A Year of Counselling in NTU

Like most awakenings, it started with a bad breakup. 

I’ll spare you the details, but all I wanted to do was to sleep, drown in alcohol, and drown for real. Sometimes I wondered what would happen if I threw myself off the window of my flat, and more times than not, I walked on the side of the road, hoping a car would hit me.

A friend recommended I go for therapy, “Everyone needs therapy, it’s not that you aren’t normal; you just need guidance dealing with your issues,” she told me.

It’s one thing to go on Tiktok to try to find ways to improve yourself, and another to have customised, tailored professional guidance to help you. 

In my experience, the slightly unnerving thing about counselling at the University Wellbeing Centre at NTU, is that when you are first allocated with a counsellor, it’s like a surprise box, you don’t know what you’re going to get. You just show up, and someone walks through the door. You’re expected to be open and vulnerable with this new stranger for an hour. 

So I waited in anticipation, thinking I’d be “cured” in a matter of sessions. These counsellors were meant to work on short term, specific issues; unlike psychotherapists who work on broader, more long term issues. 

Many people, like American Youtubers Jenn Im and Anna Akana, have mentioned previously that finding a counsellor or therapist is like dating. 

And just like a first date that went awry, I knew my first counsellor wasn’t the one when he asked: “Are you on your period?” when I already told him the “symptoms” I was facing had lasted for months. He’d even sent me for a blood test to check if I had an overactive thyroid gland. The butterfly-shaped thyroid gland is largely responsible for how active your hormones are— in simple terms, the regulation of the mind and body. 

If this was the 18th century, he would have probably diagnosed me with hysteria and sent me along my merry way. Spoiler alert: 5 blood tests later, I found out my thyroid gland was perfectly healthy. 

I requested a different counsellor, and she came in holding a wrong file, recounting my experiences with the previous counsellor in a very different way from what I remembered. 

Having started on the wrong foot, I was sceptical of her as well. But rather than “diagnosing” me on the spot, she took out a sheet of paper that allowed me to rank how I felt based on a set list of questions. These questions ranged from, “I could physically feel my heart beating in my chest and the weight of my tongue” to “I couldn’t see anything in my future”.

These questions would later pinpoint if I was at a high risk of depression, anxiety, stress, or all three. Spoiler alert, it was all three, with stress being at the highest. This meant that whenever I was facing stress, my thoughts would become very dark, to the point of ending my own life, or to the point of breathlessness and lightheadedness. I couldn’t sleep, eat or function.

Having evaluated my current state at the time, we noticed that a lot of my dark thoughts came from validation issues, even in my relationship. To put it simply, for five years, I had identified myself as a part of another— I was someone else’s girlfriend and nothing else. I now had to focus on becoming my own self. 

At this juncture, it’s important to note that the “methods to recovery” that are presented here, are personalised, and applicable to my situation. The methods for recovery and self-improvement in counselling differ between individuals. Counselling is not a cure-all, the counsellor isn’t supposed to give you a solution. Instead, they guide you to forming patterns that you can use to combat the dark times.

For me, she suggested that I journal my counselling sessions, and physically manifest a positive self-worth through an anonymous survey that I sent to my friends. We then analysed the data and tracked it through a counselling journal that I kept for every session. The physical act of writing and reflecting during the session allowed me to isolate myself from the world during that session and to think about how I could apply what I had learnt in therapy to my daily life, such as using a mood tracker and starting a gratitude journal.

Looking back, I can’t say that every day has been an upward, positive climb. There are still bad days where I can’t seem to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I still get brain fog, and it feels like I’m sinking. But counselling has allowed me to form patterns to help me get out of this space and to know that I can pull myself out of the rut. 

Taking care of your mental health is as important as taking care of your physical health. If counselling can set you on the path to becoming a better person for yourself, then I encourage you to look into it.

Ultimately, counselling doesn’t discriminate— anyone can go for it. During this hectic point of the semester, it’s normal to feel stressed and overwhelmed. Only you know yourself best; if you’ve ever felt yourself spiralling and alone, counselling can equip you with the ability to manage this stress in a safe and healthy way. 

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The Student Wellness Centre is located at 36 Nanyang Ave, University Health Service Building, Singapore 639801. Counsellors are available by appointment only.

Operating Hours: 8.30am - 5pm, Monday to Friday 

Contact: 6790 4462