10 години от създаването на Музикотерапевтичен институт–София

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History and Development of Music Therapy in Bulgaria. Music therapy specifics.

Lilia Ahtarova




Music therapy institute, 52 Gurko str, Sofia

In the article you can find information about the development of music therapy as a scientific discipline in Bulgaria, as well as some specifics of the Music Therapy subject.

The reason why I would like to engage the readers with our story is to share our journey in founding and building a new scientific discipline in a post-communist country. To put it simply – in a place where psychotherapy and the whole science of the mind, spirit, personal experiences, feelings and emotions of an individual were not only intolerable but also forbidden and condemned. Let’s remind the readers that in our country if anyone possessed Freud’s books by any means they were punished by the communist party or any of its lower local structures.



The development of music therapy in our country in its respective form corresponding to the music therapy in the developed countries and the USA was initiated by Joseph Moreno’s seminar held in December 1994 in Sofia. Joseph Moreno visited Bulgaria following the invitation by Georgi Antonov, an honorary resident at the Day Outpatient Unit of First Psychiatric Hospital Sofia, who was also in the process of completing his diploma project in music therapy. Most of the seminar participants were already familiar with music therapy from various sources and they had tried to use music in their psychological and therapeutic practice.

The Bulgarian Association of Music therapy was founded the following year. The Bulgarian Association of Music Therapy (BAM) is an organisation bringing together professionals from various fields – musicians, music pedagogues, experts from the helping professions-psychologists, social workers, speech therapists, doctors and other professional from the health services. BAM is a member of the European Music Therapy Confederation (EMTC) and the Bulgarian Association of Psychotherapy (BAP).

  1. 1.     History and milestones so far.

As mentioned above the Bulgarian Association of Music Therapy was founded in the spring of 1995 in Sofia. The idea was inspired by Joseph Moreno and a group of specialists from different spheres enthused by Professor Moreno’s macro seminar and convinced in the possibilities for psychological work with the help of music. The early beginning was set in the Day Outpatient Unit of First Psychiatric Clinic in Sofia Medical Academy led by associate professor Alexi Alexiev.

The first Board of Directors included Irina Schlezinger – chair, Angel Tomov –vice chair, Lilia Ahtarova – secretary, Greta Antonova – treasury, Rumen Dimitrov – member of the Board of directors. These were indeed difficult years as very few people had computers so in order to prepare documents and posters we had to involve friends willing to help. All correspondence was done through regular mail and the membership fee was not enough even for buying post stamps. Therefore, we were enthusiastic to implement something innovative and efficient in our work with patients, which other European countries had already introduced and had begun to establish their traditions in the sphere of music therapy. It was a time of romanticism. Once a month we would gather in the psychotherapy hall of the outpatient day unit, where I was a volunteer, to read and translate books and share out experience.

The first project aimed at the training of Bulgarian specialists was carried out in 1997 with the support of the British Council, when two association members, Ahtarova and Kraeva were sent to the Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy Centre in London (UK).

A distance training programme in Music and Imagery and Guided Imagery and Music organised by Irina Schlezinger was conducted from 1999 to 2004 at the Art Therapy Institute in San Francisco with director Frances Goldberg. The faculty comprised of Frances Goldberg, Virginia Clarkson, Dag Korlin, Edith Maria Geiger and Irina Schlezinger.

The distance learning training was organised remotely and the trainers visited two or three times a year to deliver seminars and provide personal sessions for the trainees and supervisions. Traditionally for this type of training the seminars were conducted somewhere outside the ordinary working environment – in the mountain, in a hotel or in a hut with rooms suitable both for our needs as well as the needs of the visiting foreign guests. In Sofia the supervision and the personal psychotherapy sessions were carried out mainly in two offices. Nikola Atanasov offered his consulting room and the other place was the offices of the Bulgarian Association of Music Therapy which are known today as well. The whole organisation was done by Irina Schlezinger. We met throughout the whole year in the consulting rooms in 52 Gurko street to read and translate the compulsory reading for the training as very few authors had been translated at the time. Irina Dimova delivered lectures in music theory on a voluntary basis for the non-musicians who were a majority in the group.

These are the names of the participants in this training – Angel Tomov, Boyanka Korndgeva, Irina Dimova, Krasimira Bajchinska, Lilia Ahtarova, Mila Naumova, Miroslava Ivanoava, Nadya Vitanova, Neva Kristeva, Snezana Becheva, Rositsa Petrova. Two colleagues from Turkey took part in the first level and Urs Friedrich from Switzerland joined the second level of the training. Four of us and Urs graduated in June 2004. The graduation was celebrated in Sozopol in New Bulgarian University premises among blossoming figs and the breath of sea air.

Let us introduce Urs Friedrich in more detail not only because he won our sympathies by integrating quite naturally in our group and only the language difference reminded us that he came from elsewhere but also because in 2002, as a sign of his empathy for the financial situation of the people in the group, he sponsored seven of us to attend the fifth GIM conference in Hamburg.


At the beginning of 2002 BAM elected a new Board of Directors

Lilia Ahtarova – chair, Angel Tomov and Maria Gorinova. Later in 2005 Slavka Zidan and Azniv Hovsepyan joined.

Since 2012 BAM has had its fourth Board of Directors with chair Neicho Kapchev in 2012 and Daniela Naidenova who has been a chair since 2018.

The organisation has maintained its own website since 2002 with the help of Gabriela and Ivan Dobrovolovi. A paper and electronic library has been working since 2004. Some of the resources have been donated by members and friends and others have been purchased with our own funding.

BAM has organised four national conferences since it foundation – in 2005, 2007, 2012 and 2017, and the last two conferences had international participants as well. Furthermore, there have been regular regional meetings on a smaller scale.


BAM has published the following two books and an edited book:

Joseph Moreno (2006) Acting Your Inner Music: Music Therapy and Psychodrama. Moreno has donated his copyrights and Angel found sponsorship for the book publishing in Bulgarian and the book was published.

A compendium of papers from the second conference in Music Therapy 2007. Editorial Board: Nadia Vitanova, Mery Gorinova and Angel Tomov. The collection was published with our own funding.

Heidi Fausch (2011) Sadness in the Heart. Music Therapy and Psychodrama. We had the pleasure to publish Heidi’s book first before it was published in German and English. The book was translated by Katia Gjurova, a friend of BAM, the editorial was done by Nadia Vitanova and the publishing was organised by me, Lilia Ahtarova. The book publication was self-funded.

Heidi visited us at the beginning of November for the book launch. The event was accompanied by a concert of the newly formed BAM Chamber ensemble which still had no name at the time.

The Bulgarian Association of Music Therapy and its members have participated in various professional forums initiated by similar organisations at home and abroad.

In 2004 BAM was accepted in the family of the European Association of Music therapy with a representative Lilia Ahtarova and since the beginning of 2015 Teodosi Tsingilev has represented Bulgaria in the association.

BAM representatives have participated in all psychotherapy conferences organised by the Bulgarian Association of Psychotherapy (BAP) since 2009. During the 2014 BAP Conference Lilia Ahtarova, the representative of BAM, was awarded for her contribution in the foundation, development and practical applications of Music Therapy in Bulgaria.

Our members represent the organisation in various forums making music therapy more popular as a new scientific discipline, as it is established throughout the world.

Along with the whole of Europe we celebrated the European Day of Music Therapy on 15 November 2014. The day was celebrated by organising a symposium Day of the Open Doors with the help and cooperation from the American Center at the Capital Library. Our colleagues demonstrated their music therapy practices during the symposium. Several of them opened the doors of their consulting rooms and studios and offered free consultations. Since 2015 a tradition seems to have been established and the European Day of Music Therapy is celebrated in three forms; a concert to celebrate the day, a symposium and day of open doors when colleagues offer free consultations to people who need to ask their questions.


Training Programme

BAM training programme officially started in 2009 and certifies Music Therapist Speciality and Clinical Music Therapy. Seminars in music therapy topics have been organised since the foundation of BMA and the first Group for self-exploration and personal growth led by Lilia Ahtarova started in 2003.

Currently the trailing lasts for 4 years and includes Group for self-exploration and personal growth, personal psychotherapy, theoretical and practical seminars, work under supervision, and compulsory readings. The total tuition hours are 1550 training hours.

Lilia Ahtarova (a music therapist and a family therapist) and Professor Nadezda Vitanova (a music therapist and a psychodrama therapist and Jungian psychotherapist) lead the programme.

In 2013 the Music Therapy Institute–Sofia ( was founded. Currently MTI is BAM’s official representative music therapy training institution. The programme offers training for the following professionals

  • for psychologists
  • for musicians
  • for psychotherapists already certified in one of the main psychotherapeutic modalities/approaches
  • General programme – the training is in the form of seminars which allows joining the programme at any time during the year after a preliminary entrance interview.


The following seminars were conducted throughout the years:

Joseph Moreno (Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA) 1994, 2003, 2009

Heidi Fausch (Zurich, Switzerland) 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014

Sofia Russinova (Vienna, Austria) – 1996.

Lubka Muller (Dresden, Germany) – 2007, 2008

Elena Ilieva (Capetown, SAR) – 2007, 2010

Milena Laskano (Paris, France) – 2010, 2011

Beate Rilke (Switzerland) – 2014


During the first two years since it was founded the Music Therapy Institute, Sofia (MTI-S) received generous donation from the professional Swiss Music Therapy Association (SFMT/ASMT), and some of their trainers and lecturers visited and taught some of the compulsory modules of the training programmes as well as they supervised the organisation and administration of the programme.


Currently the MIT-S policy is to attract young colleagues who have graduated abroad such as Boryana Radeva from Vienna as teaching and training staff.

For the 2010-2011 academic year an MA programme in music therapy was created in Music Academy Prof. Pancho Vladigerov in Sofia. That was Prof Vessela Haralampieva-Tsinandova’s dream back in 1997 when we tried together to seek the support and funding of Great Britain based on the fact that we had the support of the British Society in which BAM was already a free member.

In the academic year 2011-2012 I (Lilia Ahtarova) was invited as a lecturer in music therapy by Prof. Neva Kristeva, an educational coordinator in the National Music Academy.

In the 2013-2014 academic year an MA programme in Music Therapy started in The Academy of Music, Dance and Fine Arts in Plovdiv inspired by Prof. Nadezda Vitanova and Prof. Kapka Solakova. I was invited again as a lecturer.

The existence of training in music therapy in two state educational institutions is evaluated as a significant achievement in the development of this speciality which is still young throughout the world. The main shortcoming of the two programmes is the fact the people who graduate from the MA programmes do not have sufficient numbers of hours in music therapy, there is no training in personal self-development in group and individual work as well as there is no music therapy practice under supervision.


Cultural and cultural-educational activity.

As part of the association the chamber ensemble ‘Come Ye Sons of Art’ conducted by Josif Gerdjikov performs regular concerts. The ensemble had its first gathering for a concert on 25 May 2011 inspired by Milena Laskano, who, however was unable to take part in the ensemble’s performances. Music therapists, students in music therapy, amateurs and connoisseurs of vocal and instrumental music interpretation participate in the ensemble. The project is realised with the support of the conductor Josif Gerdjikov and Lilia Ahtarova as well as numerous supporters. Ever since its foundation the ensemble has performed over 80 concerts and has taken part in numerous music events. In 2013 a videodisc with concert parts was compiled. The ensemble has had its own internet website since 2014 with the help of Marian Getsov.

The efforts of the singers and performers are focused on the younger public, children and adolescents, as well as adults. The whole ensemble as well as its members in smaller groups, have participated in various celebration concerts in residential homes for the elderly, clinics and institutions for children without parental care. The ensemble has already realised two projects with the support from the Ministry of Culture in Bulgaria which is a form of recognition for out professionalism. The Baroque orientation of the ensemble enables the realisation of cultural and educational activities by means of introducing and experiencing less popular composers and works nowadays. In this way the governance hopes that it facilitates the restoration of values and the creation of taste for creative music skills.

The main aim of the Bulgarian Association of Music Therapy is to make the music therapy approaches popular in our country, to maintain and develop the authority already established in Europe and perhaps most of all to bring together specialists with common interests and approaches.


2. Uniqueness, specifics and differences of music therapy as a scientific discipline

2.1. Who could train as a music therapist?

Anyone who has music training covering the necessary minimum of music skills and general music acquirements and who loves the suffering.

Can people from other humanitarian professions without music training train as music therapists?

Yes, they can provided that during the entrance interview the commission decides that the candidate has the potentialities and foundations for music skills and later in their training they acquire the deficits in their music training necessary for practicing the profession.


2.2 Specifics of Music Therapy

It is important to know that music in music therapy is used for non-musical aims!

A music therapist who has chosen the speciality of Clinical Music Therapy has to have personal psychotherapeutic training in group and individual, to be familiar with the main psychotherapeutic paradigm but her or she is not necessarily a psychotherapist. The training for Music Psychotherapist is the same as the training for Clinical Music Therapist and it is necessary for the specialist to have foundation psychotherapeutic training in one of the main psychotherapeutic modalities.

What makes these requirements and norms necessary?

As we know music plays the role of co-therapist in the work of the music therapist. In clinical work the music therapist relies more on the role of the co-therapist as the work is mainly non-verbal, i.e. it depends on the universal language of music which includes all music components respectively, such as rhythm, tempo, dynamics, beat, harmony, melody and last but not least the impact of music.

The approaches which the music therapist normally uses and its main instrument is the language of music and its impact as well as other approaches from art therapy.


2.3 Advantages of Music Therapy

A number of research studies have demonstrated that the so called classical music influences our feelings, emotions, facilities the development of short term memory and most of all influences the deepest levels of our unconscious. Music therapy training could be a main instrument of every psychotherapist of a therapist using psychoanalytic approaches, in particular some of the suitable music therapy schools such as Music and Imagery, Guided Music Imagery or Music Psychodrama. The use of music and music elements and tools makes the process shorter, more pleasant and less painful for the client or the patient.


2.4 What Music Therapy is not?

When we listen to music at home we do not conduct music therapy!

When we have treatment massage or cosmetic procedure and the professional plays music – this is not music therapy.

When we practice yoga or another related philosophical or religious teaching and music is played, performed or sang there – this is not music therapy.

When we practice amateur music skills such as singing in a choir or playing a musical instrument – this is not music therapy despite the effect of temporary relaxation!

When a psychotherapist uses music as a background in a psychotherapy session – this is not music therapy!