Jon: A Student's Perspective of SPS PsychWeek 2016

Singapore Psychological Society conducted a week-long series of talks and workshops, and it is known as SPS PsychWeek 2016.  Were you there at any of the talks this week?  A student was present there for four out of the five days, and hence SG Psych Stuff invited him to do a (rather long) write-up of his enriching experience.

Here's Jon Kuek and his perspective of the SPS PsychWeek 2016:

This week I spent most of my weekday evenings at TMC Academy attending the talks organized as part of the Singapore Psychological Society’s PsychWeek 2016.  At first I thought I wouldn’t have learnt anything new, but boy was I wrong.  Overall it was a truly enriching and educational week for me.

Day 1  
Topic:  The Gardener Mindset - How to optimize your harvest as a private psychologist in Singapore 
Speaker:  Mr Edgar Tham (Chief Sport and Performance Psychologist SportPsych Consulting)
So I decided to attend the talk on how to optimize your harvest as a private psychologist because it sounded really interesting.  Basically it was about how to best survive (best word to use, I guess) in the cut-throat exclusive world of private practitioners in Singapore.  Be it clinical, organizational, educational, or any field in applied psychology, being a private practitioner was not easy.  Even for the speaker, Mr Edgar Tham, a prominent and the first sports psychologist in Singapore who shared how difficult a journey he had to go through before managing to see a bit of success in what he was doing.  The main points taught were to:
  • Network, network, and even more networking (seriously this is probably the most important point), 
  • Take calculated and strategic risk when venturing into new projects (this basically means what can I use this new project for in the future and how would it benefit others), and lastly 
  • Be willing to work for free (internships, volunteering, any opportunity you get, kind of like this blog post =p).  
So I guess my biggest take away from this session was that the road to success as a private practitioner is really tough and filled with landmines, and if money is all you are after then you would be better off looking for some other job.  Being a psychologist, our duty is first and foremost for the betterment of society, which is also reflected through Edgar’s words on how we should always be asking ourselves what we can do for others rather then what they can do for us.

Topic:  Positive Psychology - A study in Singapore on pursuit of happiness, life purpose and satisfaction
Speaker:  Dr Janice Lee (Clinical Psychologist)

Day 2 
Topic: Q and A session on Myths about Studying Psychology
Speakers: Mr Carlin Lee and Miss Celeste Teo
Moderator: Mr Benedict Lim
I was really interested in this talk because I wondered what kind of myths do people who are not studying psychology or even those who currently are still believe in.  Some of the myths that were raised were actually quite common, for example whether psychologists can read minds or that psychologists only dealt with the mentally ill.  As shared during the talk, psychologists do more than just treat the mentally ill, from working with athletes to understanding the criminal mind, psychology encompasses nearly every expect of human functioning/behaviour.  Perhaps these myths still exist due to how the media has always portrayed psychology, from how statistics are often misused to misdirect people to how articles (for example one that claims brain scans can read peoples’ intentions) are sensationalized to make them more interesting.  Overall, I feel that such talks are really informative and necessary in educating more people (including psychology students and people interested in psychology), as information can be used to direct or misdirect, so talks like this give people a place to get accurate information.

Day 3
Topic:  Experiential Learning: Group Therapy
Speaker:  Ms Liew Shi Min (Clinical Psychologist Khoo Teck Puat Hospital)
This talk on group therapy was really something new for me.  I had always read about it through research papers and doubted its ability as an effective form of treatment.  A lot of this stems from the belief that how could so many people be able to share and talk at the same time.  However, that was soon debunked as a common myth of group therapy.  As I listened to Ms Liew Shi Min’s talk in which she shared the pros and cons of group therapy and some of the myths about it, I could start to see the various possibilities of group therapy being a good and also cost effective form of treatment.  Since almost everything now is about cutting cost while maintaining a high level of service and product standards, it made sense that group therapy was slowly gaining traction.
Group therapy actually allows for individuals to interact with one another, something which normal individual therapy does not, and through this interaction, certain issues such as how they communicate with one another, or new perspectives about issues from other members of the group can start to surface.  At this point, the facilitator’s role would be to catch on these points and facilitate or discuss them further.  Whilst a single talk does not make me an expert on group therapy, having experienced it first-hand by being a participant in the live demonstration section of the talk, I could start to see how various dynamics were interacting all at once, from digging deeper into my own feelings to reflecting on what others say.  I felt that it gave me a better understanding of myself and the way I interact with others.  Additionally, it allowed others to point out places where I perhaps could have done better, and was a very validating experience especially when you hear about others going through similar situations as yourself.  All in all, this session was perhaps the most interactive thus far.

Day 4
Topic:  Panel Discussion - The Future of Psychology 
Speakers:  Professor Ken Greenwood (Academia) and Ms Clare Yeo (Clinical Psychologist)

Day 5
Topic:  Emotional Intelligence 
Speaker:  Ms Teodora Pavkovic
So some of you might be wondering why Day 4 is missing, and that is because I had to miss the talk on the "Future of Psychology in Singapore" due to prior commitments.  Nevertheless, today’s talk was really fascinating, especially since the topic of emotional intelligence is something very often overlooked but is gaining more recognition in recent times.  We started off the talk with a quick mindfulness activity to center ourselves in the present in preparation for the talk.  For those who do not know what mindfulness is, it is the practice of bringing one’s attention to the present moment, to our internal processes and on how external processes may influence us.  In this activity, we were asked to focus on our breathing, to feel our emotions and to identify them in a non-judgemental manner, to acknowledge everything we feel and thoughts we might be having.

We then moved on to an activity on identifying emotions which was particularly difficult in seeing, as most emotions share commonalities with others.  By now, I was wondering what does all these have to do with emotional intelligence, what exactly is emotional intelligence, and how would it help me in my daily life.  Emotional intelligence was defined to us as 'the ability to know our emotions, manage them, harness them in effective manners, recognize emotions in others and ourselves, and then how to handle emotions'.  It is important to note at this point that we should not discriminate emotions based on being positive and negative, as they all have their own unique functions.  For example, the Fear emotion, one of the four basic emotions, has the function of protecting us from possible dangers.
Another important point that was probably central to the talk was that emotions derived from a very primal place within us, and is based on evolutionary psychology.  Additionally, due to this evolutionary perspective, humans have developed a negativity bias towards negative emotions.  This meant that we are more inclined to notice negative emotions as a means of self-preservation whilst positive emotions may not surface till later.  So perhaps the next time you are feeling really negative about something, it would help to take a step back and be more objective about the entire situation; maybe you will start to see the more positive side of things.  A study shared during the talk  discussed the factors influencing our levels of happiness and well-being, and it showed that 50% of our subjective happiness was based on our genes (so I guess some people are just predisposed to be happier than others, sorry!), 10% of it was due to the situation (this was kinda surprising), and 40% of it was due to our actions (so you do have a lot more control over things than you realise! Maybe it is time to own that control).

Lastly, we wrapped up the talk with ways to better improve our emotional intelligence and here are three simple techniques that are pretty simple to do!
  1. Breathe!  Just this simple act of breathing helps to orient you back to the present moment and may help in processing complex emotions. 
  2. Sit with your emotions.  Just let them stew and over time these emotions will go away.  If they do not, perhaps you should talk to someone about them. 
  3. Respond but do not react.  When we react, we often use what we have previously learnt in an automatic process and as we have an innate bias towards negative emotions, chances are when we react without allowing our higher cognitive functions process the situation, our manner of reaction might be more negative.
All in all, this week has been an enlightening journey for me, and I have met many wonderful people who I will hopefully be working with in the future.  Till then, thanks for taking the time to read this extremely lengthy piece and hope you’ve learnt something useful too!

*Photos displayed in this blog post are copyright of SG Psych Stuff.

About the guest writer Jon Kuek:
Jon is a 3rd year psychology student in James Cook University (Singapore).  Learning is his passion and he hopes to educate the next generation of psychology students one day.  He has interests in many fields of psychology, in particular social and clinical psychology.  In his free time, Jon volunteers at the Institute of Mental Health and is constantly looking for new volunteers to join him on his adventure to serve the mentally ill who are staying at the hospital.  Do contact him at if you would be interested in helping them too!