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New therapy can reduce stage fright

Monday, December 18, 2006

New therapy can reduce stage fright

WELLINGTON – A new psychological therapy that helps musicians manage performance anxiety can also benefit other performers and sportspeople. Performance anxiety, commonly known as stage fright, is a significant problem for many musicians. More than half the university music students surveyed by psychologist Dr Ruth Tarrant reported high levels of anxiety before performing, with anxiety often continuing into the performance itself.

“Performing can trigger the ‘fight or flight’ response,” says Dr Tarrant, a lecturer at the School of Psychology. “This means while some individuals perform poorly or experience loss of enjoyment, others perform at their best because their anxiety has prepared their body with the heightened sensitivity and energy required for peak performance.”

Her study focused on performance anxiety among musicians – although the concepts and management of stage fright apply to sport, public speaking, performing arts, or sitting exams.

Following an initial study of anxiety in the music students, Dr Tarrant developed, trialled and evaluated a new psychological therapy aimed at reducing or managing music performance anxiety. Her approach is based on cognitive-behavioural therapy where people examine their thinking and behaviour and, where appropriate, change any patterns that are having negative effects.

An important aspect of Dr Tarrant’s therapy is to assist performers to focus their thoughts on what they needed to do moment by moment as they are performing, rather than thinking about the outcome of the performance.

Results suggest that physical, mental, emotional, and behavioural components of performance anxiety, plus aspects of personality, performance history, and situational factors are present in different combinations and intensities for individual performers.

Dr Tarrant found significant reductions in music performance anxiety following therapy, suggesting her study has implications for understanding and treatment of performance anxiety.

The aim of cognitive-behavioural therapy is to assist the individual to examine and modify thoughts and behaviours that are having negative consequences on their own lives.

“Unhappy or doubtful thoughts will be linked to negative or unpleasant emotions. If we can change the way we are thinking, we can change the way we are feeling.

“During a performance, we need our whole mental capacity available for the process of performing: keeping our minds focused on the process of performing, rather than thinking about the outcome, is likely to result in higher performance standards and enjoyment. This principle applies to any kind of task, performance or social encounter.” Cognitive-behavioural therapy is offered by registered psychologists. Many of its principles are outlined in books by authors such as Judith Beck and Aaron Beck.


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