I provide training in ACT coaching for music teachers who are looking to help their students with MPA but are unsure if they’re qualified to do so. I also provide training in using ACT to enhance music performance and to achieve other important outcomes for musicians. Through my trainings, I aim to answer several important questions that non-clinical professionals like music teachers may have in wanting to use ACT with their students.
1) What is Acceptance and Commitment Coaching?
Acceptance and Commitment Coaching (ACC) is a non-clinical version of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Both ACC and ACT aim to promote mindfulness and acceptance of one’s unwanted symptoms of emotional distress, while also empowering one to engage in behavior of personal value more frequently. This combined skillset of both mindfully accepting one’s symptoms, while also adding in and engaging with valued actions more frequently enables one to behave in a more resilient and psychologically flexible way, which is the overarching goal for ACC & ACT.
2) Can Singing Teachers and Instrumentalist Teachers Use ACC?
When applied to common, performance-related problems such as MPA, ACC & ACT show promise as strategies that can be applied either by a clinical psychologist or a non-clinical practitioner, such as a singing teacher or performance coach. At the Voice Study Centre, I’ve consistently worked with singing teachers and performance coaches to help them use ACC to treat MPA directly with college students and professional musicians.
3) What is the Research Support for Using ACC to Treat MPA by Music Teachers?
In addressing a training gap often faced by music teachers at large that relates to how best to manage students’ MPA, the results of numerous MA students’ theses I’ve supervised at the Voice Study Centre make a convincing case for singing teachers to manage MPA directly, rather than continue to refer these students to psychotherapists. For example: Mahony, Juncos, & Winter, 2022; Shaw, Juncos, & Winter, 2020. I’ve also recently been involved in similar research outside the Voice Study Centre, for example: Zenobi & Juncos, 2023. In each of these studies, singing teachers were able to replicate the results of my earlier studies in which I provided ACT psychotherapy to student and professional musicians with MPA (Juncos et al., 2014; Juncos & Markman, 2015; Juncos et al., 2017).
Music teachers will often be the first point of contact, and working with them can be less stigmatizing & may save students more time than working with a psychotherapist. MPA will impact the student’s performance, and strategies to work with this visible, impactful condition are crucial. Increasingly teachers are educated in terms of neuro-diversity, safeguarding, and anxiety, and MPA training for those working within the arts is vital for a healthy and thriving performance community. Shaw et al. (2020) also point out that when the teacher-student dyad is marked by empathy, congruence, and unconditional positive regard, the outcome for using ACC to help a student manage MPA is likely to be beneficial, as those relational qualities are stronger predictors of good psychotherapy outcomes than the actual type of therapy administered when observed in the psychotherapist-client dyad (Karver et al., 2006; Ardito & Rabellino, 2011). Coaching enables a teacher to work alongside a student to facilitate goals and manage performance pressure. ACC training aims to equip teachers with strategies to help students develop their psychological flexibility. ACC can also help teachers to coach students with other issues such as burnout, perfectionism and self-critical thinking, procrastination to practice, and it can help them with performance enhancement.
4) Can This Training Model be Replicated?
In Shaw et al. (2020), Mahony et al. (2022), Zenobi & Juncos (2023), and in other MA students’ projects the ACC training I provided to each singing teacher was brief (< 10 hours) and was administered entirely online. Their training included attending a short course in using ACC to treat MPA, individualized supervision to help them as they began applying ACC to specific students, extensive ACC readings, and most had received post-graduate training in coaching and mentoring.
5) What Are the Ethical Issues that May Arise When Doing this Work?
It’s important that a music teacher or performance coach stay in their lane and not provide psychotherapy to their students or clients with MPA. To start, you’ll need to be sufficiently trained before you begin this work with a student, in order to ensure you’re keeping their best interest in mind. The results of multiple studies I’ve supervised suggest that a brief training (< 10 hours) that may be sufficient for you to begin doing this work.
However, this amount of training may not be enough for every practitioner, given their training needs. Thus, it’s essential your training include ongoing supervision from an ACT expert who can evaluate your readiness to do this work prior to implementing it with a student. Readiness here means you have done sufficient readings about ACT and demonstrate a competent knowledge of the core ACT Hexaflex processes, you have demonstrated knowledge about how to coach a student to improve these skills, you have a willingness to apply ACT skills to yourself to help resolve any personal hurdles experienced during your training, you have a competent understanding of MPA and an ability to detect problematic cases of MPA, and an awareness that your ACC coaching skills are not to be used to treat problems of a more personal nature that are unrelated to a student’s performance or practice. If a student(s) requests your assistance in managing those types of problems, a referral to a psychotherapist is warranted. Since there is no ACT or ACC certificate — the founders of ACT believe that creating such a certification process is contrary to the mission of the organization that promotes & disseminates ACT-related information (Association of Contextual Behavioral Science, www.contextualscience.org) because it falsely dichotomizes those practitioners with it from those without it — any practitioner who is interested training in ACT may do so. As long as you work in a professional setting in which coaching or didactic interventions would be appropriate for you to use in order to help your students or clients overcome their obstacles to growth, you may use ACT.
Ardito, R. B., and Rabellino, D. (2011). Therapeutic alliance and outcome of psychotherapy: Historical excursus, measurements, and prospects for research. Frontiers in Psychology, 2:270.
Juncos, D. G., Cardaciotto, L., Spokas, M., Falcone, D. J., Morgan, M. C., & Gent, L. (2014). Acceptance and commitment therapy for the treatment of musical performance anxiety: A single subject design. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, La Salle University, Philadelphia, PA, USA.
Juncos, D. G., Heinrichs, G. A., Towle, P., Duffy, K., Grand, S. M., Morgan, M. C., & . . . Kalkus, E. (2017). Acceptance and commitment therapy for the treatment of music performance anxiety: A pilot study with student vocalists. Frontiers in Psychology, 8:986.
Juncos, D. G., & Markman, E. J. (2015). Acceptance and commitment therapy for the treatment of music performance anxiety: A single subject design with a university student. Psychology of Music. Advanced online publication.
Karver, M. S., Handelsman, J. B., Fields, S., & Bickman, L. (2006). Meta-analysis of therapeutic relationship variables in youth and family therapy: The evidence for different relationship variables in the child and adolescent treatment outcome literature. Clinical Psychology Review, 26(1), 50–65.
Mahony, S. E., Juncos, D. G., & Winter, D. (2022). Acceptance and commitment coaching for music performance anxiety: Piloting a six-week group course with undergraduate dance & musical theatre students. Frontiers in Psychology, 13:830230.
Shaw, T. A., Juncos, D. G., & Winter, D. (2020). Piloting a new model for treating music performance anxiety: Training a singing teacher to use acceptance and commitment coaching with a student. Frontiers in Psychology, 11:882.
Zenobi, D., & Juncos, D. G. (2023). Acceptance and Commitment Training (ACT) as a tool for voice teachers: Helping student singers manage music performance anxiety (MPA). Manuscript in preparation.