Performance psychology is a branch in the field of applied psychology that focuses on the various human performances, including sports, artistic practices, work performance, as well as everyday functioning (APA, 2014). Like any other area in psychology, perspectives of performance psychology differ between the client or the performer, and the psychologist. However, what is quite unique to this branch is the fact that it has a diverse range of clients, and therefore, of skills on the behalf of the psychologist, which change depending on the client.
There are various issues which clients may be experiencing and which motivate them to seek a performance psychologist. Common triggers are anxiety and stress. The difference between them is that anxiety tends to lead to impaired performance, whilst stress can be divided into eustress, which is positive stress that acts as a motivator, and distress, which is a negative form of stress and usually leads to burnout (Hanna, 2017). There is also a difference between having a psychological disorder which requires special attention so as not to negatively affect performance, and what are considered to be normal pressures such as the usual anxiety and excitement before a performance.
Being a performer myself, it can be challenging to keep up with the demands of the school/institution one forms part of, the pressures of performing themselves, the responsibilities on one’s skill and body stamina, along with other personal issues, both physical and psychological. Moreover, people have different attitudes towards psychologists, and therefore, some might be reluctant to seek professional help. It could also be that individuals attribute their performing experiences as normal rather than needing special attention, and while some people view therapy as an opportunity for growth, others believe that they need to be diagnosed with a specific psychological disorder in order to need therapy, or else they remain in denial of their condition. A particular characteristic of performance psychology is that it is related to groups and organisations, and therefore, certain companies or institutions employ performance psychologists who adopt a ‘stand-by’ role and group managers or coaches suggest that team members seek these psychologists’ help if they are perceived as not performing to their best of their ability.
Aside from the performer’s perspective of psychologists and mental health in general, it is also important to shed light on the experience of being a performer. If a performer experiences anxiety and works on it, it does not mean that that person has rid themselves of that anxiety and would never experience it again. Rather, they become equipped with skills that help them manage that anxiety better the next time that it appears (Greco, 2015). This is assuming that the anxiety is proportionate to the performance; other individuals might be diagnosed with anxiety disorders. Therefore, in the case of pervasive issues, would need perhaps more comprehensive treatment which does not only tackle performance scenarios.
American Psychological Association (2014). Sport and performance psychology delivers peak performance. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/action/science/performance/
Greco, E. (2015). The psychology of performance. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/rethinking-mental-health/201511/the-psychology-performance
Hanna, J. L. (2017). Dancing to resist, reduce and escape stress. The oxford handbook of dance and wellbeing (pp. 97-112). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Luanne Grima is a psychology graduate who works as a childminder with Willingness. She also forms part of Betapsi.