Q and A: Dr Nicon Chin has been a psychologist and psychotherapist for 31 years. He has met all kinds of people and given rather unusual solutions to unusual problems. Here Dr Chin talks about his out-of-the box treatments, how children should be treated in an IT world and what ails our society.
Q: How did you become a psychologist and psychotherapist?
A: I was attracted to philosophy and sociology and later to human behaviour . I had good teachers and I followed their problem-solving skills and behaviour management techniques. I did a double major in sociology and psychology. Right after that I took a post -baccalaureate diploma in gerontology.
After returning home, I did research work which improved my counselling skills with students. Subsequently I worked with special-needs children and young adults and ended up with paediatric work and helping families and the elderly.
I was also involved with then pre-retirement and ageing policy work, sheltered workshop, special education, hospice, counselling, integrated education, housing for the disabled, handicapped hostel, befriending, meals on wheels, push for prison education and United Nations work on Peace, Women, Children, Youth, Disabled, Abuse and Abandonment. I was still involved with intelligence and giftedness. These shaped my experience as a psychologist and psychotherapist .
Q:. Tell us about some of the unusual patients you have come across?
A: There was this young man who was said to be mentally retarded and was sent to a special school. I had him reassessed and found that he was in the normal range, but he could not get back into normal school, having left at primary. Together with his new principal, we pushed for him to bypass finishing school. Enrolled into the BEST programme, he eventually became an apprentice for a bakery where he continues to this day as an excellent baker with a scholarship to study baking.
Then there was this farmer’s wife back In the early 80s when many villages were slotted for redevelopment. Though used to working under the sun, she suddenly became afraid of the sun and any hard work, preferring to lie in bed and let the world go by. Behaviour modification was used to make her willing to work again. She was told she would be discharged from the hospital only if she cleaned a toilet which had not been cleaned for a few days. Protesting and cursing after half an hour, she eventually cleaned the toilet and was brought back to her ward. Next day she asked to be discharged, saying that she was well, and the case was closed.
There was a five-year-old boy with scales on both legs who underwent several skin treatments without much improvement. I recommended hypnotherapy. Taught to relax, he went into a trance and recalled a past-life experience. He saw himself as a big (young) man with a girlfriend. One day her family caught them together. They were pushed into a pig enclosure with strong bamboo poles and later tossed into the sea.
To make sure they drowned, their captors bundled them into fishing nets weighed down with rocks. As the boy related his story, the scales on his skin became visibly clearer by more than 50 per cent and by the end of the session his parents were amazed that the skin condition was about 75 per cent better. The boy said his parents were among those who had gone after him in his earlier life.
Then there was this female transgender who wanted to be a male and a male transgender who wanted to be a female. They met by chance in between my sessions after their sex change and fell in love. They have been married for eight years now.
Q:. Can you give us a profile of your patients? Age, Gender, Marital status?
A: I have seen patients 10 months to 102 years old. I have seen students, parents, high flyers, political figures and royalty. Locals, foreigners, mixed gender, transgender, single, divorced, I have seen them all.
Q:. You do have some out-of-the-box treatments. Can you elaborate?
A. Starting in the 1980s with conventional counselling, some days the sessions are long drawn with many follow-ups. Hypnotherapy came in the 1990s and cases range from problem solving to unconscious statements to recreational discovery, to past lives, back to the womb. In 2000 systemic family constellation was used a great deal whereby patients were shown that energy is present and, understanding the energy, one can liberate oneself from perceptions, real or imagined.
There was a young lady who could not swallow anything. Speaking about her problem, she started to hyperventilate. Calmed down and put into hypnosis, she saw the juiciest steak before her eyes. She could feel the texture and smell the roast. As she salivated, she was swallowing her saliva and eventually sipping from a cup. Then she progressed to having oat meal and porridge instead of being tube-fed.
It’s important to hear what clients are telling you though sometimes you will see people insisting on having their own way instead of trusting the therapist.
Sometimes out-of-the box treatments are based on gut feel. There was a child who was a terror at school. He would go to the principal’s office, sit on her chair and not listen to others. His mother was referred to me. She was looking at the floor while talking to the therapist. Just like that, the therapist asked her if she had a couple of abortions. Surprised, she said yes. It was shown to the mother that the aborted babies did not have the same energy as her current child. She started to cry.
Q:. You have been in the business for 31 years. What do you think ails Singapore society?
A. I have been working since 31 years ago. It’s gratifying when you see clients who had come to you as children or teenagers and are now all grown up and call you “Uncle”. I have had clients whom I saw in 1982 coming back after 30 years. Some clients saw me through their own development from students to young adults, through their careers, marriage and family life. Singaporeans are well-informed, thanks to the Internet, but they should remember not everything suits everyone. Singaporeans need to be more patient and tolerant instead of insisting on instant results..
Q6. What do you think can be done to make the country a more sane, relaxed and confident society?
A. A Singaporean acts like a Singaporean just like doctors act like doctors, lawyers act like lawyers. We need to let people learn from their mistakes just as our forefathers did. If laws work, there is no need to change them. Instead we are seeing change upon change, causing confusion. More and more graduates are returning from overseas with great ideas, but they do not ask whether these are applicable to our multicultural Asian society. Singapore needs to be mindful that once we had the kampong spirit when neighbours looked out for one another. Now in the communal high-rise buildings, neighbours hardly know one another. Be tolerant of other races and values. We need to bring back that community spirit.
Once we had hawkers selling their traditional snacks, now they are lost due to the insistence on proper kitchens. Singapore used to be a hub for ornamental fish breeding, but the fish breeders had to give up because of the lack of space and no support from our government. The fish farms were relocated but the original sites are still not developed. The animal welfare groups have placed far too much emphasis on welfare at the expense of those who truly loved their animals.
Some of the people employed by the various agencies simply do not have the right spirit – they just want to implement more laws to punish those who fail. I feel that, though there are specialistst, they are not involved as much as they should be while those with little or no experience are heading projects representing Singapore on the world stage. On Ask the Prime Minister, the PM hoped more people would voice their innermost thoughts and come forward to assist. As Singapore moves forward, some of the experts are still around and remain untapped as a source of information and experience. Let’s use them. We truly need to relax and be confident and do away with the “two- minute expert” attitude.
Q: What is your advice to parents on bringing up children?
A. Trust yourselves as you bring up your children and avoid the “Jones” complex. Exposed to technology, our children are better informed. Parents need to level with them. Explain to them, encourage children to speak up. Encourage them to speak the truth. When there’s a problem, make it clear you love them but are not happy with their behaviour. Encourage them to be mindful of others. Just because others do not see their point of view does not necessarily mean that others are wrong but just that they have different perspectives. Encourage children to help the needy and do volunteer work. Be open to new possibilities. The word impossible is I M Possible!
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