An Introduction to Nordoff Robbins Music Therapy in Ukraine

Oksana Zharinova-Sanderson, Director of Music Services for Nordoff Robbins, writes on her recent visit to Ukraine, where she delivered an introduction to Nordoff Robbins music therapy, along with fellow Director of Music Services, Simon Procter:

The medieval city of Lviv is a hidden gem, historically, architecturally and culturally. Situated in the Western part of the Ukraine – one of the largest countries in Europe, between Russia on the eastern side and Poland, Slovakia and Hungary on the Western side – Lviv has been a hub for the development of psychotherapy since the early 1990s when the Soviet Union collapsed and the European Association of Psychotherapy invested resources to promoting the development of psychotherapeutic practices in the Ukraine, which at that point were non-existent there.

In recent years, following on from these initial trainings, further interest in the arts therapies has been steadily developing, particularly in light of the current political and economic situation in the country, where the ongoing war in the Eastern Ukraine means that the country has found itself in political and economic crisis. Medical, psychological, educational and other supportive services are overwhelmed by demand and staff are often overstretched as resources are limited.

It is in this context that we at Nordoff Robbins were approached by the Ukrainian Association of Psychotherapy (and their specific branch of arts therapies), to offer introductory training in Nordoff Robbins music therapy. This was to support existing services, as well as to help the professionals deepen their skills and abilities to work musically with people. Earlier this year, Simon and I travelled to Lviv to deliver three days of introduction to Nordoff Robbins music therapy to 25 professionals from across the Ukraine, who work with people of all ages living with a range of challenges, from special needs and disabilities to mental health issues and trauma following the impact of the war. The training took into account the specific contexts in which the professionals work, and included presentations of case studies, workshops focusing on sharpening listening skills and fostering musical imagination, as well as hands-on individual and group experience of improvising. It focused on the key themes of the Nordoff Robbins approach to music therapy and invited participants to explore these themes through a range of different practical and discussion sessions.

From the very first moment of our musical and personal interactions, it was apparent that there is a real wealth of musical, clinical and personal experience which group members generously brought to the circle. Given the lack of music therapy training in their country, there seemed to be real hunger and commitment to learn different ways of how to apply music strategically in a range of contexts where the group members work, both geographically (Odessa, Kiev, Poltava, Lviv) and in terms of the client groups (from early intervention to mental health and dementia care). The Nordoff Robbins approach to music therapy, with its focus on pragmatic, context-sensitive, music-making, has been perceived by the group to be particularly useful within this environment where verbal psychotherapeutic interventions are already well-established but there is lack of creative arts’ non-verbal interventions in place and there is much need for such interventions. We look forward to hearing back from the group members how the seeds sewn during the introduction training have impacted their work across the country and look forward to our future collaborations.

In the feedback session at the end of the training, the participants were asked to explain what relevance the training had had for them and for their work in the Ukrainian context. Here are some of their comments: