Outreach, Welfare

Moving beyond trauma

Family conflict and divorce can be damaging to children. Studies have shown that children with divorced parents are more likely to engage in risky behaviour like alcohol and drug abuse, and suffer from mental health issues, than their peers from intact families.

In the case of 17-year-old Emma*, growing up in a broken home took a major psychological toll on her. As a child, Emma witnessed domestic violence and was exposed to abuse and neglect, including having her parents burden her with their adult and marital problems. She also often found herself caught in the crossfire between her warring parents, and torn by divided loyalties. Her parents’ eventual separation brought her feelings of grief and loss.

By the time Emma was 14, she was diagnosed with major depression and also exhibited symptoms of social anxiety. To cope with her feelings, she resorted to chain smoking, drug use and self-harm. She also played truant due to anxiety, and struggled with negative thought patterns and attachment issues.

A turning point

In February 2021, Emma was referred to MWS Girls’ Residence (GR), a rehabilitative haven for troubled and at-risk girls aged between 15 and 21 years old. Through a holistic programme built around Trauma-Informed Care (TIC), MWS GR aims to improve the overall well-being of residents who have all suffered Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).

Like the other residents, Emma was given an individualised care plan with targeted interventions, overseen by her counsellor Belinda Tan.

With empowerment being one of the five guiding principles of TIC—alongside safety, choice, collaboration and trustworthiness—MWS GR put Emma in the driver’s seat of her own trauma recovery process.

For instance, Emma was taught to manage trauma symptoms associated with her ACEs to regain control of her life. Expressive therapies like sandplay and art therapy, as well as bodywork sessions which married movement and mindfulness, helped her to reduce anxiety and stress. Emma also acquired healthy coping skills to manage emotional overwhelm when they occur, as well as strategies to break her negative thought patterns.

Empowered to drive positive change  

In addition, narrative therapy was used to help Emma tap into her strengths and resilience to resolve difficulties in her life. This type of therapy encourages one to reframe their life stories in a way that is healing and externalises their problems so they can address them in a more productive way.

By becoming aware of how her life experiences have impacted her, Emma started to set healthy boundaries with her parents and learnt to listen to herself and make her own choices. Gradually, she was also able to heal from the pain of her parents’ divorce.

“Emma was able to let her parents know that she didn’t want to get involved in their adult problems. She asked them to communicate with each another directly, instead of relying on her to be their messenger or mediator,” explained Belinda.

MWS GR also worked with school professionals to facilitate Emma’s resumption of studies. Due to her social anxiety, Emma had individual lessons with teachers until her N-Level exams, which she passed.

Seven months after joining MWS GR, Emma reported that she no longer felt depressed, and discontinued antidepressants and psychotherapy sessions at a medical clinic. “Emma is now able to regulate her anxiety and low moods such that she can function normally on a daily basis. She can now stand up for herself and is not afraid to express her own needs,” shared Belinda.

Today, Emma works as a service crew at an F&B outlet. She is happier, healthier, and faces the future with a newfound resilience. She says, “I feel more confident and better prepared now to overcome challenges in life.”

* Not her real name

Help young trauma survivors like Emma to build a better tomorrow. As we celebrate Youth Day, stories like Emma’s shed light on the plight of youths in Singapore who are working to reclaim their lives in the wake of childhood trauma. Support troubled and at-risk youths at MWSGR to chart a new course for their lives through your generous giving. Your donations go towards creating a safe environment and funding rehabilitation programmes for at-risk girls like Emma with emotionally impoverished upbringings. MWSGR’s work is part of MWS’ broader purpose to help alleviate poverty in all its forms beyond material lack, so that our beneficiaries may be empowered to have life to the full. To donate, visit https://mws.sg/give

By the Methodist Welfare Services Communications Team