Instead of letting her childhood trauma define her, Wiing Liu Peiying channelled her pain into a purposeful career of empowering lives

When Wiing Liu Peiying was 6 months old, her biological mother left her with a stranger whom she met while playing mahjong, promising to return for her child. For 7 years, she never did.

That stranger went on to become Wiing’s foster mother. During those years, Wiing’s birth mother would pay her monthly stipends. “It was only until I was 6 years old that I met my birth mother for the first time, but she was introduced to me as an auntie,” recounted Wiing.

“When I finally found out the truth, I felt like my whole life was a lie. Moving in with my birth family at the encouragement of my foster mother, I struggled with feelings of grief, loss and displacement trying to assimilate into a new environment,” said Wiing.

“During that time, I had no one to turn to for support. And as I grew older, whenever I saw people in vulnerable situations or struggling with family issues, I really empathised with them and instinctively want to help them because I understand the feeling of struggling alone.”

Turning pain into purpose

That difficult childhood experience not only shaped Wiing into the compassionate person she is today, but ultimately thrust the 34-year-old former dance artist into the helping profession.

As a Social Work Associate at Strengthening Families Programme@Family Service Centre at Methodist Welfare Services (MWS FAM@FSC), Wiing’s work includes providing online counselling to individuals experiencing marital, parenting or family stress.

“I once met a client who was suicidal and reluctant to disclose his identity or tell anyone else about his situation. The limitations of online counselling and anonymity inevitably presented some form of risk. But I stayed calm and kept the conversation going, conducted the risk assessments and safety planning, and surfaced the client’s strengths and hopes for the future,” said Wiing.

“Eventually, after a few online sessions, the client was better able to manage his suicidal thoughts and gained courage to reach out to other forms of support. That episode reminded me of the power of human connection and that despite its limitations, the accessibility of online counselling provides a platform for individuals who may feel uncomfortable reaching out to physical support services for help.”

Wiing provides online counselling to individuals experiencing marital, parenting or family stress

Wiing’s job scope also entails working with a senior counsellor to run the Children-in-Between (CIB) programme. This is an educational intervention for divorced families, aimed at mitigating the negative impact of divorce on children, with separate sessions for parents and children. Wiing co-leads the groupwork for children, teaching them to cope with their parents’ divorce.

“Children often come in feeling torn between their parents, who may use them as messengers during conflicts. One of the self-management strategies that we cover is ‘I’ Messages, which helps children to communicate their feelings, concerns and needs in a non-blaming manner. For example, they can say, ‘I feel caught in the middle when you use me to convey messages to dad, and I will appreciate if you will talk to him directly in future’,” shared Wiing.

“We also impart techniques to help clients reframe unhelpful thought patterns, and cope when they are emotionally overwhelmed.”

Wiing works with young children from divorced families in symbolic play during therapy, where she uses objects and toys to represent something else. “It is a fun way to engage a child and helps us explore issues in-depth,” said Wiing

Empowered to empower others

Regular professional training has enhanced Wiing’s capability to address family relationship issues and better support clients.  

In a recent workshop on creating safety and containment with groups and individuals, Wiing learnt how to use experiential approaches to get clients to open up.

Wiing and the MWS FAM@FSC team attending the “Creating Safety and Containment with Groups/Individuals” workshop by certified psychodrama trainer Mario Cossa. “During the workshop, we learn how to use experiential approaches to go beyond just talk therapy, such as getting individuals to move around the space, using tangible objects as symbolisms and representations, and exploring taking on different roles to enable perspective-taking,” shared Wiing

One such technique is the spectrogram, a self-assessment tool on a spectrum scale, which Wiing later incorporated into the CIB programme she runs to create a safe space for honest reflection and sharing.

During the session, Wiing asks the children questions like, “How well are you coping with your parents’ divorce?” and have them stand at the position they identify with on an imaginary line on the floor that represents that spectrum from 0-10. Each then share about their choice.

“Moving around can help the body to relax and develop a sense of group dynamics from the physical arrangement of participants. This has really helped the participants to warm up and feel safer to share their feelings. It also encourages bonding and builds that sense of shared experience,” said Wiing.

“Through these, we create a climate where the children feel secure enough to openly share about their family issues. And because of that, we are able to use their lived experiences – instead of case scenarios – to share relevant strategies, which they have found helpful in managing stress.”

Toys and strengths cards are used to engage children of divorcing parents, to represent their compassionate selves, and encourage them to cultivate empathy and self-love

Wiing shared an experience where a child expressly opened up to her. “We were mid-way in our first counselling session with a child when she disclosed her feelings about her parents’ divorce which she had kept secret for a long time. Typically, it takes a few sessions for trust to be established, so I felt really touched that she felt safe early on,” shared Wiing. “In retrospect, it may have been the safe, judgement-free space we created that empowered her to share.”

This empowerment approach is what guides Wiing in her work with clients towards building autonomy and control in their lives.

“Every individual has their innate resources to resolve problems. When situations get tough, it can be hard for one to see their strengths and power. Hence, it’s important in my work to empower the client by surfacing these innate resources – and adding new ones – to enhance their capabilities and confidence to cope with their situation,” said Wiing.

A silver lining

In her own life, Wiing has relied on therapeutic bodywork and the support of her inner circle in her young adulthood years to heal from childhood adversities. Over the years, my biological family and I have reconciled. My realisation of the magnitude of compassion I had experienced from my foster family who loved me like I was their own helped me through this journey. The support of friends and loved ones when I was older likewise helped. My healing journey also shed light on the adversities my mother experienced in her growing up years and how her choices were a result of her own personal struggles,” said Wiing.

“Ultimately, my life experiences showed me the importance of support and compassion, and recognising how one’s response is greatly attributed to their struggles and environment. This has fuelled my pursuit of a meaningful career where I have the opportunity to offer compassion and non-judgmental support to help others cope with their struggles and begin their journey of healing.”

Can you see purpose through pain? Do you believe there can be triumph over trauma? Join us at MWS! View our current job openings at mws.sg/join-us.

If you feel that you are unable to cope and have thoughts of harming yourself or someone else, please contact SOS 24-hour hotline 1-767, or their 24-hour SOS CareText via WhatsApp 9151-1767.

If you feel you may be at immediate risk of harming yourself, call 995 or approach the A&E department of your nearest hospital.

If you or any person is experiencing family violence or other forms of abuse or neglect, please contact the 24-hour National Anti-Violence and Sexual Harassment Helpline at 1800-777-0000.

If you are experiencing any risks of physical violence, please know that you can walk in to your nearest Family Service Centre (FSC) to request for help. You can locate your nearest FSC by entering your postal code on this website: www.msf.gov.sg/our-services/directories.

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