Lim Sye Choo
Senior Case Manager
Institute of Mental Health

I first met Ms Chan in 2007 when she was admitted to my ward for major depressive disorder. At the time, she was going through a divorce, business bankruptcy and had difficulty managing her two teenage children. Her situation seemed so hopeless that she had contemplated suicide.

Ms Chan was initially distant and uncooperative when I first reached out to her. I persisted in building a rapport with her and she slowly started opening up to me. One day, while I was assessing her mental health status, she expressed suicide ideations once again. I gave her my full attention, allowing her to express all her frustrations and disappointments.

When she finished, I asked her to look at a large, beautiful tree that was growing in the ward’s compound. I asked her to imagine herself as the trunk of that tree and her family members as its branches. If the tree trunk were to topple, I said, would the branches not be destroyed too?

The analogy struck a chord with Ms Chan. She remained silent for a while and subsequently expressed that she would explore ways to overcome her problems instead of focusing on suicide as the only way out. That fateful day marked the beginning of our journey towards her recovery.

Today, Ms Chan is a successful businesswoman and things on the home front are on an even keel. She comes regularly for her appointments with her psychiatrist. While she continues to face ups and downs in life, she forges on with zeal and finds ways to work through challenges. I am proud of how she has turned her life around and feel a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment having been part of her journey. She knows that I am always there to lend a listening ear, provide advice and support where necessary.

My interactions with Ms Chan impressed upon me how good listening skills, empathy and compassion can go a long way in helping a client recover. I believe that Ms Chan felt this too as she sent me a card expressing her continued gratitude and blessings. It is a token of appreciation I will always cherish and hold close to my heart.

Key Learning Points:

  1. Persevere in establishing good rapport with the patient even if they are initially uncommunicative and uncooperative.
  2. Analogies may be useful in helping patients see things in a different way.
  3. Good listening skills, empathy and compassion go a long way in supporting a patient in his or her road to recovery.