Healing through melody
Music therapists are more than music performers or those who know how to play two or more musical instruments. In order to be a music therapist, you need to have a good library of songs and music in your head that you can improvise at any time for your client.
You need to be sensitive, patient and pay close attention to the client, to understand and analyse what they are saying and be able to respond instantly to it. You also need to be observant and creative, and take the initiative.
There is currently no undergraduate or graduate school in Hong Kong that offers a music therapy programme. But it is possible to study abroad in the United States, Australia or Canada.
Students can major in music therapy for an undergraduate degree and do a half-year internship before they graduate. Or they can study music or psychology for their undergraduate degree and then do a music therapy major as a graduate degree. Students who want to study at a local university should consider the second option.
For example, in Canada, the Music Therapy Association of Ontario will accredit graduates who have an honours degree in music therapy or a master's of music therapy from a university approved by the Canadian Association for Music Therapy. Before accreditation, graduates need to undertake a 1,000-hour internship, and submit documents supporting their educational, clinical and philosophical development.
Universities in Ontario that offer music therapy programmes are Wilfred Laurier University and the University of Windsor.
Music therapists should at least be able to play two instruments.
Preferably one should be the guitar, as it is more mobile, allowing therapists to carry it around to sessions with their clients.
In Hong Kong, most music therapists are paid by the hour or by the session, at about HK$500 to HK$1,000 per hour.
Work prospects: Music therapy has yet to take off in Hong Kong and there are only about 20 in town. But demand is growing, particularly for the elderly, children with development problems and adults with trauma issues. Music therapy is relaxing and less intense than other forms of therapy, allowing the client to have some fun without feeling they are in treatment.
Music therapists mostly work for non-government organisations. Because they are paid by the session, their income can be relatively unstable. But, at the same time, they can also take it as a part-time profession and work on another full-time job, such as a piano teacher.
The flexible schedule also allows music therapists to arrange their own timetables, unlike other professionals such as accountants and doctors, who often have to work long hours in a formal setting.
There are many different streams in music therapy, from serving the elderly to young children who are aged six or under.
Andrea Chan Wing-shan, a music therapist who specialises in early intervention for young children with problems, says there is a growing demand for music therapists in many areas. She says some music therapists go on to open their own clinics or organise joint functions with other organisations.
But she also notes that music therapy is still a new profession in Hong Kong and it will take some time for the public to learn about it.
Where to apply:
The best way to take the first step is to get to know music therapists who are currently practising in town. Most of the time, clients can be gained on a referral basis from another music therapist or through a medical or psychological professional.
Another way is to apply through non-government organisations and social welfare groups.
A day at work
A music therapist's working hours are very flexible. They can arrange appointments at any time on any day, according to their own schedule and that of their clients.
Most of the time, music therapists work with their clients in a service centre.
Most therapy sessions are group sessions to encourage interaction between clients, but sometimes private sessions can be arranged when specific clients require more time and attention.