Magyar Zeneterápiás Egyesület

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The latest country report on Music Therapy in Hungary written by Ágnes Varga and János Kollár issued in Approaches can be reached HERE (Please click).

Hungarian Music Therapist, member of the Hungarian Music Therapy Association, Eszter Forgács prepared a comprehensive study on Music Therapy in Hungary in 2008 for the Voices.

Below is the whole article


BudapestHungary lies in the Carpathian basin bordering Romania and the Ukraine on the East, Slovakia on the North, Austria on the West and Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia on the South. Hungary‘s culture as well as the Hungarian language are unique in the area. The nomad tribes which invaded the area a thousand years ago came from the Urals and shared common roots with the Finno-Ugric peoples. Yet the country has always been a melting pot of Central, Eastern, and Southern-European people throughout history since before the Hungarian Kingdom was founded in 1000 AC and both culture and language have been shaped by the surrounding Slavs and Germans. Always torn between the East and the West, Hungary has been invaded by the Mongols, Turks, Habsburgs and the Russians. Since the first free parliamentary elections after the fall of communism in 1989, Hungary has gradually evolved into a fully developed Western democracy and joined the EU in 2004.

Hungary is probably best known for its scientists, white wine and two healing powers: thermal springs and music. The latter is exemplified by one of Europe’s biggest music festivals, the Sziget Festival which takes place each year in August in Budapest. Hungary is also known for its numerous musicians touring around the world, and the composers Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály, who researched Hungarian folk music and revealed it to Hungarians and the rest of the world in the first half of the 20th century. They stressed the importance of collecting folk songs and music in order to discover and preserve the vanishing treasures of Hungarian culture. They believed that the folksong was a powerful means of expressing joy, anguish and vigour, and that singing such tunes helped gain a fuller experience of emotions and foster our ability to cope with them.

Kodály’s Concept of Music Teaching and its Effect on Linking Music and Therapy

Kodály thought that some parts of the soul could be reached only by music. Kodály believed in the transformative effect of singing, emphasising that singing relieves one from inhibitions, moves and enriches one’s entire personality. It is for this reason that he found musical education essential for personal development and living to ones full potential. He also believed that musical activities had a positive effect on cognitive development, logical thinking and concentration and as such also affecting student‘s performance in other fields of study. Kodály offered a whole new concept of musical teaching and his theory was turned into practice reforming the music education system in Hungary. Music lessons in school became more frequent and a curriculum was introduced that encompassed his vision of music teaching. He also founded primary schools with special musical education.

The fruit of his work was starting to show in the 70’s when the folk dance movement started and became the expression of national identity in contrast to the communist suppression. The Hungarian folk music tradition today also finds new momentum through mixing with other genres (e.g. jazz) becoming part of a broader world music.

Kodály’s idea about making music accessible to everyone inspired many musicians and music teachers to introduce music to the field of special needs. In the past decades an increasing number of musicians and music teachers have started teaching disabled children. They have used the Ulwila method for example, which has the primary aim of enhancing children’s musical and cognitive development. Although this is not considered music therapy, it is thanks to this method that several orchestras have been formed in which children can not only experience music, but also a sense of creation, togetherness and appreciation in their community. Special needs teachers and musicians have used music in varied settings in many different ways, conducting lessons and group sessions, often in a fashion that is close to Community Music Therapy.

Since the 70’s various methods of self-expression evolved out of music teaching. One of them, developed by Klára Kokas has become internationally known as a combined method of music and dance. As Kodály’s follower the original question she asked, was: How could music really be everyone’s and how could it be brought closer to children. She thought that attention would become more focused and the musical experience more intense if the children moved to music. Furthermore, she found folk songs essential in developing one’s musical language, her sessions therefore started with singing folksongs and then moving to them by representing the characters in the song. After that the children could get into a relaxing position and listen to a short piece of music repeated several times. During the music they could improvise movements and transform into different imaginary beings. They were then allowed to dance in the group but also had the opportunity to dance a solo. Finally they would share their experience and tell the story they had acted out through dance.

Kokas’s method, originally to encourage children’s active listening to music, evolved into one that offers self expression and catharsis. It is now widely used in Hungary with children with and without special needs. This method was further developed to include another widespread complex creative therapy method developed by Eszter Balás. She combined music movement and visual expression to foster relaxation, muscle control, communication and self expression for children who stutter.

The Beginnings of Music Therapy in Mental Health

Using music integrated into the therapy process in psychiatryalso started in the late 60’s. Several psychologists, psychiatrists and doctors started to experiment with music intuitively and independently from each other. They all worked mainly with recorded music and developed receptive methods to enhance relaxation, symbolization and self expression often combined with other techniques such as hypnosis or autogene training. Combined methods such as musical painting introduced by Dr. Ildikó Konta also stemmed from of this pioneering work.

Apart from psychologists, musicians also worked on introducing musical activities into the psychiatric wards. Composer László Sáry conducted group sessions for psychiatric patients for many years. He used creative musical games such as making instruments out of stones, broomsticks and bottles, for example. These games required concentration and listening, their rules seemed to give firm, holding boundaries and enabled the patients to experience order, togetherness and creativity. The use of musical improvisation in therapy started only about a decade later in Pécs with the work of Sándor Fekete and Tamás Tényi.

The Development of the Profession

The first meeting of professionals working with music in clinical settings took place in 1980. Since then the dialogue amongst those professionals involved in music therapy has been developing. Conferences and workshops were organised at the Institute of Psychiatric Rehabilitation, for example, by Ildikó Konta and dr. József Kiss-Vámosi. The need for a music therapy association became evident and a Music Therapy category was formed within the Hungarian Psychiatric Association in 1986. Thanks to the enthusiastic members, many of whom were psychiatrists and psychologists, music therapy was on its way towards becoming a recognized method.

The political turn of the year 1989 created more opportunity to build up international music therapy connections. Hungarian music therapists now had the chance to travel abroad and learn about the international trends in music therapy as well as to present their own work. Hungary also became a member of the EMTC. Music therapists from outside Hungary were now invited to music therapy conferences in Budapest, where they gave papers and held workshops. Heinrich Moll and Miklós Buzási, Dr.Gregorio Tisera, Gabriela Wagner, Attila Missura, Kimmo Lehtonen, and Eva Mees-Christeller all contributed to the development of Hungarian music therapy as well as contributing to its positive reception.

The growing interest in music therapy led to the formation of two Hungarian music therapy associations: The Albert Schweitzer Music Therapy Association in Pécs was founded by Attila Sasvári in 1992, and the Hungarian Music Therapy Association was founded by Ildikó Konta and chaired by Katalin Urbán Varga in 1994. Both associations organise workshops, trainings and discussions about music therapy.

Training Courses

The next great step in the development of music therapy in Hungary was the introduction of the first post-graduate course in Pécs at the Liszt Academy of Music in cooperation with the Medical School of Pécs. The head of the program was Attila Sasvári and the teachers were some of the founding music therapists in Hungary. The three year post-graduate course was running from 1992 until 1996 when an accreditation process to comply with EU regulations began.

The program was relaunched in 2003 as a 2.5 year post-graduate part-time arts therapies (visual arts, movement and music) training course. The first year is a foundation year where students have lectures in psychiatry, psychotherapy and arts therapies. From the second year they specialize in their chosen method. The course is taught by renowned psychotherapists and several music therapists, for example Miklós Buzási.

In the same year an additional two year post-graduate part-time music therapy training course was founded at the Special Needs Faculty of the Eötvös University in Budapest. This program was led by Dr. Ildikó Konta, Katalin Urbán Varga and Dr. Anna Fekete. Prof. Hans Helmut Decker-Voigt from Germany, who had decided to help music therapy gain recognition in postcommunist countries, assisted with the course design which was based on those of several European countries.

In the last few years as many as 70 therapists received their qualification from the two programs, many of them had been working in the field already. In addition to these postgraduate courses, music therapy modules are offered at the undergraduate level at the University of West Hungary, the University of Debrecen and the Special Needs Faculty of the Eötvös University in Budapest.

Theoretical Framework

There is diversity in music therapy practice throughout Hungary. This is due not only to the different paths that therapists, teachers and musicians have each come to various clinical settings, but also to the various theoretical underpinnings of their original training. The two music therapy courses bring some unity regarding the divergent theoretical frameworks, as they both regard music therapy mainly from a psychodynamic perspective, but on the other hand, psychodynamic theory rarely addresses music therapy work with people who have special needs. A developmental focus is more common for that area.

There is an ongoing dialogue about what music therapy is and what it can be. Is it music psychotherapy? Is it a sociotherapy? Is it a developmental method? What music therapy is, is likely to depend on the therapist’s competencies. A music therapy degree in itself does not give a person the right to work in any field. The competence of music therapists depends on their original qualification. Those who come from special needs backgrounds can use music therapy in that field, whereas only psychologists have the right to employ music therapy in mental health settings. Working as a music therapist also requires wearing several hats, working with several therapy methods. So the question is not only about what music therapy is. It is also about who we are as music therapists? And do we really need an identity and state registration?

The Fields in Which Music Therapists Work in Hungary

Music therapy in Hungary is most welcome in the field of special needs and in school settings and most music therapists work in this field. They run groups and conduct individual sessions in child development centres and in schools and institutions for children and adults with learning disabilities and visual impairments. Music therapy for the treatment of ASD (autism spectrum disorder) is currently sought after and although several therapists work in this area the demand is higher than the number of therapists available.

The current economic situation in Hungary does not favour the employment of music therapists in the public health sector. The lack of state registration and regulation is rather detrimental to the profession. Some hospitals and institutions employ self acclaimed practitioners or nurses as “music therapists” rather than clinicians with the proper training. There are music therapists, however, who are employed in psychiatric wards or in neuro-rehabilitation divisions and manage to have their work accepted and appreciated. These therapists use both clinical improvisation and receptive methods, usually in groups.

Some music therapists work in geriatric wards. There has also been a “Music in Hospitals” movement here in Hungary over the last 20 years, which involves musicians going to play for, and with, children in oncology wards. Additionally there have been endeavours in hospices as well as forensic institutions and addiction centres, but there is a long way to go before such institutions will be able to offer regular positions for music therapists. Many music therapists also work in prevention and run mother and baby groups for toddlers. As it is not easy to get a job as a music therapist, newly qualified therapists often have to work unpaid in order to establish music therapy in an institution.

Our Aims for the Future

It is both a difficult and exciting period for music therapy in Hungary. The growing number of qualified music therapists is creating the opportunity for music therapy to become a more recognised profession. Our identity as music therapists is strengthened by the academic qualifications that music therapy students acquire, yet we are far from having a fully developed professional identity. The question remains: how do we create and define the profession? And how do we not exclude those who have experience but do not hold a diploma? How do we do this yet still distinguish ourselves from unprofessional or esoteric practices? Certainly the music therapist profession here can benefit from the endeavours of the Hungarian Music Therapy Association which is the only professional body for music therapists in the country at the moment.

At present it seems that many newly qualified music therapists trying to establish themselves in the field are encountering feelings of isolation and are finding it hard to gain the recognition and respect they deserve. Therefore the Association is working on reorganizing area groups and special interest groups so that trained music therapists can establish and maintain contact with each other. It is also important that these groups organise themselves into peer supervision groups, as there are only a few music therapists in Hungary who could provide music therapy supervision at present. Hopefully within a few years, the therapists now starting will have had enough experience to provide supervision.

The organization of more networking days with presentations will also be essential so that we can learn from each others work. There has been little published lately about the work of Hungarian music therapists, therefore new books, publications and brochures need to be created. Despite its three decades of existence, music therapy is still considered and treated as a relatively new method in the country. In order to prove the necessity and efficacy of music therapy and the potential of working in this modality within the arts therapies, we have run workshops at universities for psychologists, psychology students and in the community. Talks on TV and articles in magazines have also been contributing to deepening and broadening the knowledge the public has of music therapy. The association’s other long term plan is to help make the international music therapy literature more accessible to Hungarians by publishing music therapy books in Hungarian. This has been necessary for a long time and we hope that the publishing of new translations can start in the near future. Strengthening our international connections is also an important goal. As younger students are more likely to speak other languages their participation in international organisations such as the EAMTS along with their attendance at conferences will also be an asset. The biggest goal we currently aim for is state registration, which will make it easier for trained music therapists to practice their profession.


I would like to thank the contributions of my music therapy colleagues Lilla Telek, Judit Tomcsányi and Éva Szántó, and all the others who helped me gather this information.


Forgács, E. (2002). Zeneterápia a magyarországi gyakorlatban. [Hungarian Music Therapy in Practice] Dissertation Budapest: Bárczi Gusztáv Faculty of Special Needs.

Kokas, K. (1992). A zene felemeli a kezeimet. [Music raises my hands] Budapest: Akadémia Kiadó.

Konta, I. &Urbán-Varga, K. (1993). Hungary. In Cheryl Dileo Maranto (Ed.), Music Therapy International Perspectives (pp. 263 – 279). Pipersville, Pennsylvania:Jeffrey Books.

Konta, I. (2001). A Magyar Zeneterápiás Egyesület rövid története [History of the Hungarian Music Therapy Association] Biatorbágy

Urbánné Varga, K. (2002). A magyarok és a zeneterápia, avagy hogyan lett Magyarországon zeneterapeuta képzés? [Hungarians and Music Therapy – How did music therapy courses come to exsistence?] Paper given at the music therapy conference in Hamburg.

Forgács, Eszter (2008). Music Therapy in Hungary. Voices Resources. Retrieved March 17, 2014, from