“Coming from a somewhat difficult background, I also held a firm belief that therapy should be made accessible to people from all walks of life…"

Why did you choose to intern at The Red Pencil (Singapore)?
Since I major in psychology, I looked out for internships that provided opportunities to have first-hand experience in helping others. Coming from a somewhat difficult background, I also held a firm belief that therapy should be made accessible to people from all walks of life so that everyone in need will be able to benefit from the sessions regardless of their financial background. I came across The Red Pencil (Singapore)'s internship posting and saw that the work that they do aligned with what I believed in – making (art) therapy accessible to people of low income families. This, coupled with my interest in seeing how art therapy could be beneficial for self-expression, made me apply for the internship in hopes that I could gain more insight into what goes on behind the scenes of making affordable therapy possible.

What were your main responsibilities as a programme intern?
I had to liaise with external organisations to coordinate programmes and events, reach out to the community around us to introduce our work, coordinate with our team of volunteers, and assist with centre operations and/or other tasks wherever possible.

What is the most meaningful project you have worked on at The Red Pencil?
It definitely has to be the Econ Healthcare wall mural project as it was the first task I was assigned to when I started out at The Red Pencil (Singapore), as well as my final project when my internship period came to an end. The process of liaising between different stakeholders involved in the project was insightful as it revealed a lot of heart, passion, and work underlying a seemingly simplistic wall mural.

Working on this project throughout the entire 6 months allowed me to utilise many new skills that I learned during my internship such as having effective communication between stakeholders, crafting project timelines to ensure that all parties are on the same track, and coordinating different teams of volunteers who graciously helped with the completion of the mural. Thus, this project is definitely one to remember as it not only signified the beginning of my internship responsibilities, it also marked the end of my internship. It was nice to see it come full circle and I am beyond glad that I had the opportunity to see the project till the end.

How were you able to apply the knowledge you learned in school to your work at The Red Pencil?
I assisted in a collaborative research proposal with NIE by doing literature reviews and editing the contents of the proposal. I also shared some psychological scales that could be adopted into our pre-post session forms to assess the progress of our The Red Pencil (Singapore) service users more effectively. This is in hopes that it can provide us with more comprehensive information to make necessary adjustments to our programmes, thus allowing us to better support them with our programmes in the future.

“Assisting with art therapy sessions further solidified my learning as the sessions often changed from their initial plan."

What is the most valuable piece of insight you have gained from your time with The Red Pencil?
Most projects that I have done did not pan out the way that I initially planned for, with timelines or plans constantly evolving as time went on. Fortunately, all of them ended up being way better than I expected things to go. At the early stages of my internship, I used to feel dejected when my plans did not pan out as I saw it as a flaw in my planning skills. However, as time went on, I saw that change was ultimately inevitable because it is simply impossible to predict everything that could happen. Moreover, these changes were made to ensure that our service users will have an uplifting experience in the end.

Assisting with art therapy sessions further solidified my learning as the sessions often changed from their initial plan. Art therapists are highly sensitive to the responses of the service user and often tweak their sessions to ensure that the service user can have an empowering session, regardless of how well-planned the initial plan seemed. This reminded me that although our expertise is important in this line of work, the needs of the service users should always come first.

All in all, interning at RPS has made me more open to change and reminded me to take on a person-centric approach when providing support to others.

What was your idea of art therapy before joining The Red Pencil? How is it after?
Initially, my idea of art therapy was that the service user would draw anything they thought of. The art therapist would then interpret the drawing and uncover hidden feelings that they could mainly focus on during the session.

But after assisting art therapists in a few sessions, I saw that there was actually less focus on addressing feelings than I initially thought. As opposed to behavioural therapy where more focus would be on unveiling and addressing the root causes of problems faced by the client, art therapy sessions place more focus on what the service user chooses to share within the session.

The art therapy sessions would usually start off by making service users comfortable with the art materials to be used during the session. Then, some prompts would be given for them to start making their artworks on, depending on the challenges that they came in with. After a short art making process, the service user would then be invited to explain their creation, where their sharing will be used as the starting point of therapy. For example, if an individual coming in for grief processing chose to talk about academic struggles instead, the session would focus on academic struggles. It was refreshing to see the therapist going along with the flow of the service user instead of forcefully trying to link the session back to their “original” problem. This person-centric approach provided a validating experience for the service user.

As I assisted with a literature review, I came across many papers about the effectiveness of art therapy. It was sad to see that less empirical research was done on this modality as compared to psychological therapies, making it seem like a less trustable option. Hopefully the future will see more empirical research that uncovers the mechanisms and effectiveness of art therapy, so that more people can be convinced of its effects on empowerment and self-expression.

“Hopefully the future will see more empirical research that uncovers the mechanisms and effectiveness of art therapy…"

What advice do you have for a prospective intern at The Red Pencil?
To keep your mind open and clear so that you can identify the needs of the service users, such that better programmes and assessment methods can be implemented to provide more support for our service users.

You mentioned you play both piano and violin. Name a song or piece of music that calms you.
Oh! For more modern and palatable pieces, do try these:

Bygone days by Joe Hisaishi (the Studio Ghibli 25 Years version!!)

Great fairy fountain (Piano ver)

Tea for two by Art Tatum

If you’ve got more stamina for classical music, then do check these out too!:

The swan by Camille Saint-Saëns (cello ver by yoyo ma is great)

The last rose of summer (Midori version)

Impromptu no.3 in B-flat Major by Schubert

The Nutcracker Suite, Waltz of the Flowers by Tchaikovsky (piano duet and ballet version are both good)

Claire de lune by Debussy

Ballade 1 in g minor op 23 by Chopin (anything by Chopin is great)

What message do you wish to convey to others about The Red Pencil?
Art therapy is not just making art, it is a guided process by a certified art therapist who can help individuals process their emotions in a healthy and accessible manner, resulting in empowerment and self-efficacy.

The Red Pencil is an organisation with a great cause to make such benefits of art therapy accessible to individuals who struggle with finding words to express themselves because of their challenging situations, and even more so when they come from low income backgrounds.

The team in Singapore is full of passionate individuals who work tirelessly to make art therapy more accessible to service users who will benefit from such programmes, and they deserve a lot more support from the community to fulfil their cause.

What are some of your plans and goals after your internship at The Red Pencil?
Interning at The Red Pencil (Singapore) made me realise how meaningful it is to work for something that is for the benefit of others. I would like to carry this mindset into my studies, to see beyond experimental groups in research papers as statistics but to view them as individuals who can benefit from the research we have done from the research that we conduct.

Also, I learned that there is a lot of work that goes on in the background to ensure that therapy can be accessible to everyone in need. Not only do we have to ensure effective outreach methods to reach out to those in need, it is also crucial to have enough resources and expertise to provide sufficient support for our service users whenever the need arises. In line with this mindset, I would like to look for a job that can give me the opportunity to provide support for organisations with such causes to ensure that they can focus their efforts on helping those in need.

“Also, I learned that there is a lot of work that goes on in the background to ensure that therapy can be accessible to everyone in need."