What differentiates a psychologist in the community is that we work within the community. We step out of the clinic into classrooms and homes to work directly with our clients and their families. We partner VWOs, public sector agencies and other professionals to identify needs and co-develop solutions for our clients. What this means is a stronger support and a more holistic intervention close to our clients’ homes.

Hear from our people on what it means to be a psychologist based in the community.

Ernest mugshot

As an educational psychologist working in a centre offering the Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Children (EIPIC), I see children under the age of seven who are developmentally delayed. Before they are placed in EIPIC centres, young children suspected of developmental challenges seek professional help in primary care settings i.e., hospitals and local clinics. After the initial assessments and interventions at the hospitals, our clients enrol into EIPIC centres, and they are then seen by a transdisciplinary team of professionals. Amongst these professionals are psychologists, who are committed to sustaining the level of professional help needed. As a CPH psychologist based in the VWO EIPIC centre, I am keen to provide quality and efficient help for children and families who are in need of psychological services. For example, when caregivers enquire on the appropriate ways of handling a child’s tantrums, I am readily available to advise and demonstrate behaviour management strategies. When it is time to conduct school placement assessments, my regular presence at the centre means that I am able to build good rapport with the children and conduct valid psychological assessments, so as to facilitate timely applications into special schools.

Clients and families receiving the EIPIC usually reside near the centres they attend. This is a desirable arrangement, because our clients are familiar and comfortable in their own environment. When families see that we make the effort to arrive at their doorstep during home visits, it is easier to establish rapport and consequently, families will be receptive to recommendations we provide. Working close to our clients and families also ensure that we recommend strategies that are both client- and family-centred, as well as integrated within family routines. As families realise the relevance of intervention, they are also more likely to implement them at home and be consistent with the EIPIC team in their home approach.

By actively and regularly sharing my knowledge to clients and families, I hope to empower the community I serve. Empowering families in their most natural settings also advocates for our clients and the need for our society at large to be more inclusive and gracious. The bonus for me is that the community in which I am able to share my knowledge on psychology with, is coincidentally also the community I live and grew up in!

– Ernest Tan, Educational Psychologist

As a psychologist in the Development Support Programme (DSP), my therapy work plants me in the heart of local communities, as it involves travelling from one preschool to the next in different neighbourhoods. This may sound tiring or nomadic, but being within the community can be a unique experience.

One of the most exciting things about providing psychological services within the community is that I get to be in the setting where the child is! Since I’m in the preschool, I can observe for myself how the child is responding to his/ her environment. For example, I get to see whether they are interacting (or not) with their peers and teachers, what upsets them, what motivates them, how they play etc. All these observations provide useful information about the child’s strengths and areas of need. In addition to that, I am able to observe how the teacher is responding to the child, and how that influences the child’s behaviours.

These observations are clues to what can be put in place to support the child’s learning and development, and how to use the child’s natural environment to nurture positive behaviours. I recall a case where I worked with a child who was very reserved, hesitant to speak in school to her teachers and to volunteer answers. During an observation session, I noticed that she was interacting with the peers around her during lessons, one of whom would encourage her whenever she responded to the teacher, and the other responded positively to her attempts to interact. After some discussion with the teacher on how we could support her in school, we decided that one way might be to place either of these peers in the same group as her so that she will feel socially connected. We hoped that in doing so, she will feel better about school, and participate more in lessons. Our attempts paid off. We began to see gradual changes in her: she was opening up more, being more playful, and was more participative in class.

The other unique advantage of practising in the community is who I can work with. Teachers see their class daily, while I provide therapy services on a weekly basis for an hour each time. Working in the community, I have the opportunity of working with teachers who spend a lot more time with the child than I do as a psychologist. This places them in the unique position of effecting change long after I have left the therapy session. After teachers and I discuss strategies that we can put into place, they try it out in the coming week, and we troubleshoot together to see whether they have been helpful or not. Being in the school, I also have a common reference point with teachers when we discuss about the child’s profile, which is really helpful when we are discussing about how the strategies have been working out, and what the child’s needs are.

On top of these, my most edifying experience so far has been to work alongside teachers and seeing the positive changes in the child together. For some of the children I work with, their misbehaviours have landed them in trouble countless times, and given them many labels. Hence, my work with teachers goes beyond just consultation and solving problems. As we collaborate in helping the child, teachers see for themselves that the child is capable of so much more than the label that has been stuck onto them. Many times, teachers are pleasantly surprised (sometimes shocked), that the child has surpassed their expectations.

Being in the community, it also means that psychological services can be provided at parents’ convenience. This is a boost for parents who find it tough to take time off to send their children for therapy within a clinic setting. I once spoke to a mother who was struggling with her marriage, and had to look after 4 children. She recounted to me the difficulties of bringing her eldest son to the hospital for therapy, as she would have to take leave from work to do so. In addition, she did not stay near to the hospital, which meant more expenses and time spent on transport. As she related these challenges to me, I realised that if I were in her shoes, having her other son receive therapy services within the community must have been a relief to her in easing some of the burdens she had to bear.

Working in the community is not perfect. I do not have an office of my own, and I have to lug materials everywhere I go. I get caught in the rain and most of the time, in the sun. The flipside is that I am in the child’s natural environment. I have entered their world and am given a glimpse into the curious and interesting lives of these children.

– Bernadette Chan, Educational Psychologist