Someone in your corner: University Counselling Services offers a listening ear and support system

Rolling waves, swift currents and vast depths – it may seem terrifying to some; but Ms Ng Su Fen, Residential Counsellor at NUS, relishes the dive – whether into the deep-blue sea, or the swirling emotions of the students she works with.

Su Fen lights up when talking about scuba diving, a hobby she has enjoyed since her teens. She tells stories of creatures large and small spotted underwater, muses on the vital role of tiny, often underappreciated organisms in maintaining a balanced ecosystem, and how the magnificence of nature can put one’s life in perspective.

When she ventures under the waves in her diving gear during one of her annual scuba diving trips, she finds a different world where she can disconnect with life as she knows it, and a space to be with herself in the quiet of the deep. Yet it is this silence and solitude that allows her to recharge and engage with others when she is back at her job, and to then be a safe space for others who need a listening ear.

Being a safe space and listening ear

As a residential counsellor, most of Su Fen’s days are spent counselling students who live on campus, at the newest location of University Counselling Services at NUS University Town, which offers better accessibility and availability of counselling services for this group of students.

But perhaps what sets the team of residential counsellors apart is the regularity of after-hours counselling, when students living on campus emerge from the hustle and bustle of academic life to get some breathing space and quiet time for a conversation. Many of her appointments tackle challenges related to stress, anxiety, and depression faced by students, which can be brought about by various internal and external factors. Many international students living on-campus may also face challenges such as adjusting to living in a new country and being in a new educational environment.

Su Fen embarked on her current career serendipitously. A chance encounter with an acquaintance, leading to an unintended deep conversation, helped her realise that one can still be a good listener for someone whom one may not know very well. There began the first stirrings of purpose and passion that led the former NUS management associate to seek a career she found to be aligned with her personal values, and where she could make a more direct impact on the wellbeing of those around her.

Ebb and flow

Su Fen also acknowledges the challenges that come with her role in facilitating others’ discovery of their identity and life direction. “When you spend a lot of time with people, it is inevitable that you will think about how you could help them,” she says, adding how this might sometimes spill over beyond working hours.

She also grapples with the occasional feeling of not being able to do enough within the limited time spent together in the counselling process. “We cannot control external circumstances or take over their problems, but there are things we can do within our scope, such as empowering them with coping skills to manage anxieties, set boundaries, and be more assertive and communicative,” she explains.

Encountering the unexpected too, is not an uncommon occurrence in her role. A student may come in for an appointment and share something completely different from what had been intended, or their lives may have shifted in unprecedented directions, something Su Fen stresses is always alright. At such times, counsellors also must be grounded and present in the moment, to ready themselves for the manifold experiences that people open up to them about.  

Nonetheless, being able to journey with students is one of the most rewarding and fulfilling parts of her career. Referring to a counsellor’s role of connecting people with their values and sharing different perspectives with them, Su Fen shared: “It is a real pleasure being able to journey with students in this phase of their lives, where they are growing into their own identity, and for many, having the freedom to explore different things for the first time.”

It is gratifying when she sees students overcome challenges they have shared about in the past, and to journey with them through their milestones, however big or small they may be, such as going through a difficult period, meeting their goals, or reaching graduation.

Someone in your corner

With growing awareness of the importance of mental wellbeing and the available avenues to seek help, Su Fen hopes that more students will be willing to take their first steps to access various forms of mental health support available in NUS, and to be reassured that if they decide to access counselling, UCS can provide a safe, confidential, and non-judgemental space.

Most of all, a burden shared is a burden lightened, and it is Su Fen’s hope that the knowledge that someone is in their corner will give students the courage to come forward and open up about their thoughts and concerns, to be able to move forward and be empowered with the skills to tackle life’s demands.

Need help? Speak to someone today.

Counselling provides a safe, confidential and private space to talk with someone about your goals and concerns. Meeting with a counsellor may help you clarify your goals, explore options to achieve them, and acquire skills for individual growth.

University Counselling Services (UCS) services are provided free for all full time NUS students. Find out more about counselling services or make an appointment here.