Brunei

Brunei

Summary

Counselling Associations

All Professional Bodies, National Associations (e.g. Mental Health, School, Guidance, Addiction, Faith-based etc.) and Accrediting Organisations.

Brunei Counselling Association/Persatuan Kaunseling Brunei Darussalam (PERKAB)

Universities and Other Education and Training Institutes

University of Brunei Darussalam (UBD); Sultanah Hassanal Bolkiah Institute of Education 

Counselling Agencies, Services, Group Practices, Counselling Centres

Background & Context

According to Hilda Ho (2014), the mental healthcare services in Brunei Darussalam began as a single ward (infamously known by the locals as “Ward 5”) in the old government hospital in Bandar Seri Begawan, the state’s capital. In 1984, this ward was then replaced by a bigger hospital, known as Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Saleha (RIPAS Hospital). Even almost four decades later, RIPAS serves to be the main center for the state’s mental health services as it houses the clinical psychology and psychiatry units where citizens are able to access free of charge services (Brunei provides a free healthcare system) with referrals from the general clinics. This reflects the country’s historical focus on hospital-based intervention for mental illnesses. Thus, as a result, the counselling profession was, and still is not, regarded as widely by the government as the former. Instead, it is usually taken as an extra elective for local medical students as well as teachers in training who aspire to become school counselors. 

The ASEAN Mental Health Systems Report (2016) outlined that human resources in a small country like Brunei serves as a specific challenge which causes most health professionals to obtain their advanced qualifications and specialization overseas and in neighboring countries. Furthermore, Brunei is also home to a large community of expatriates who assimilated to most of the state’s services including the healthcare system. This also explained the influence and involvement of expatriates in the growth of private counselling services such as the Clarity Sdn. Bhd. organization; Brunei’s first private psychological center which was founded by Todd Mcpherson a clinical psychologist trained in Canada. The Ministry of Health’s Community Psychology Division (Malay: Bahagian Psikologi Kemasyarakatan) was also initially led and founded by another foreign clinical psychologist, Nora Ann Larcombe in 1992, before it was integrated into the government system some years later.  

The counselling profession is also more frequently associated with the education system as school or guidance counselors. Following Brunei’s major reformation of its school system over the course of almost two decades, it has implemented the policies of special and inclusive education more to help exceptional students to cope academically and psychologically in schools. The Ministry of Education created the Special Education Unit and the Division of counselling and Career Guidance to coordinate the respective services with the latter assisting school counselors in a variety of ways (e.g., counselor logbooks, journals, and intervention). However, it has been reported that more help has been given to students with disabilities than those with psychological and mental health issues.

The only prominent counselling association in the country is the Brunei counselling Association, most famously known as Persatuan Kaunseling Brunei Darussalam (PERKAB), which was established in 2009. It claims to be a non-governmental organization that monitors and regulates the counselling profession in the country. However, no concrete information on how it operates, its membership, or organization is provided online (further research through contact is needed). Looking at their social media accounts, PERKAB organizes a large amount of seminars and workshops that promote an Islamic approach towards counselling.

Current Regulatory Status / Level of Recognition:

There is no regulation of counselling as an autonomous profession in Brunei. There is also no formal mental health policy. Nevertheless, six years ago, the state implemented the 2014 Mental Health Order which replaced the outdated 1929 Lunacy Act. This new mental health legislation provides better autonomy and rights towards clients with mental health disorders which also involves the process of admission, lodging, detention, care, and rehabilitation in psychiatric wards. Previously undefined terms such as “lunacy” and “lunatic asylum” have been replaced with modern definitions such as “mental disorder” and “psychiatric facility.”

Practice Settings

Some of the known counselling settings available in Brunei are:

  • Hospitals
  • Private Practices
  • Community-based Counselling Centers
  • Schools & Universities
  • Non-governmental Organizations

Challenges & Trends

Despite the country’s efforts to  expand the mental healthcare system, seeking help from professionals is still stigmatized within Brunei society. Just like many other Asian countries, lack of knowledge or misunderstanding towards mental health and disorders, as well as the community’s adherence towards various cultural and religious beliefs, have influenced Bruneians’ negative perception and reluctance in going for counselling. 

The significant stigma associated with mental illness and fear of psychiatric services can also be justified by the country’s history with psychiatric treatments. Before RIPAS Hospital was built in 1984, Ward 5, which was the only ward that treated mental disorders, by all accounts, was a classic asylum-style ward. The legacy of this unit continues to haunt Brunei’s present-day mental health services. Even today, locals often refer to the hospital’s modern mental health unit (MHU) as Ward 5 and express stigma due to past poor conditions.

Bruneian society is by and large respectful of authority and non-confrontational in terms of private and public interactions. The culture is highly family-oriented and structured according to gender and age. People are expected to conform to societal norms in terms of behavior and lifestyle. Thus, more often than not, individuals with mental illness who behave abnormally are believed to be caused by spirit possession or black magic. All mental health problems are thrown into a single category, gila, loosely translated as “crazy.” Mentally ill people are identified by their observed abnormal behavior rather than any proper understanding of the causes or features of mental disorders. Unsurprisingly, such conditions are associated with shame and rejection by society. 

Instead of seeking treatments from psychological professionals, the mentally ill are often taken to bomohs, or community shamans, to be rid of their bad spirits. There are other challenges, such as when student mental health concerns are interpreted religiously by their school counselor rather than interpreted psychologically. Thus, the country severely lacks proper mental health or counselling policies which allows counselors to provide services without state license and registration.

Additional Information & References

For a deeper exploration of the counselling profession in the country, interested readers are recommended to read the following journal & website articles:

Brunei
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