Unlike professions where being in front of an audience might feel like an occasional nuisance to some (think of an employee who might enjoy every aspect of his/her work "except for having to speak publicly") performers are faced with a task that is integrally tied into their artistic and professional identity. Performing artists are performers; no way around it!
To the best of my knowledge, there is a limited number of evidence-based counseling interventions for performing artists (if you have resources to any please feel free to comment below). Sport psychology, a neighboring field, has approaches of helping athletes perform well. But things become slightly different when a performing artist is expressing an inner state, or trying to convey a message to audiences, and not just trying to improve a skill such as speed, accuracy etc. Here's a list of counseling approaches one can take when trying to reduce symptoms of performance anxiety, and to maximize satisfaction deriving from self-expression.
1. Body mindfulness: Using the principles of mindfulness we help performers use conscious attention and awareness as a way of centering and grounding oneself. When disconnected from the process of performing due to anxiety, negative thinking or lack of confidence, performers are encouraged to try sharpening their skill of body-part mindfulness. By doing so, the body relaxes and we feel connected to what physically contains our thoughts in the present moment.
2. "Who am I doing this for" exploration: Clients may often lose sight of why their are performing and who they are doing this for. The motivation behind performing may start with a heartfelt "this is what I love doing" and turn into a pressure to satisfy audiences, to prove something to someone, to make a living, to please, to provoke etc. In therapy, we may explore what connects the performer to what they are doing and what they are attempting to express; we find the fundamental essence of the driving force motivating someone to want to perform.
3. Emotion-magnification: Inspired by the Gestalt approach performers are encouraged to try magnifying the emotions they typically try to hide while performing (this should be done off-stage). For example, actors trying to hide a shaky voice, singers trying to hide shortness of breath, dancers trying to hide low energy etc, are encouraged to exaggerate these behaviors/feelings during practice, and to alternate between the two extremes. This is a way of getting used to "dialing them" up and down and acquiring some sense of control over these involuntary behaviors and emotions.
4. Goal-setting: Another counseling intervention used with performers is to predetermine a goal for every time the person is about to perform. This may look something like: "today my goal is to hold this note until the end" or "next time my goal will be to make more eye contact with the audience" etc. This helps performers break down the parts they want to work on or achieve rather than holding onto a vague and abstract pressure to perform well.
5. Embracing the feeling: The process of performing involves artistic expression and the display of an inner, emotional or cognitive process. A performer may often feel like their emotional state ought to be suppressed because the audience expects to see a performer who is calm, confident, angry, or expressive etc. Working on counseling for performers often involves identifying the genuine, authentic emotions one is having at the moment, embracing and releasing them during the performance. Thus, instead of fighting sadness I allow it to become part of what I'm doing. It may not be what the audience expects or is used to, but it's genuine and creates less anxiety for the performer.
These are just a few interventions or clinical approaches that can be used when working with performers. Feel free to comment below or to add your thoughts.