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Therapists stay in tune with clients' needs and interests
Published on Thursday, 12 May 2011
Illustration: Bay Leung

Music therapist Ivory Chan Yuen-man, who specialises in treating children with special needs, believes that music has healing powers.

"Music therapy is interactive. I try to get clients to be involved in music games or play an instrument in order to stimulate them and bring therapeutic results," Chan says.

"Every client has a different goal. For example, I try to inspire children with speech difficulties to talk or make eye contact with others," she adds.

Clients come from all walks of life. They can be children with learning difficulties, people experiencing mental distress or elderly folk suffering from dementia.

Chan says the therapy is designed according to clients' needs and preferences. Service may be provided at non-governmental organisations and schools.

Music therapists have to be patient and passionate about helping other people. Chan says they often deal with sick clients or those who are experiencing difficulties in life. Parents of young clients might have unrealistically high expectations and therapists have to explain what is realistic to achieve at a given period.

Music therapy can be performed in private or groups. A private session usually lasts for 30 to 45 minutes while a group session may take from 45 minutes to an hour.

There are no local programmes on music therapy in Hong Kong. Most practitioners have received professional training in the United States, Australia or Britain. "Some students went overseas for a master's degree after graduating from local universities," Chan says.

Chan had a two-year-old client who was unable to speak. Her parents took her to a speech therapist but they were not happy with the results.

She did well with music therapy, however. Individuals respond differently to treatments.

"Almost all music therapists work on a freelance basis and charge an hourly rate of HK$400 to HK$1,000. Some have their own studios while most travel [to different organisations to meet with clients]," she says.

At the moment there are around 30 music therapists in Hong Kong. Some work as music teachers or do other jobs because of therapy's unsteady income and workload. "Building a good reputation is needed to stay in the industry," Chan says.

Music therapists get job offers mostly through referrals by local organisations such as the Hong Kong Therapy Association, or by other practitioners.