is due.  The major changes are the positions of President and Vice-President, whom the the current office bearers are Clare Yeo and Jennifer Teoh, respectively.

May:  Asian Conference of Criminal & Operations Psychology 2013
Jointly organised by the Singapore Home Team Behavioural Sciences Centre, Police Psychological Services Division (Singapore Police Force) and the Psychological and Correctional Rehabilitation Division (Singapore Prisons Service), Singapore, the second run of Asian Conference of Criminal & Operations Psychology (ACCOP) will be held in Singapore and organised by Dr Majeed Khader and his team.

September:  2013 Joint SELF Biennial International Conference and Educational Research Association of Singapore (ERAS) Conference
This conference was jointly organised by SELF International and Educational Research Association of Singapore (ERAS).  Coincidentally, it is the 7th conference held by both groups, and this event was held in Nanyang Girls High School.  Click here for the speakers' slides, and photos and videos of the event.

October:  SPS Student Research Award 2013
This event has been going on for the last three years, and it is getting bigger every year, with more research entries year after year.  For this year's list of entries, here is the pdf file.

November:  Mindfulness - What the buzz?
Up to around 1,800 people participated in this evening talk (so did I), and it was a really wonderful talk.  There were 9 speakers, including Venerable Dr Matthieu Ricard, and speakers from the Mind and Life Institute, with Professor Jay Garfield moderating the conversations.  Even though the event went overtime, the participants were more than happy to stay till the end of the Q&A session.
For more information:
Information about mindfulness and the event
Take home messages and summaries of the talks and discussions (reported by The Kent Ridge Common)

December:  SPS Youth Chapter
The Youth Chapter is made up of students from NUS, NTU, SIM, Raffles College of Higher Education, Temasek Polytechinc and Ngee Ann Polytechnic, with the aim to coordinate and synchronise psychology-related activities around Singapore, and to enhance the psychology learning journey for students pursuing Psychology in Singapore.  I do hope that good things will happen from this initiative in the coming year!

Talks organised by or in collaboration with SPS
May:  Systemic Psychology and Family Therapy: Milan Approach
Speaker:  Mr Luca Lombardo (SPS Family Psychology SIG (Special Interest Group)]

July:  2nd Sport Psychology Symposium 2013
Organised by:  Singapore Sport Psychology Network / SPS Sport Psychology SIG
Speakers:  Professor John Wang (NIE), Mr Luca Lombardo, Dr Dev RoyChowdhury (Australia), Mr Carlin Lee, Ms Emily Ortega (Psyched Consultancy Pte Ltd), Dr Jaylee Longbottom (Singapore Sports School)

Do make sure you stay tuned to the Conferences and Events page and the Facebook Page to keep yourself updated about the latest events and happenings!!! Also wishing all my viewers Merry Xmas and Happy New Year!!!

Stage 12: Reflections of an experienced practicing psychologist

In the course of my work as a developmental psychologist and counsellor, I meet families who are finding it hard to cope in one way or another and have come to me for support.  Often they need advice on supporting the behavioural, educational or psycho-emotional needs of their children.  Sometimes parents suspect their child has a disability and they approach me for a diagnosis.  The difficulties my patients face range from extreme anxiety, anger management issues to learning disabilities.  In order to successfully work with a child, it is critical that as a psychologist I understand the family environment and dynamics that the child lives in.  Working closely with the children and their families inevitably leads to the development of a strong bond between me and the entire family.

However, as a psychologist I need to be professional and maintain a clear boundary between my own emotions and the emotions of the child and his/her family.  Being too emotionally attached to the child may cloud my professional perspective on things resulting in decisions made and the advice given not necessarily being in the best interest of the child and family.  In reality though, when working with families who are struggling, maintaining such a distance is not always easy.
A piece of advice a professor of mine shared with me years ago is that is important to draw an emotional boundary between work and personal life.  I make it a point to try to remember that valuable advice. In many of the cases I work with the family is experiencing very trying times.  An inability to emotionally detach from my patients after work is crucial in ensuring that my patient’s problems do not end up impacting my own mental health.  I am only effective when I can think with a clear head.

I have been in this field for over 15 years and not one day has passed that I have regretted entering this field.  Knowing that I have the potential to help a fellow human being makes the long hours at work feel very worthwhile.  I believe that a successful child psychologist requires a love for working with people and in particular with children.  It is definitely a rewarding job!  Throughout my years, I have learnt to let the experience of working with others enrich my own life and to help me become a better person. I am still growing and learning every single day.

Penny Tok, PhD
Chartered Psychologist (UK)
Dr Penny Tok Psychology Practice

SGPsychStud: What's there to fear??

I tend to tell people: One of the most common and basic emotion that compels us to do something or pulls us back from doing anything is Fear.  However, what's there to fear?  And what can we do about it if we do experience fear?

Psychological researchers, John Watson and Paul Ekman, recognised that fear is one of the basic innate emotions that we experience, and everyone will experience it.  Fear is associated with the amygdala in the brain and regulated by the hypothalamus, with the physiological reactions known as the "fight-or-flight" response and/or even "freeze" response in some situations (you can remember them by the 3"F"s).  We know a lot about them from the most common phobias that we have heard or learnt about, but this post is addressing general fears of the unknown, rather than phobias.

Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933), the 32nd President of the United States, in his first Inaugural Address said:
"the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."  
This unconscious inner fear that we experience comes unknowingly, sometimes unexpressed, and often stops us in our tracks.  I am referring the fear of facing, trying, or experiencing something new, unknown, etc.  People fear facing and experiencing things that are new and unknown, purely for the reasons that they are new and unknown.  Why is this so?

As we go though our everyday lives, we form habits unconsciously, walking the same path to and fro work everyday, saying "Hi" to same people, having meals and coffee breaks at the same time, creating a monotonous boring cycle.  This provides us with a sense of security and insurance that we know that we are in control of whatever is happening around; on the other hand, these routines may create a restriction towards the vast opportunities, experiences, and knowledge that one could actually get if some changes, even minor ones, were made.  We take "flight" or "freeze" from these opportunities that may benefit us somehow at an uncertain point of our lives.  The new, unknown,  or unpredictable experience could actually be useful in some way, and by not experiencing it, we will not even get the chance to see if it will be useful at all.

This concept of not having the fear of new opportunities and experiences require a few conditions:
  • Thirst for Knowledge
    • You need to have the hunger and thirst for knowledge.  Knowledge is one thing that no one can take away from you and only accessible to you alone, hence there is no harm in gaining more for yourself.  Any information you gain now may be useful later.  However, acquiring knowledge should be focused and directional.  That way, it will serve a purpose, and with this purpose, it can then propel you to seek more knowledge.  Gaining more knowledge also helps you understand things better, and through understanding yourself and your fears better, it will help in reducing them.
  • Curiosity
    • With curiosity, it will make you ask more questions, get the answers, and then asking more questions, leaving no stones unturned.  Through being curious, it will also help you to gain more knowledge.  A good way is to start asking "What?  Why?  How?"  Though curiosity may not be as useful as having knowledge to reduce fears, it might serve as a motivation to understand the situation better, than the focus on the negative thoughts relating to the fears.     
  • Positive Mindset
    • When experiencing the fear, it is inevitable that one will have negative thoughts.  Always having a positive mindset will help face these negative thoughts better, as staying positive in the face of fear will help you deal with it more rationally and calm.  In the process, you just need to tell yourself "It's okay, just relax and (try to) enjoy the process"  If that is not possible, the next step would be to do some deep breathing, followed by altering your thoughts to more positive ones, such as "You can do it!"  As we start to calm down, it will allow us to react better towards the situation and enjoy the experience much more.
So in facing your fears and the unknowns, stay thirsty, hungry, and curious to get the knowledge, approach them face-to-face, relax and enjoy the experiences, change your ideas if required, stay positive, and all is good...