INTERVIEW WITH YEN CHUA

In simple terms, can you explain what creative arts therapy is about to those who might not know what it is?

Everyone is unique. We express ourselves differently due to our upbringing, mental capacity, cultural backgrounds and language differences. Sometimes, when words fail or limit us, Art can function as a common language that can help us express our thoughts and feelings. Art therapy can be the bridge that connects one person to another.

How did you first discover about creative arts therapy as a practice? 

My background is in Art. I started as a full-time artist more than three decades ago. I taught Art for some years. When I was teaching Art, many students told me that they felt that my lessons were very therapeutic. So I began to consider becoming a counsellor.

I did some online research and found out about art therapy. I strongly felt that this was a perfect marriage between my profession as an artist and my wish to become a counsellor. So I looked up some overseas programmes in Art Therapy, but coincidentally, LASALLE College of the Arts had just launched its MA Programme in Art Therapy. So I joined the pioneer batch of 10 students and graduated in 2007.

I have never looked back since then.

What is the greatest joy about being an art therapist?

There is no right or wrong when we create images in a session. When we notice a client becoming more and more engaged and immersed in the creative process – without hesitation, when the client is healed, transformed or enlightened, that is priceless. That is when you know the Art has done its job.

What are some of the challenges you have experienced as an art therapist? 

We cannot control everything. We can only try our best to do what we can. I have been practising art therapy now for about 15 years, and I have realised that sometimes when a client is not ready, no matter what we do, the client will not be ready for therapy and receptive towards assistance.

One of the challenges I experienced not so long ago was the physical distance between myself and a group of online workshop trainees. They were facing some kind of danger. However, I could not help them as we were based in two different countries.

Other challenges include situations where the art therapist has to work under a manager or counselling department. This sometimes limits the role of the art therapist. In addition, when you work with children or individuals where a third party pays for the sessions, it can become challenging for the art therapist to build trust with the client/s and explain to the third party that what happens during the sessions have to be kept confidential.

From your experience, how do you think art therapy impacted the lives of your clients? 

Although our therapy sessions ended long ago, some of my clients still keep in touch with me. They update me on how they have progressed with their lives. When I was a trainee, I worked with inmates at the prison school. Most of them were there for drug-related offences. A few did not return to prison after they were released. I know that within the short time I was there, I witnessed how Art touched them. They were able to break the cycle.

How did you find out about The Red Pencil? 

The Founder of The Red Pencil, Ms Laurence Vanderborre and I were classmates. We did our Masters in Art Therapy together. We were also the co-founders of the Art Therapists’ Association Singapore.

Can you share with us more about the greatest moment or most unforgettable experience you have had thus far working with The Red Pencil? 

Last year, I joined a team of three other art therapists and four assistant art therapists to train a group of teachers from the Parikrma Humanity Foundation, India, online. The team also consisted of a supervisor from the USA.

This was one of the most meaningful projects I have embarked on in the last few years. Despite the challenges, as the sessions were conducted virtually, I felt that we were able to reach out to these teachers, and they were able to apply what they had learnt when they worked with their students.

It was a beautiful experience.

What valuable insights have you gained from volunteering with The Red Pencil? 

The Red Pencil was started with a genuine purpose to benefit others, which is reflected in its team members. I felt the spirit when I was working with the team.

I believe that if we embark on anything in life with the right motivation and a noble intention, things naturally fall into place most of the time. Our actions will always succeed in serving and achieving the greater good. This experience confirmed my belief.

“I believe that if we embark on anything in life with the right motivation and a noble intention, things naturally fall into place most of the time. Our actions will always succeed in serving and achieving the greater good. This experience confirmed my belief."

“Art provided relief. Art took us to places. Art became a form of meditation. Art helped release emotions, gain insights and achieve a peaceful state. This is because Art is understanding, accepting and non-judgmental."

What role does art therapy play in times of pandemic? 

The recent spate of lockdowns has confined many people inside cubicles and our house’s four walls. People have not been able to travel.

During this period, for many, Art provided relief. Art took us to places. Art became a form of meditation. Art helped release emotions, gain insights and achieve a peaceful state. This is because Art is understanding, accepting and non-judgmental. Art therapy played an essential role in promoting mental well-being.

What are your thoughts about conducting art therapy sessions online due to the pandemic? 

In the beginning, many of us were concerned about how we could reach out to our clients during the pandemic. We had to resort to conducting online sessions. Initially, this felt strange. Perhaps, it is still not an ideal way of doing art therapy, especially with new clients. A face-to-face meeting would be much better.

Nonetheless, since virtual sessions, meetings and lessons have become more of a norm these days, everyone knows how to “Zoom", and most people accept such a mode of conducting therapy, it is no longer that much of a challenge.

Some of my sessions include the use of videos, images and music. My younger clients especially have no issues doing therapy online. Other positives include saving travel time and expenditure incurred for transport, etc.