#HerWorldHerStory: This former doctor combines pottery with mental health therapy

by Hayley Tai & Cheong Wen Xuan  /   June 29, 2020

She hopes to help patients better understand themselves and manage their negative emotions

#HerWorldHerStory is a collection of 60 women sharing their successes, passions, challenges, inspirations, hopes and dreams. Together, they give a snapshot of what it is to be a woman today.

Every month from March till August, we present 10 women navigating their lives now – and in their own words. This is Dr Joan Huang’s story…

her world her story dr joan-huang-center-pottery-studio-mental-health-therapy

I left my job as a general doctor after working in the hospital for two years. Then, I saw those around me struggling with mental health issues. During my medical rotations, it was not uncommon to see exhausted medical professionals.

I began to understand the scale of the problem and observed the lack of mental health awareness. After I left my job in early 2016, I attended workshops organised by the Singapore Centre for Social Enterprises to brainstorm ideas to help mental health patients and the elderly.

Then, it struck me! I could combine the therapeutic craft of pottery with mental health treatments. It was a eureka moment… a combination of both my passions, and my desire to help others in my own way.

In late 2016, I started Center Pottery Studio, a social enterprise that uses pottery as art therapy for mental health patients. Together with two psychologists, we developed the programme’s curriculum, which sees patients who are referred to us from various clinics and hospitals for our subsidised ceramics workshops. Through this, mental health patients can better understand themselves, learn to manage their negative emotions, and improve their mental health and well-being.

We also work with nursing homes, offering classes to residents and visitors.

her world her story dr joan-huang-center-pottery-studio-mental-health-therapy

I fell in love with pottery in 2006 when I signed up for ceramics classes in Pennsylvania, where I was studying medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. I continued to learn pottery for three years at the local art centre there.

Being a potter has made me grow in ways I never expected. I slowly developed a mindset of being steadfast, without being afraid to fail or make mistakes because sometimes, artworks don’t survive the kiln firing and high heat, or they don’t turn out as you expected.

It’s a journey of humble learning, reminding me to keep my expectations low, while having to create diligently. I wish mental health and resilience were topics that were taught in school when I was younger. These are important topics that we need to learn to be able to get through life.

Most people want to think that they can cope with any situation, and can overcome hardship some way, somehow.

No one wants to appear weak or as a failure, or even be seen as incapable. But everyone needs some form of support to get through life.

Photography: Daniel Tan
This article was first published in Her World’s June issue.