Therapeutic response to performance anxiety: Extending clinical research into the experience of artistic performance with a sample of professional musicians



Musical Performance Anxiety (MPA) is a significant issue for many professional performers. Whilst there has been considerable research into MPA, Steptoe (2001) argues that this has largely focused on identifying the number of professional musicians reporting MPA. Furthermore, those studies that have attempted to tackle possible underlying causes have generally consisted of quantitative investigations of generalised performance anxiety, with limited information on the personal, idiosyncratic experiences of musicians experiencing MPA which could influence treatment options and protocols.

Dr Robin Hart's research on MPA responds to the limitations of previous research and attempts to expand and enrich understanding of performers’ perceptions and experience of performance anxiety, via in-depth semi-structured interviews using a qualitative research methodology.  Specifically, six professional musicians who had suffered/were suffering from MPA were interviewed with respect to their experiences. Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis was then used to reveal recurrent themes present in the accounts. 

Seven major themes emerged:

  1. developmental features;
  2. need for support;
  3. fear of failure and negative evaluation;
  4. perfectionism;
  5. performance evaluation;
  6. performance anxiety responses; and
  7. anxiety management.

These themes are discussed with reference to possible causal factors underlying MPA and used to propose treatment options particularly an integrated clinical response in treating the phenomenon.  The research is aimed at professional musicians, allied professionals (agents, employers etc) and psychotherapists as a general educational resource and as an aid to clinical response.

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About the author

Dr Robin Hart graduated from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama gaining an AGSM in 1986. Following a successful career as a musician and in the theatre with the Royal Shakespeare Company, in many West End productions, on television, film and in concerts, Robin returned to London University and took an MSc in Cognitive and Behavioural Therapy and an MA in Psychoanalytic Studies before continuing with a post graduate doctoral research programme (DPsych). He subsequently worked within HM Prison Service and now works within a large private health care practice in central London.