WFMT Education & Certification Commission Video Series (Hong Kong)

Click to watch the video (Transcript provided below the video!)

WFMT Education & Certification Commission: Video Series Transcript (Hong Kong)

Vivian: Thank you for joining me in this interview presentation about music therapy training and education in Hong Kong. This is the first video of its series on Music Therapy Education and Training around the globe presented by the Education and Certification Commission of the World Federation of Music Therapy. The aim is to provide an overview of music therapy training and education around the world. I hope you will stay tuned and follow us through to the end of the series.

I’d like to begin by briefly introducing myself and my guest. My name is Vivian Chan, currently the Chair of the Education and Certification Commission of the WFMT for the term 2020-2023. I am delighted to have with me Ms. Yasmin Li, a seasoned music therapist with over 20 years of experience practicing in Hong Kong. She is the honorary lecturer of the Expressive Arts Therapy graduate program at the University of Hong Kong, teaching fundamentals of music therapy for the past 8 years and providing clinical and dissertation supervision for the past 5 years. The following interview will be conducted mainly in Cantonese with English subtitles.


Vivian: Hello Yasmin, good day!


Yasmin: Hello Vivian


Vivian: First of all, I’d like to thank you for taking valuable time out of your schedule to be here with us for the interview today, thank you.


Yasmin: My pleasure.


Vivian: I understand that you studied and trained to become a music therapist at New York University in the United States. Can you share with us a little about what brought you to study music therapy there and what brought you back to practice in Hong Kong?


Yasmin: It has been over 20 years ago. In 1999, I decided to pursue a degree in Music Therapy. At the time, there were not many music therapists practicing in Hong Kong and we did not have our own local training program in music therapy. So those interested had to be trained abroad. At the time, options for music therapy training were in North America, the United Kingdom, and so forth. Since I obtained my undergraduate degree in the United States, so returning to the States for my Masters in Music Therapy was my first choice. I did some research and found a very good program in New York and therefore I applied. I only applied to one university at that time and luckily, I was accepted. So in September 1999, I traveled to NYU to begin my music therapy journey.


Vivian: Hmm.. Did you return to Hong Kong to practice right after you graduated?


Yasmin: I did, at the time, for personal reasons which I can share later. But my suggestion to all who have sought advice from me is not to follow as I have done. Stay where you studied and graduated a little longer to practice and gain some work experience in the field first before returning to your home country to practice because you do need the extra support from professors, supervisors, and mentors that you know and are familiar with in the beginning. Starting your career in your home country after you have developed a good and solid foundation in the country where you studied will allow for a more gradual and supported transition. I decided to return to Hong Kong to practice right away back then because my partner was here and the September 11th incident had just occurred. So for these reasons, I decided to return to Hong Kong to start my career after I graduated.


Vivian: Hmm.. So what was the field of music therapy like back then when you returned?


Yasmin: Hmm, as I heard, I was the 8th music therapist who returned to Hong Kong to practice. When I returned, there were also a few other music therapy graduates who returned to Hong Kong from different countries. At the time, there were approximately 10 registered music therapist altogether in Hong Kong however, as I know, not all of the 10 worked as music therapists. Some were involved in music education while a few others were engaged in work outside of music therapy. So at the time, music therapy was still very new and not widely known in the city. At the time, music therapy was still rather new and unknown to the society. It was only beginning to gain traction among the special education community. Interest and demand for services were coming from parents, special education schools, and homes for adults with intellectual disability.


Vivian: Hmm.. This was what the music therapy scene was like back then and there were no music therapy training programs in Hong Kong at the time. How about now? More than 20 years later, what is it like now?


Yasmin: I believe it is very different now, as you and I know. It has moved on quite a bit, for example, Hong Kong University Space and the University of Melbourne collaborated to offer a postgraduate diploma in music therapy. It has been running for quite a few years, training postgraduate students. Although they are not qualified for certification upon completion of the postgraduate diploma, graduates can continue to fulfil the remaining requirements of the music therapy degree at the University of Melbourne to become eligible for registration in Australia.

A few years ago, the University of Melbourne started a joint Master of Music Therapy program here in Hong Kong. It is a University of Melbourne’s Master’s program offered here locally. Hence, graduates of the program are eligible for certification in Australia.

As you can see, there has been a lot of changes. Another indication of how much the field has grown over the years is in the number of music therapists we currently have in Hong Kong, the number has grown and multiplied exponentially. I have lost track of the exact numbers but the Hong Kong Music Therapy Association has a membership system where most of the music therapists who are registered from abroad but live and practice locally belong. So much has changed over the past 20 years.


Vivian: Hmm… yes. As I understand, Hong Kong still does not have its own professional registration system. All of the music therapists who practice in Hong Kong are registered abroad.


Yasmin: Hm, yes. That is correct.


Vivian: Yasmin, as someone who trained abroad and returned ‘home’ to begin your practice, from your experience of supervising trainees and colleagues, and your clinical experiences, in what ways do you feel music therapy training and education can better prepare students to practice in Hong Kong?


Yasmin: There are different perspectives about this, but just from my own observations and experiences, there are a few interesting points I can speak to. One of them is it seems that the mindset of local service recipients have not changed much, particularly in the area of receiving psychotherapy. This may partly have to do with the traditional Asian culture that we live in, the tendency to view therapists as an authority figure, and in our culture, we must respect and submit to authority figures, respecting the ‘advice’ they give. This mindset is rather different from the western notion of therapy in which we are trained in and so, this creates a gap between the mindset and intentions of service recipients and music therapists practicing in Hong Kong. Simply put, at least I believe you and I are similar, in our training, we adopt the understanding that the role of a therapist/ psychotherapist is someone who walks through the therapy journey with those whom he/she serves, assisting and facilitating them in finding their own way of responding to their issues rather than ‘teaching’/‘instructing’/ ‘advising’ them on how they should solve their life problems. This is an expectation gap that those who are trained in the West and those trained in the profession will need to find their way to lessen the difference in mindset between the therapist and the service recipient. From my own experiences in the beginning, verbal skills are important for the therapist to safely and comfortably facilitate service users in using more creative and abstract means to enter into the process of exploring the inner self and the psyche to find their own answers to their issues. Unless students already have a counselling background or verbal skills before training to become music therapists, otherwise, in a regular 2 year, 4 semester master’s degree, there is barely enough time to learn the basics of music therapy, it is easy to overlook the importance of equipping students in this skill set. This skill is not just about how to use words intelligently, it is more about knowing how much you should say and not saying too much. So future students can be more aware and consider how they can better equip themselves in this area.


Vivian: Yes, this may be an area students may be lacking in after they graduate and transition into the working world to set their career up, especially as a freelancer. From your experience, how can one be better prepared to set oneself up as a freelancer?


Yasmin: As I recall from my own experiences and my observations of more recent graduates, I noticed that there are a few areas we can take note of. I believe it is important that we are conscious of the difference in context. We need to be aware that the place where we trained has its own culture and specific local context, and to practice locally, we need to learn how we can apply our training to the local context with its cultural, social, and financial structure and characteristics in mind. For example, rates and pay, how much should I charge? How much should I ask for this project? It is difficult to use US standards and apply them here. This is one of the most basic and surface considerations those setting themselves up as freelancers will need to keep in mind.

Another contextual difference is the role music therapy plays within the local society and its place in the local medical and healthcare system. For example, music therapy may be within the local government and healthcare system in some countries abroad however, that is not the case in Hong Kong. The main hiring agencies/organisations who will employ music therapists here may be non-government organisations (NGOs) in the field of social welfare. Furthermore, it has been difficult for music therapy to obtain a place in the government system in Hong Kong, and I believe this is partly due to whether we are ready and able to present music therapy in a way that is acceptable and complimentary to the local systems and culture that is already in place.

I recall when I graduated, I believe it is the same for students now, my professors trained us to provide in-house presentations for various organisations where we would describe and explain to the organisation staff how music therapy is able to support the organisation in its purpose. I believe more is required in Hong Kong nowadays. You essentially become an entrepreneur who starts-up new fields and markets for the profession. You will need to learn jargons of different professions to effectively explain how music therapy deserves a place in the field. For example, at corporate staff training and team building events, you will need to be able to explain to this group how music therapy can work along and assist them in attaining their purpose. These are some of the skills one will need to develop if he/she wishes to establish him/herself as a freelancer in Hong Kong.

Due to Hong Kong’s current situation, I have also observed many music therapists starting up their own centres when they return. As such, music therapy training programs may consider how they can support their students in the area of starting up their own business when they return to practice in their home country or elsewhere. In my days, my professors were not aware to say to me “Yasmin, you will need to start your own business after you return to Hong Kong”. They probably expected that I will work in NGOs and work on different projects. Back in the days when I first returned, I did a lot of freelance work and outreach programs. But now, with the increasing number of music therapists we have locally, I wouldn’t say we have too many music therapists for the local job market but rather, how can we spread ourselves out and find our own niche to serve the needs we have in the local scene. I think this is something we need to prepare ourselves for.

Over the years, music therapists who have been trained to provide music psychotherapy have approached me for supervision. Most of them practiced locally as a freelancer for a few years before they considered opening up their own private practice. However, many of them seemed unprepared to do so. For example, many of them were not aware of the factors they needed to consider when they were selecting a location to start their psychotherapy practice, a place that is suitable for practicing psychotherapy and not just any therapy because of transferences and counter-transferences that occur in psychotherapy. Furthermore, they also needed knowledge and a self-awareness that enables them to assess and evaluate whether they are ready to take on certain trauma cases and more serious psychotherapy cases. It seemed that they were not well equipped in these areas. I wondered if there are any additional support and teaching in these areas that could be provided to students during their training that would better prepare them for their return to their home country to practice and start-up their career, may it be Hong Kong or elsewhere.


Vivian: As we approach the end of our time together, I’d like to speak to you briefly about the future development of music therapy in Hong Kong. In order for music therapy to thrive, what do you think are the utmost important goals for music therapists in Hong Kong, and what efforts or steps do you think are needed to achieve those goals?


Yasmin: Hm.. uh.. I don’t think I am a very ambitious and forward-looking person but I’ll try my best to share some of my perspectives, most of which come from my teaching and training experiences over the past few years in the Expressive Arts Therapy program, and from what I have observed about the design of this program at the Hong Kong University i.e. patterns seen in their enrolment system, the style of training, e.t.c, that supports the growth of the profession. Music therapists and others may use this as a reference to consider how music therapy can be promoted and develop going forward.

I have taught the Expressive Arts Therapy program now for 8 years. New part-time graduates come out of the program every 3 years, so I have seen 4-5 cohorts of Expressive Arts Therapy students graduate from this program and are currently working in the field. Into the third or fourth year of my teaching in this program, I have noticed a slight change in their selection of students. Other than selecting those who were talented, those who possessed complementary and suitable characteristics to be therapists, and those who had a background in the arts, they also began enrolling applicants who already worked within the government system i.e. a centre’s CEO or Centre-In-Charge, a senior OT, or a senior social worker, or an experienced journalist, e.t.c. At the time in my dialogue with the department head, I understood that the department’s strategy is not to train professionals who would saturate the market, but to train a group of professionals who have the ability to create more job opportunities in the field to advance the profession. These graduates know and have experienced the value of the program as an insider. This is just my own understanding but from what I have observed, it seems to be working well for the profession. Since this group of graduates are well experienced in the system, they know how to work and promote the field in the system more assertively and effectively. The local Music Therapy program has not been around for that long but on the other hand, the Expressive Arts Therapy program has been around for a number of years now, I believe from 2013, so they are able to come up with this strategy to assist the growth and development of the profession. Perhaps this example can serve as a reference for us to vision and promote the future development of music therapy in Hong Kong in a more efficient and effective way.


Vivian: Yes, thank you Yasmin for sharing with us your valuable knowledge and experiences today. I trust that our audiences have much to take away from today’s session. Thank you.


Yasmin: I hope so, thank you Vivian.


Vivian: So thank you Yasmin for being here with us and thank you for joining us in this video. I hope you will stay tuned and follow us through to the end of the series. Thank you!