You don’t have to light yourself on fire, just to give people warmth.
— Alva Liow, Senior Clinical Psychologist

On the Record: Why am I Here?

A traumatic past sparked a fire in her to answer to a higher calling and to serve with pride, passion and honour.

At a tender age of 14, a friend committed suicide. About 15 years later, she graduated as the valedictorian of her class, and she is now working for the social service sector, with her friend’s suicide motivating her in pursuing her dreams.

“I am the kind that sits in the corner and will analyse my classmates’ behaviour and why is that happening to them. After that incident (her friend committing suicide) happened, I will start to think why would he or anyone else for that matter do that, and that really inspired and spurred me on to study and practice psychology”.

Today, Ms. Alva Liow, is currently working as a Senior Clinical Psychologist at the Community Psychology Hub (CPH). She joined CPH in 2016, after a stint as an Autism Therapist at Pathlight School. She acknowledges that being in the community as compared to the medical sector is more suited for her as she feels that greater help is needed in the community, and that is where she enjoys being.

“I guess I fell in love with clinical psychology. It’s a very fascinating area and it gives a voice to people who at that moment, don’t have a voice, so I kinda (sic) like that part about my job at CPH.”

She currently works with the Psychological Services Department at CPH, caring for the vulnerable adults population in Singapore. “Vulnerable Adults” are defined as individuals, aged 18 years or older, who because of mental or physical infirmity, disability or incapacity, is incapable of protecting himself or herself from abuse, neglect or self-neglect. 

Nonetheless, even with her passion and determination working in the sector and practising clinical psychology, not everything is smooth sailing for her.

“It’s quite normal that I feel some of this emotional distress (from interacting with clients), and (feeling) their pain as well; like I have to deal with that, I would say it’s on a day-to-day basis.”

However, even with the stress and emotional transference from her clients, Alva did not allow these negative feelings affect her and her line of work. CPH has taught her some of the tricks on how to deal with these feelings.

“In CPH, self-care is one of our values, which is why this is important. One example is that, you know on the plane, they always say put on your own oxygen mask before you help others. This is super real. You cannot give an empty cup. You need to take care of yourself first before you can help others.”

Having self-care is important and it came in handy on one of her cases that she was working on, with a client known as Mdm. Tan (not her real name). 

It was memorable for Alva, as Mdm. Tan was one of the more reserved clients that she had worked with since a year ago. Mdm. Tan had suffered a mountain of abuse from her parents and family. She was also diagnosed with schizophrenia.

“I remembered Mdm. Tan suffered quite a lot of emotional and physical abuse by her parents, and witnessing a lot of really bad violence. Amidst all the violence she was inflicted on and witnessed, these were never talked about.” 

It was disheartening for Alva as she struggled to help Mdm. Tan back on her feet with the negative stigma associated with mental health conditions such as schizophrenia.

“People just talk about her ‘craziness’, her stigma, her nature and her medication. No one talked to her about the pain she has gone through. Just acknowledging in itself, it was very emotional.”

Alva was determined to help Mdm. Tan through this turbulent period, and to allow her to be reintegrated into society, regardless the stigma or negative connotations that both client and psychologist may face. She shares that working with Mdm. Tan involves managing her Mdm. Tan’s emotional and cognitive well-being as well as setting out some goals for Mdm. Tan to work on whilst undergoing psychological therapy.

“She actually wants to really find a job and sustain it for at least a few months. That is a very specific end goal. She also wanted to make sense of her marriage, her past, the things that had happened to her, how it affects her. For example, she keeps on getting into certain psycho-social bad relationships. That had happened to her in the past and in the present. She wants to find out what’s going on; that can be a goal for her. It is very doable for the client, and also unique.”

In the end, it all finally paid off for Alva, as she sees Mdm. Tan’s condition getting better.

“She is more cheerful, I would say, she is better with the sighting of issues. She behaviourally has been sleeping better, thinking about getting a job. Even on the psychological tools, her scores are improving, so these are the things that you can track and you can see that there is progress for her.”

To some, serving the community in working in the Social Service Sector, maybe tough and discouraging, but for Alva, it is more than just a job. It is a calling and a passion to serve.  

“There are times where I see progress and I do not, and sometimes it can be frustrating, but that doesn’t mean that I ignore the other cases where I see progress in my clients and it gives me hope. That is the part I always need to remind myself on why am I here, serving the community.”



Written by: Ryan Lim
Updated as at June 10th 2019