As in any modern urban society, there are many individuals in Hong Kong who suffer from disorders, depression or other clinical conditions which affect their mental health and general well-being. Fortunately, these problems are gradually becoming better understood by the general public and treated more effectively. In large part, that is due to the educational efforts and care provided by trained professionals such as May Leung, who currently works as a clinical psychologist for the Heep Hong Society.
After obtaining a degree in psychology in the US, Ms Leung returned to Hong Kong and first worked in customer service in the commercial sector for five years. During that time, she learned a great deal about social interaction and how to communicate well, and was recognised as being on the fast track within her company. However, a long-standing interest in clinical psychology could not be ignored and prompted Ms Leung to rethink her goals and get ready to switch direction when the right opportunity came along.
"It had always been my dream to work in clinical psychology, and I decided to prepare myself for a career shift by enrolling in the Master of Social Science programme (MSocSc) in clinical psychology at the University of Hong Kong (HKU)," Ms Leung recalls. During the full-time two-year programme, she gained practical experience through a series of placements with various local organisations and, upon graduating three years ago, joined the Heep Hong Society in a clinical role.
The most rewarding thing is when we see the children's progress and receive positive feedback
In her current position, she is responsible for providing a wide range of centre-based services and learning support for primary schools and other organisations. The daily routine will generally include offering developmental assessment and therapy for children with special needs, and guidance for their parents. There will also be professional consultations, talks and workshops, and skills training groups to conduct for schools, childcare centres and at other venues. Collaboration with other professionals is an important aspect of the job, and Ms Leung works with specialists such as speech therapists, educational psychologists, occupational therapists and physiotherapists for different training classes.
In order to respond to the changing requirements for children with special needs, it is important to continue developing new programmes and to promote awareness in the community. "Some children with autism, for example, are attending regular primary schools and not receiving the training they need," Ms Leung explains. "Under our Supportive Learning Project, it is our goal to assist the children and their parents, and to enhance local educators' understanding of the challenges these children may face as they grow up."
To enter the profession, a master's degree in clinical psychology is now considered a prerequisite. University graduates in other disciplines can study for a postgraduate certificate in psychology either at HKU or the Chinese University of Hong Kong prior to starting the MSocSc programme. Patience and the willingness to listen are regarded as essential attributes, while a genuine passion for helping others and an optimistic outlook are equally necessary for those keen to pursue a long-term career in the field.
"We can encounter all kinds of difficulties in our work," Ms Leung notes. For example, some children might not make as much progress as expected in their training or therapy, but their parents may still have high expectations based on what they have read or heard about developments in special childcare. Also, collaboration with other psychologists and therapists can be a challenge, since it requires solid interpersonal skills and involves continuous negotiation.
"There is always pressure but that is a source of motivation," Ms Leung adds. "The most rewarding thing is when we see the children's progress and receive positive feedback from their parents and the community."
Within the discipline of clinical psychology, there is great emphasis on continuous progress and providing practitioners with frequent training opportunities and seminars on the latest research into clinical problems and the relevant therapies. "Mental healthcare is a subject of increasing concern for members of the public of all ages," adds Ms Leung. "There is always a lot for us to learn and, as the scope of services we offer continues to expand, there will definitely be career opportunities for people who are looking to join the profession."
Ms Leung notes that clinical psychology is still in the early stages of development in mainland China and that a very different set of regulations governs the profession there. To qualify as practitioners in mental healthcare, those who work as counsellors take only a brief and relatively basic training course in psychology.
"The discipline is definitely in need of further development in China, though there may be insufficient resources for that at present," Ms Leung says. "We have seen great demand for clinical psychologists from Hong Kong to conduct seminars in mainland cities, but full-time job opportunities are unlikely to be available in the near future."