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How EFT helped a pianist overcome extreme performance anxiety:

(this is an excerpt from a letter I wrote after a student recital)

…The most amazing moments were with a 14 year old.  I have taught her and her older sister for a number of years now.  6 or 7 maybe?
At any rate, when she first came to me…..  she had to have her mother sit in the room as she had a lesson.   This is much more than just that.  You see, at the mere mention of her mother leaving the room, much less actually leaving the room, she was in a state of terror, fear, panic, anxiety.  So much so that I pulled her mother aside and asked her if she had had an abusive piano teacher in the past……
I was assured "No", that this was how she was and it had nothing to do with me or the piano…..

This went on for several years.   Gradually, we worked up to her mother being able to sit outside of the room, with the door open so she could see her mother.  Then, eventually, her mother was able to sit outside and we were able to close the door.  She wasn't completely at ease, yet, and if I but mentioned the vague possibility of playing a piece for her mother….. not even a recital….. she was panic-stricken again.  Recitals were out of the question.  I always mentioned it, but very gingerly, just to give her the opportunity without any pressure or expectation.

Along the way I taught her and her mother a simple-to-use "tapping" technique which helps the body to calm down.  We didn't do much.  Just a tiny bit.  But it seemed to make a big difference as when she returned to lessons after the next summer, it was as if she was a different person.  She had no problem with her mother being out of the room.  Even down the hall. Out of sight altogether.

But, mention the "recital" word and the fear, panic and anxiety were back in full force.  It was clear that a part of her wanted to, maybe someday, play in a recital…… but not now.  not yet.  In fact, at one point, she decided she wanted to be a music major.  and she knew that she would need to perform if that were to be.

In the meantime, this year, we were talking more and more about the possibility of a recital.  She clearly wanted to do it, but equally was still enormously scared and anxious.   The turning point came when her grandfather died a few months ago.  He had always wanted her to perform in recital and she felt badly that she hadn't when he was still alive.  So she seemed more motivated.  but not ready. not yet. still very anxious.
Again, I mentioned this "tapping" technique and we did a little.  but not much.  mostly we just worked on music and I kept talking to her and guiding her in the direction of performing because I could tell that she really wanted to.

I'm not sure how it actually happened, but at some point in the not-too-distant-past I was able to finally persuade her to make a decision. and recognize that a part of her really wanted to do this.  and to stop struggling over this decision and just do it.  She was still very uneasy, anxious but I let her know that feeling like that was okay, normal and part and parcel of the process for most of us.

The day came and she, still a little hesitatingly, decided: Ok.  I'll do it.  Still considering backing out.  But also realizing that even as nervous and scared as she was, she knew she really wanted to cross this hurdle. she really wanted to perform.

Ok.  so, what piece do we prepare?  an easy one, so that she can technically handle it easily?  this will be her very first performance.  i want her to be and feel successful.  but she really wants to play a much harder piece that she loves, and her grandfather loved.  will she play it better and work on it harder because she loves it?  will it be her undoing?  we worked on both.  in the end,  I encouraged her to go for the one she loved.  and she did.

We decided that she was going to play using the music, and I would sit beside her, turning the page.  That felt comforting to her.

but it was hard. and frustrating.  and she was scared.  what if she can't handle it?  what if she messes up? she said that when she thought about performing she felt like throwing up.   we have a long way to go.  she is crashing through the big chords (Rachmaninoff 18th Paganini variation) and it doesn't quite sound like…. beautiful music yet.  it sounds like a lot of crashing, hysterical fear.  we need beauty…. and repose……   uh oh. maybe we should have gone with the other, uninspiring but nice easy piece?

So, during one of her dress rehearsals in the recital hall, when she was clearly anxious, I suggested we do some more of this "tapping" technique.  we did a little bit and that seemed to help some.

Then a couple of weeks later, at her last lesson before the recital, she had more anxiety.  "what if i mess up?  No….. I KNOW I AM GOING TO MESS UP."  We talked about this a good bit……. I am an expert in this field. (actually we all are to some extent or another).  I call mine"The Committee", those lovely voices in our heads that tell us how awful we are, and who do we think we are performing? and of course, we are going to bomb……  and I suggested, once again, that we "tap" on it…….  This time, she was more participatory in the actual process and we tapped for a good while, all the while I was addressing her fears, and reframing them with some good humor…….. like " and if I make a mistake, the school is going to have to close and I (the teacher) am going to get fired, and her parents are going to lock her out of house….etc etc etc……. She started smiling.

I also gave her some  tips on how she could do this process for herself.

And so went the last pre-recital lesson.

~~~

I saw her walk into the hall tonight.  She had A LOT of support there…. parents, grandparents, friends, etc……

but she seemed okay.  I purposely didn't say much to her.  I had told her previously that if she was having a problem to just come see me and I'd help her….

but she didn't.

so…. the time came for her to perform.  She went to the piano.  I followed her.  I sat beside her, ready to turn the page, and mostly being there as a support.

…I never saw such a relaxed person in my life.  I saw no fear. No trepidation.  No anxiety.  No terror.  She even played the piece slower and more relaxed…… which served the music very well…..  (now, I have no idea how she was actually feeling, but if she was anxious, she sure fooled me)

It was her best playing of this piece.  Not perfect.  It is still a musical stretch for her.  But she clearly played it with heart and soul.  And CALM.  (The power of EFT: Emotional Freedom Techniques, otherwise known as "tapping", is realized.)

I could hardly contain myself.  I wanted to burst into tears.

She really did it.

When I sat down I glanced at her parents who couldn't believe it.  They were practically in tears also.

~~~

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