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How can musicians access mental health and wellbeing support?

An interview with Dr Raluca Matei

We first met Dr Raluca Matei through the Royal Musical Association affiliated group – Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion in Music Studies (EDIMS), where she promoted her individual sessions for students and professionals in music and performance.

Dr Matei offers individual sessions on health, wellbeing, and performance to performing artists who’d are interested in working on any of the areas below:

• Lifestyle and behaviour change (e.g. physical activity, eating, sleep hygiene, hearing protection, stress management, etc.)

• Stage fright/performance anxiety

• Practice strategies/work routines, time management

• The exploration of one’s values and priorities in one’s artistic career and/or personal life

Dr Raluca Matei’s experience and passion in the field align with the ethos of the Music and Mental Health Group. So we were thrilled to have the opportunity to interview her.

We hope that this interview can inspire our members to either pursue a career in this field, or seek support when they are struggling with mental health or wellbeing.

1. You are a conservatoire graduate in violin performance and have mastered performance skills. What inspired you to focus on music and performance?

I wouldn’t say I was inspired from the very beginning to do this. At 7, my father took me to music lessons when he noticed I sang in tune and had a pretty good sense of rhythm. It took years for me to start enjoying playing the violin. Having good teachers is essential. If initially I did this out of a self-imposed discipline, later, as I came across a really good teacher, I started to feel the violin as part of my body. I particularly enjoyed chamber music. However, I have always been interested in several things in addition to the violin, such as creative writing and psychology.

2. With your experience, how did you push through the performance anxiety you might have faced?

I wish I had had the necessary guidance while training as a musician to deal with performance anxiety! While the intuition of my various teachers might have been good more often than not in terms of advice, there was no reliable training that they received and no rigorous approach to it! I personally focused on performing publicly as often as possible.

I also started to act in sketch comedy performances organised by some of my friends, in an attempt to have the complete experience of making a fool of myself! The environment and social support always had a strong impact as well. Whenever these weren’t adequate, my performance anxiety increased.

3. Do you have any advice for musicians struggling with performance anxiety?

This very much depends on the context, and there’s no single recipe for success. Factors like exposure, adequate practice and memorisation techniques, good social support, and a well-balanced and healthy lifestyle are important. But so is helping musicians develop their critical thinking and empowering them to question certain norms in classical music. This is relevant particularly when such norms put unnecessary pressure on musicians and restrict their individual creativity and artistic autonomy in unethical ways – in this context, performance anxiety becomes a normal, inevitable response!

4. You work with music students and professionals beyond performance anxiety. Can you elaborate on other areas you offer individual sessions?

Yes, artists come to me with various aspect they want to focus on – I find this fascinating! These include time management and planning, coping with stress, performance anxiety, practice strategies, lifestyle-related issues, and even relationships. Some need the space or seek the permission to explore interests, musical or not, that seem secondary to those that others may expect them to pursue.

Others seek to initiate and develop cross-arts collaborations, and ways in which they can manifest their creativity. Some have philosophical questions about music-making and need some guidance as they seek to better define their artistic identity, priorities, and even values. Others are concerned about job opportunities and need to reflect on their options and make a plan.

5. Are there any go-to resources you recommend to students and professionals in music to access mental health support?

Specialist charities such as Help Musicians UK and the British Association for Performing Arts Medicine (BAPAM) have useful resources that musicians can access via their websites. They can also offer musicians access to healthcare professionals. Beyond these, your GP and the NHS are reliable sources of a variety of support.

6. Are your individual sessions online, in-person, phone calls?

My sessions are online or on the phone, depending on the individuals’ preferences.

7. How frequent can the individual sessions be scheduled?

This very much depends on various needs and preferences – I don’t impose a certain frequency. Most of the individuals I work with interact with me once a week or once every two weeks. However, some prefer a lighter approach and only need to talk to me once a month. It also really varies depending on one’s objectives.

8. What happens on the first meeting with you?

I do what I call a basic assessment. I ask many questions and I listen carefully. I continue to do these things after the first session, of course I try to identify what the individual’s concerns might be and/or what they wish to focus on. Sometimes this is not clear, which is OK. However, after this first session, I need to have an idea as to whether I can help, or the individual might need to be referred to a different professional who may be better suited.

9. How do we contact you if we are interested in support?

I can be contacted via email: ralucamateiphd@gmail.com.

If you are keen to join the EDIMS mailing list, you can sign up here.

Dr Matei is a Psychologist, Consultant, and Researcher with a PhD focused on musicians’ health and wellbeing. She also has a Master’s in Health Psychology, as well as undergraduate degrees in both music (violin) and psychology. She studied at the prestigious Menuhin Academy in Switzerland, with Maxim Vengerov and Liviu Prunaru. Raluca is regularly asked to deliver talks, interactive workshops, and training sessions on musicians’ health and wellbeing.

Contact Details of Dr Matei:

Email: ralucamateiphd@gmail.com

Dr Matei’s LinkedIn

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Pexels.com

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