The Journey of Psychology at HELP

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If ever the story of how the study of psychology has come to be one of the most popular courses in Malaysia, there will no doubt be many chapters assigned to the pivotal role that HELP University played in laying the foundations to this growth over the last 2 decades.

This year HELP University celebrates 21 years since the founding of the Centre for Psychology. This centre started in 2000 with a team of just 4 academic staff and 2 administrative coordinators under the leadership of Dr. Goh Chee Leong as its founding Director. By 2005, the psychology program at HELP became (and continues to this day) to be the largest psychology program in the country.

This small center evolved into the Faculty of Behavioral Sciences comprising of the Department of Psychology, CAREERsense@HELP, and the Center for Counselling and Psychological Services. In 2008 and to date, the faculty has over 70 lecturers, tutors, clinicians, and administrative staff, and an enrolment of over 1200 students in its undergraduate to doctoral programs in psychology and counselling. Its success over these years has given birth to similar programs currently offered by more than 15 private universities and colleges.

Before 2000, the only option available for anyone interested to do a degree in psychology in Malaysia was via admission to a program offered in a public university. Private colleges offered the token two or three psychology subjects in the American Degree Transfer Program before they transferred to the US to do their major in Psychology. The final option was just to start their first year in the UK, Australia, or New Zealand to pursue a degree in this field.

When HELP started the Centre for Psychology in 2000, we were the only private college offering more than 15 different subjects in psychology. That enabled students to already begin their journey in this field with us. HELP was very likely the first private college to offer a viable pathway in psychology for students who wanted to study in Australia and New Zealand through our transfer programs with universities like the University of South Australia, Curtin University, and Otago University. This allowed them to remain in Malaysia for up to two years before they transferred over to Australia, helping their families save a substantial amount of money.

While there is great interest today to do psychology, it was not always the case 21 years ago. This was purely due to a very limited understanding of what the field was about and what graduates in psychology could really offer to industry. To help with creating an awareness of the full benefits and applications of this field of study to teachers, students, and their parents, the Centre for Psychology conducted flagship programs like “The 10 keys to 10 As” and “the Psychology of Peak Performance” in every major city in the country. These programs attracted literary hundreds of students and teachers to our talks, introducing them to how psychology can be applied in everyday life and providing tips to motivating themselves and study techniques to help them improve in their studies.

Today, we run an annual Psychology School Convention that attracts close to 1000 participants each year. Students interact with our lecturers and undergraduate students to listen to what psychology is all about and participate in activities and experiments in psychology that open their minds to the depths and breadth of how this field of study has the potential to change lives.

In the early years, we also reached out to parents by conducting parenting seminars alongside our student sessions. Using many of the theories and applications of the field of developmental and counselling psychology, we helped parents understand the issues that their children potentially face growing up in the 21st century. We offered them ideas on how to create an environment conducive for their children to grow and thrive.

We ran state-wide conferences for school counsellors to help them in their professional roles as guidance-counsellors. Finally, we established CAREERsense@HELP to help us organize career fairs and introduce our psychology students to industry. HR managers from a range of industries from business to advertising to petrochemical organizations were amazed at the versatility of our psychology students, their level of confidence and ability to communicate well with them. These various initiatives and much more in these last 21 years help to create job openings in Malaysia for a student with a degree in psychology that extended beyond the regular mental health occupations.

A key part of the development of psychology in the country was the engagement we had with different partners in the community. We were involved in critical research work with organizations and agencies such as UNICEF, the Ministry of Women and Community and the Ministry of Education on projects like the Child Sexual Abuse research and Bullying in Schools. We partnered with World Vision on the 30 Hour Famine annually for many years. In the last 10 years, we helped the Rotary Club of Bukit Kiara Sunrise develop their mentoring programme that supports financially deserving students in public secondary schools achieve academic success. This programme has gone on to win this club international recognition. Most recently, we partnered with the Malaysian Mental Health Association to set up the Centre for Mental Health and Wellbeing, an initiative to promote emotional health and wellbeing in the community. Its recent flagship program, My Mind on Film (MMOF), used the idea of a film festival as a way to engage youth and increase awareness on mental health across generations. The MMOF festival held last January, was the largest ever gathering of Malaysian-created mental health films in a festival, and the first ever Malaysian youth mental health festival, plus the most comprehensive of its kind in the country.

Another recent contribution to society can be seen over the last year of the pandemic. Since March last year, the Faculty of Behavioural Sciences was at the forefront of reaching out to the Malaysian public, doing radio shows, podcasts and webinars on dealing with the psychological impact of the pandemic and providing insight into how both adults and children can cope with stress and anxiety. (Visit our Empowering Lives website to view the resources produced by the Faculty: https://university.help.edu.my/empowering-lives-resources/).

The academic program today at HELP continues to provide that quality of student learning experience that helps to make our psychology graduates career and future-ready. Employers and industry partners today recognize the psychology graduate from HELP as one who is strong in research, are good communicators, young men and women who possess a high level of emotional intelligence and who are able to think critically when faced with problems in the workplace. We have also contributed significantly to the country in the area of mental health and wellbeing by producing hundreds of professional Counsellors and Clinical Psychologists. Every student activity, in and outside the classroom, organized by the faculty or led by students, focuses on developing leadership, a critical mind, organizational competencies and helping students grow in confidence in their own abilities, a concept in psychology called “self-efficacy”.

So many people at HELP and those who have moved on these 21 years have contributed to making us as the apex program in psychology in the country. It is often said that no educational institution can exceed the quality of its teachers and leaders. This is certainly true of the leaders and staff, past and present, of the Faculty of Behavioral Sciences. They have consistently been driven by a common goal and vision of making sure we developed a quality programme and produce graduates of the highest calibre who can adapt and acquit themselves well in a range of occupations. In terms of leadership, one name stands out from many others as legend, the former Dean of the Faculty of Behavioural Sciences, Dr. Goh Chee Leong. He was the engine room to many of the initiatives in these many years that set a very solid foundation to the growth of psychology in Malaysia.

Finally, behind every successful leader are other leaders. The Founders of HELP, Datin Chan Kam Yoke and Prof. Datuk Dr. Paul Chan, were educationists who provided the much needed financial and infrastructural support for the budding team of psychologists at HELP in order for them to succeed in creating this industry in the country. Their vision and support of all the initiatives and work of the Faculty throughout these 21 years have been a major reason for the growth and development of this field of study in Malaysia.

Dr. Gerard Louis,
Pro Vice-Chancellor (Mental Health) & Dean,
Faculty of Behavioural Sciences, Education and Languages,
HELP University

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