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Mind over matter

OCCUPATIONAL therapist Kwan Jia Hui wants to empower people with mental conditions to lead independent lives. Ms Kwan, who joined the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) in 2014, is part of the Early Psychosis Intervention Programme (EPIP), which supports individuals with or at risk of developing psychosis. Psychosis is a condition of the mind that involves a loss of contact with reality. People experiencing psychosis may exhibit personality changes and thought disorders. To gain a better understanding of the patients, who are mostly youths and adults, she performs functional and cognitive assessments, which involve hands-on tasks simulating real life scenarios at home or at work. She helps her patients to set goals and recommends psychosocial rehabilitation programmes to help them improve their performance at work, school or daily activities. Ms Kwan also carries out psychosocial rehabilitation programmes that serve as an ongoing assessment and intervention platform for skill training in the following areas — social and communication skills, motor skills and processing skills and community living skills.

The programmes she facilitates include discussions, meal preparation sessions and groups that encourage creative expression. Ms Kwan, 27, pursued a fouryear Bachelor of Occupational Therapy (Honours) at The University of Queensland in Australia on a Healthcare Merit Scholarship, previously known as the Health Science Scholarship. All Healthcare Scholarships are centrally awarded and managed by MOH Holdings (MOHH), on behalf of the Singapore Public Healthcare Sector. The Healthcare Merit Scholarship includes a lump sum settling-in allowance, a computer and warm clothing, tuition fees, monthly stipend, two return air tickets, including one for an observational attachment in IMH after the second year of undergraduate studies. It comes with a six-year bond for scholars who studied overseas. Other perks include networking and tea sessions, a week-long Outward Bound Singapore (OBS) camp for personal and leadership development, as well as workshops to orientate returning scholars to the local health setting. Before Ms Kwan applied for the scholarship in 2009, she had contemplated a possible future in the allied health profession. However, not knowing much about occupational therapy then, she went online to research her options, and arranged for observational attachments in a range of occupational therapy settings.

The early exposure to the field of occupational therapy impressed upon her how patients’ needs were holistically addressed despite their varying medical conditions and circumstances. In one of her volunteering stints, she came into contact with occupational therapists at Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS). Ms Kwan says: “I realised I had taken for granted the significance of being able to complete self-care tasks independently. I began to understand what this commonly referred phrase in occupational therapy — ‘enabling participation in meaningful human occupation’ — was about. “At that juncture, the assistance I could provide as a volunteer was limited and I was convinced that my work with the clients of MINDS and those with other conditions would be further enhanced if I had professional training to help patients gain independence.” Her studies and training have now enabled her to help patients gain insights into their conditions. “There is something remarkable about establishing therapeutic bonds,” says Ms Kwan. “Witnessing the subsequent subtle behavioural shifts is rewarding, particularly for young people who have a lot ahead for them. While progress may be slow, these are recovery milestones that are worth celebrating for patients and caregivers alike.”