Student Counselling in a Music College
Report - December 1990 - Arts Psychology Consultants Ltd. © Andy Evans 1990
Author: Andy Evans, Student Counsellor RAM, London, Dec. 1990
1. Data of students seen during the Autumn Term (to 28 Nov)
2. Outline of the work-skills of a counselling psychologist.
3. Outline of the scope of arts counselling for musicians.
This report has been researched and written by Andrew Evans, co-director of Arts Psychology Consultants Ltd., for the Royal Academy Of Music. It has been compiled during the Autumn Term, 1990, a period when an experimental counselling team replaced the previous student counsellor.
It sets out to describe in detail the theory and practice of counselling musicians in a music college setting. The report is based on actual counselling of RAM students, and on the larger perspective of having counselled over 200 musicians as part of the activities of Arts Psychology.
The report contains data on the students seen during the Autumn Term, and deductions made from this data. It also contains fundamental information on what specialised counselling for musicians is and how it works in practice, with a whole appendix devoted to the theory underpinning the work of Arts Psychology in this area of counselling. This theory includes original approaches developed during three years of counselling musicians in a variety of settings, and it is based on methods which have been shown to have positive results.
To help understand the nature and personality of the "average musician", a full career profile is included, based on the most reliable current data available. Referring to specific personality factors in this profile (sensitivity, feeling focus, creativity, imagination etc), will help give insight into the reasons why a specialised approach to counselling musicians - based on the personality and typical problem set of the musician - has been found to be effective.
The report gives recommendations on what range of expertise can be added to a team approach by an arts psychologist, and what value this will have in the total contribution to student health care.
At a time when competition is becoming acute, not only within the music profession but also for student places at the most prestigious music colleges, the pressure to achieve is one factor that is likely to put added strain on the temperament of the musician.
This, with the increasing acceptance of specialised counselling for musicians, and texts such as "The Inner Game of Music" becoming widely read within the circle of professional musicians, represents a cogent argument for underpinning "the pursuit of excellence" with the safety net of a dedicated counselling service to maintain the mental and performing abilities of the musician in the best state acheivable through modern research and methods.
2. Report on counselling in the Autumn Term 1990
During the Autumn Term 1990, to 28 November, 16 students were seen for counselling. Our conclusions on the term's work, based on the data in Appendix 1, are the following:
A recurring profile is of a certain type of student, i.e. A foreign student, older than the typical RAM student, doing an Advanced course and who has just arrived at the RAM. Older and foreign students are typical "counselling" categories in the student population, and this is borne out in the RAM.
The typical counselling will be around performance problems, bringing in: motivation, adjustment to RAM course and course tutor, stage fright (bad nervous problems when performing or auditioning), and career counselling for a future professional career, with counselling in alternative skills if relevant. There may be a medical referral in specific cases, e.g. to the Voice Clinic.
Two other methods have been used in addition to the normal dialogue between counsellor and student: These are:
3.Recommendations on the need for specialist arts counselling for musicians.
Specialist arts counselling is not needed for cases of general problems: loneliness, loss of confidence, general depression, bereavement, jealousy, difficulties with family and relationships etc. However, even in these cases it can be argued that specialist counselling has positive advantages (bereavement counselling, sexual counselling, relationship counselling...).
When it comes to musicians, however, there are important factors around professional music-making, musical jargon, specialised problems like stage fright etc. which are outside the normal life experience of the non-musician counsellor. The question is therefore what happens when a musician wants to include in the counselling some quite specific musical issue. To illustrate this, here are some actual cases and specific responses:
Such responses may seem obvious to a musician trained in counselling, but how would a non-musician deal with some of the specifically musical issues involved? The experience of Arts Psychology after dealing with a number of clients who had received previous general therapy was that a general approach did not solve the musical problem. Reasons given were that either the client did not feel entirely free to bring up and talk through musical issues, or that the response tended to divert the area of interest elsewhere. While we know from our experience of seeing over 200 musicians that this has been true of a number of cases, we cannot comment on clients successfully dealt with who we have not seen.
In terms of counselling approach, the music student is considered as a "client", and treated as a professional musician already or potentially embarked on a musical career. If a problem involves music in any way, this is dealt with directly and in detail. There is not a belief that "once the person feels generally better,the musical problems will solve themselves" because our experience has shown that they don't simply solve themselves in this way.
Specialised counselling for musicians typically has to deal with recurring problems including the following:
These three are of such importance that a detailed approach to dealing with them is included in Appendix 3.
Further problems likely to occur in a number of clients are:
4. Recommendations for a team approach to student care for musicians.
When a team of health care practitioners is used, it is possible to make significant gains by enabling such practitioners to operate within their particular area of expertise. In any student population, a number of issues recur: accomodation difficulties, growing up, loneliness, encounters with the opposite sex, academic expectations, and so forth. For these problems, a general counsellor or therapist experienced with students is particularly effective. Equally, for the usual range of student medical problems a student medical service is required, whether on or off campus. A basic service for music students would thus include:
In this case, the practitioners would rely on referring out any specialised problems.
A more client-centered approach would include specialists. A team with a more specialised range of abilities would thus include:
A comprehensive team would include:
In all these cases there will be a need for referring certain musicians to specialists. These include singers with problems of the ear, nose and throat, and performers with muscular/skeletal problems, tendonitis, Repetition Strain Injury etc. The more specialised the regular college practitioners are the more likely they are to have already established a network of referrals to appropriate specialists, whom they may be familiar with through attending conferences on treating musicians, or through personal contact and recommendation.
A number of bodies are now active in dealing with musicians, and referrals should be aware of the work of ISSTIP, BAPAM, AMABO, The Musician's Clinic, The Voice Clinic, Middlesex Hospital etc. They should also be able to network into appropriate charities able to partly or totally fund such specialist referrals.
All this requires an intimate knowledge of the latest developments in health-care for musicians, and an awareness of the latest research. It also requires the ability to diagnose and assess problems in the light of what speciality should be used. This is particularly difficult in the field of psychosomatic problems, where both medical and psychological advice may be required. Such psychosomatic problems are regularly encountered in musicians who experience imagined or real pain from limb overuse.
5. Future Proposals for a complete range of student services
Besides a team of health practitioners, a management cunsultancy approach to a music college environment would suggest a further range of services. These would offer some or all of the following:
A career advice service for students
A music college is an important transitional stage in the life of a musician. It may be the last period where the full range of support services of a teaching body is available. After this musicians are, at worst, left to sink or swim in the profession. A number of musicians leaving music colleges have later, in counselling, related how they learned about the profession through trial and error, with the result that decisions were taken which were subsequently regretted. The scope of careers advice is outlined in Appendix 3.
A range of "open forum" talks to students
The attitude of students to a counselling service depends on how that service is perceived. Students who perceive a counsellor as a person who only deals with personal anxiety may deprive themselves of other equally important functions.
Sports Psychologists are now commonplace in athletics and sport, and are an accepted resource for healthy performers who want to enhance their range of skills and mental attitudes to performing. Such help is available to the healthy musician, who seeks to improve the quality of performance through such techniques as Alexander, Inner Game etc., or who seeks insight into the personality and world of the musician.
The range of subjects likely to interest the music student includes:
Training for staff in the psychology and problem-range of musicians
As professional musicians, members of the academic staff have an insight into the life of a musician - many have a very good insight indeed. What the psychologist can add to this insight is an understanding of the psychology which underlies it.
In addition, the counsellor who has gone through a training in listening and counselling skills can offer techniques of dealing with situations where a counselling approach is required. These may be quite different from teaching skills.
Arts Psychology Consultants Ltd. can offer the whole range of such services, and already have experience of doing so in other contexts.
APPENDIX 1 Data on students seen during Autumn Term 1990 to Nov 28
Sixteen students have been seen so far (to 28 Nov),with another 2 due to be seen. The breakdown of those seen is as follows:
· Age: Average age = 25
· Country of origin: GB = 8 Non GB = 8
· Type of course:
· Year at RAM:
Performance problems including stage fright................ 4
Medical performance problems needing referral........... 4
Careers analysis and motivational counselling............. 4
Academic problems with course etc........................….. 2
Personal counselling.....................................………….. 1
General problems.........................................………….. 1
APPENDIX 2 Outline of the workskills of a counselling psychologist
The terms "counsellor", "student counsellor", "therapist", "psychotherapist" and "psychologist" are sometimes confusing not only to the layman but to the various committees at present trying to define how these terms should be used.
"Counselling" as a generic term describes work with "clients" which respects their autonomy and sets up a face-to-face dialogue enabling counsellor and client to work together at improving a presenting situation, and at setting and achieving mutually agreed goals. Such counselling may be general or specialised, as in "student", "career", "stress" counselling etc. It is typically once a week for 50 minutes.
"Psychotherapy" covers longer-term work which is done in greater depth, going back to and working with childhood memories, dreams, and the "patient's" subjective perception of and reaction to the presence of the therapist/analyst (transference). It is typically twice or more per week.
"Psychology" covers a variety of research into developmental, educational, occupational, clinical, social and cognitive behaviour functions. The types that concern the RAM are:
Occupational Psychology, because it deals with careers, people in groups and people at work.
Counselling Psychology, because it takes the same format as "counselling", albeit with the added option of using psychological material, psychometric tests and specific psychological methods.
A counselling psychologist will therefore have had a full 3 year degree course in Psychology, leading to membership of the British Psychological Society (BPS). In addition, he or she will have a certificate or diploma in counselling skills (minimum of one extra year), and will typically have attended a number of specialist courses in addition.
A counselling psychologist will often have had a background in a range of psychological work: e.g. he or she may have worked in other contexts such as rehabilitation, careers and employment work, and may be very familiar with personality and ability tests. He or she will also be a member of one of the specialised Divisions or Sections of the BPS (Occupational or Counselling), and may be a member of a number of "user groups" for psychological tests.
APPENDIX 3 The Scope of Arts Counselling for Musicians
This appendix outlines specific Arts Psychology approaches to the most frequent problems encountered in musicians.
1. Motivation Problems
Motivation is the dynamo behind all healthy self-activated action and career planning. Poor motivation can result from:
In all these cases serious mental anxiety can result from a feeling of failure to live up to one's own or other's expectations, especially when these contradict each other. The student with an over-demanding parent may sabotage a career in music by overuse and misuse; the student whose parent wanted him or her to go into "a more conventional and secure profession" or a particular branch of the music profession, may suffer guilt at the loss of love and support that follows rebellion. Such rebellion may then carry on inappropriately, long past its healthy function of breaking free, so that it may become a poorly-understood obsession with doing the opposite of what is expected even when this is against the real interests involved.
It is significant that modern research on professional musicians in Britain showed the greatest self-reported stressor (51.3 % of all musicians) was "feeling that you must reach or maintain the standards of musicianship that you set for yourself", i.e. the self imposed stress of consistently maintaining results that only clear motivation is likely to achieve. ("Pressure Sensitive", Cooper/ Wills. Sage books 1988)
2. Careers Issues
A large amount of counselling with musicians revolves around what can be given the general term of career issues. This includes:
Priorities differ, but a healthy order of priorities in a musician are the same as those taught to counsellors. There are good reasons for these priorities, and they influence the musician's attitude to authority concepts, to self-individuation and even to problems such as stage-fright. The suggested heirarchy of loyalties is:
NOTE: The audience, teachers and agents are in a broad sense "those who listen and judge", and therefore they are less important than the quality of the music which is guaranteed by 1. and 2. On the other hand, they are financially not the same. The musician employs the agent and teacher (as a child, the parents act in lieu of the child, paying for state education through taxes). The audience actually employs the musician, paying for his or her services. This will be explained more later.
The reasons for this heirarchy is that an "unprofessional" musician may not be motivated to make consistantly good music over a long-term career. A musician with a poor sense of self may bow to the taste and wishes of others, lacking assertiveness and the ability to negotiate and running the risk of personal confusion and even self-injury or overwork. Neither will ultimately be of much use to the public, hence the priorities of profession and self. Knowing these priorities enables the musician to set boundaries such as not playing without professional preperation, not overusing or misusing the body, and not allowing oneself to be needlessly intimidated by audiences, audition panels, critics and agents.
The transition from childhood authority figures to self-determination.
At some stage in childhood the musician has probably been rewarded for "pleasing" parents and other authority figures by being clever and showing talent. The growing musician cherishes this first approval as a sign that "pleasing" authority figures results in reward. The urge to please authority figures, however, may stop the healthy journey to self-reliance. As a professional musician, the RAM student will no longer have teachers and the superstructure of the college. These will have to be replaced by another form of "reference". Hence the importance of the two priorities of profession and self: the "reference" will be divided between:
The function of music college is as a transitional stage, a "half-way house" between the safety of being nurtured and the unknown adulthood of being self-reliant. As an important transitional stage, the music college should take responsibility for facilitating the journey into self-reliance by actively encouraging and developing a viable career and business plan which can be put into operation instantly on leaving the support of the college. It is not clear whether music colleges recognise the importance of this process or have the skills and properly trained staff resources to respond to it.
A simple test is to check the responses to three key questions:
Typical answers to this would be:
The emotional vulnerability of the typical musician
The personality profile of the average musician (see Appendix 4) is that of a feeling, emotional person who is sensitive and a little naive and gullible. The heightened use of imagination brings with it a lowered perception of actual reality and the present moment, because the focus is on future possibilities. For these reasons, the average musician is prone to pleasing people and trying to be sympathetic, and finds difficulty in focussing coldly and factually on reality. This causes a particular set of problems in relating to others. Three aspects of this are:
The musician's emotional vulnerability to authority symbols has a direct bearing on fear of audiences and audition panels. It can be a great help to cognitively restructure what these represent in real terms, and contrast this with the "perceived" image:
The Audition Panel:
The Concept of Music for pleasure:
Musicians are particularly prone to playing music out of a sense of duty. Practise can appear to be a purposeless exercise carried out through duty and guilt. Such practise routines are often badly managed and accomplish little in proportion to the time spent. Pieces and studies are mixed up. Practising and playing are confused. As a professional, the mature musician needs to see practise as a necessity - not always pleasant but essential to produce a quality of music capable of giving pleasure. Performing, on the other hand, should be an act of pleasure and satisfaction. A composition is conceived as something of meaning and beauty. A study, however well written, is primarily conceived as a vehicle for learning and teaching.
Counselling a musician to play for fun and pleasure has, in a number of cases, produced dramatic improvements in motivation and satisfaction. Every musician should feel able to make a contribution of value, which gives pleasure to those who listen. Each musician should feel a positive reward for giving something within his or her ability - as amateur choirs typically do. A musician should not be humiliated for failing to please the critical expectations of others. With encouragement, musicians can steadily reach higher levels. With excessive criticism, they may leave the profession for good. This is a simple law of behavioral psychology - positive reinforcement is more effective in conditioning behaviour than negative reinforcement.
The essential survival kit of the professional musician.
This includes most or all of: A calling card, CV, personalised stationary, publicity flyer with photo, answering machine, diary service, agent, filofax of fellow musicians and contacts in the profession with a brief note of who they are and in what context they were met, simple course in book-keeping and accounts, accountant, Schedule D status, self-employed stamps, sickness plan, membership of the union and other relevent bodies, subscription to essential magazines. The alternative is a can't cope attitude, frequently leading to opting out and allowing the Department of Social Services to 'do one's accounts'.
Forward Career Planning
One of the best ways to plan for the future is to accurately know the present. For this reason, psychologists often rely on a professionally carried out Career Analysis to give vital information about personality, aims, natural traits and talents and potential areas of job success. It will also suggest alternative forms of income and types of work likely to be unfulfilling or unsuccessful.
Following this comes the "career plan". To be fully effective, this should be as detailed as a business plan - after all, as a self-employed person the musician is effectively a "sole trader" in business terms.
The musician will usually be happier and more motivated knowing that he or she has a clear and acheivable career plan. This should be formulated at leisure in music college rather than left to be done in a sudden urgency upon leaving, when money may need to come in a hurry and alternative jobs may be the only way of getting by in the short term. Questions to be addressed are:
3. Stage Fright
Stage Fright is the common terminology for fear of audiences and auditions. The background to stage fright, or predisposing causes, have already been explained under the sections dealing with fear of criticism by authority symbols and the transitional stage to full adult ego responsibility. Symptomatic of stage fright is:
Methods of dealing with stage fright start with basic cognitive restructuring to lessen the predisposing fear. i.e.
As the concert or audition approaches, the client will probably want to go through detailed aspects of the performance to rehearse a visualisation of what the room will be like, who will be in it, what is likely to happen, and how to cope with any problems that may arise.
It is often effective to rehearse a "worst case" scenario, both as a rehearsal of what to do should it actually occur, and more generally to remove the hidden "catastrophe" at the back of the mind and to turn it into a practical problem which can be dealt with.
Many musicians have a "secret catastrophe" which they are afraid of and which they rehearse in their worst fantasies. These include fear of throwing up in front of the orchestra or audition panel, being unable to lift one's bow from muscle fatigue, falling off one's chair or stool etc. (all actual cases). These typically never actually occur, and are memories of childhood disasters which are no longer appropriate but which need to be "extinguished" in counselling.
Before the performance itself a 15 minute relaxation technique is very useful. It is enhanced by creative visualisation. At its simplest, this means asking the musician to imagine a visual scene which is completely happy and tranquil. Often this will be a childhood memory, which is filled out in detail until it becomes a vivid source of tranquillity.
Some musicians like to walk about to release tension. This is a logical response to the bodily changes involved in the "fight or flight" mechanism, and tends to discharge some of the anxiety.
The fundamental principle behind all psychological methods of reducing anxiety, including both relaxation and visualisation, is that anxiety and relaxation are incompatible: one cannot feel both simultaneously - the one blocks out the other.
Our experience in combining counselling for predisposing factors with taught relaxation techniques is that musicians typically experience a significant drop in anxiety.
This is of vital importance for many musicians, since recurring stage-fright is one of the factors which leads musicians to doubt their ability to carry on in the profession. As such it may affect the musicians whole career.
‘The Secrets of Musical Confidence’, Andrew Evans, Pub. HarperCollins (Thorsons), London, 1994. NB! Available from Arts Psychology Consultants at £8 including post and packaging.
‘Secrets of Performing Confidence’, Andrew Evans, Pub. A&C Black, London, 2003 Available from Arts Psychology Consultants at special price of £10 including post and packaging.
- "Counselling in the Arts", Andrew Evans, CAWD Journal 6/90
- "Pressure Sensitive", Wills and Cooper, Sage
- "The Inner Game of Music", Barry Green, Sphere
- "The Dynamics Of Creation", Storr, Penguin
- "Stage Fright", Havas, Bosworth
- "Psychology for Musicians", Buck, Oxford
- "The Psychology of Musical Ability", Shuter, Methuen
- "The Musical Mind", Sloboda, Oxford
- "Games People Play", Berne, Penguin
- "The Business Plan Workbook", Barrow, Kogan Page
Data and text © 1990 Andrew Evans, Arts Psychology Consultants