Psychiatry in Communist Bulgaria
Julian Chehirian, an American Fulbright scholar who came to Bulgaria to conduct his research, presented his project in front of AUBG students on April 21. Called “Reduced to Bodies – Psychiatric Practice and Ideologies of Abnormality in Communist Bulgaria,” the lecture was a part of History Night series, organized by the Department of History and Civilization.
The focus of Chehirian’s study was the psychiatric practice in Communist Bulgaria. He presented the Soviet approach based on the belief that consciousness is a product of the material conditions of life. The presentation also covered the expression of psychological crisis in the art of Bulgarian painter and sculptor Nikola Kazakov.
In the 20th century Bulgaria, the field of psychiatry was seen as something “not worth thinking about.” Because of that, many forms of mental disorders were invisible. Psychiatrists focused on the physical displays of the illness, practicing exclusively empirical methods of examination and treatment.The mental implications were ignored, and the patients were “reduced” to their material bodies, as the title of the lecture says.
“It’s impressive how Communism influenced the psychiatric methods used in Bulgaria,” said Yana Afanasyeva, a second-year student at AUBG.
Chehirian also discussed the life and art of a Bulgarian amateur artist Nikola Kazakov, who experienced a spiritual crisis and had to go through 10 years of severe treatment in different asylums in Bulgaria. Using his example, Chehirian showed the importance of narrative-based therapy as a method through which patients can explore and express themselves.
A first-year student Sava Stoyanov said, “The presentation was very insightful – we don’t really know much about psychiatric practices during the Communist regime.” He was most impressed by the story of Nikola Kazakov and the inhumane treatment, which made the artist lose the ability to express himself.