An Interview with Dr Patsy Tremayne

Dr Patsy Tremayne is a registered psychologist who works in the field of sport psychology and performance psychology. As the psychology coordinator at the NSW Institute of Sport, Patsy has worked with Olympic medallists and aspiring elite athletes in a variety of sports.

patsy tremayne

Patsy has also applied her skills to other performance domains, such as surgeons working under time pressure, improving the focus of airline pilots and students managing college stress.

Patsy also passes her knowledge on to aspiring psychologists as an associate professor of psychology at the University of Western Sydney. Here is Patsy's acadamic staff page.

We picked Patsy to interview because of her skills in applying stress management techniques to such a wide variety of areas. Please welcome Patsy and enjoy this exclusive interview with her.

1. Hi Dr Tremayne, thank you for joining us today. Please take a moment to tell us about your work as a sport and performance psychologist, and anything else you'd like to let our readers know about yourself.

Perhaps I could talk a little about my private practice, rather than my university lecturing, or my work at the NSW Institute of Sport.

I have a varied practice, consisting of elite and professional athletes, as well as non-elite athletes ranging in age from about six years of age up to the baby boomers.

In addition, I work quite a bit with medical doctors as well as other professionals, such as lawyers, airline pilots, corporate executives.

At times I also see people from the performing arts, such as actors, musicians, dancers and singers. University and high school students are another group of people I see who want to alleviate stress.

I find it really interesting to work with such a variety of people who want to perform to their potential.

2. You are a very well respected sport psychologist in Australia, regularly working with Olympic athletes in private practice and as the psychologist coordinator at the NSW Institute of Sport. Could you let our readers know a little about how stress impacts these athletes and what you do to reduce some of their stress?

Well, we all have a certain amount of stress, and that's normal - it's not all harmful.

As a source of motivation, stress can sometimes spur us on to creative work and it can enrich our pleasurable activities - after all, even exercise triggers a stress response.

It is only when athletes find they are thinking about what has happened or what might happen (whether that be in their sport or in other aspects of their lives) that the emotional stress has the potential to impact on their sporting performances.

I like to let an athlete talk at length about issues that are bothering him or her, just asking questions here and there.

It is not until I have a fairly good understanding about these issues that I start thinking about strategies that might be meaningful and effective for different situations.

Often, just the fact that the athlete has been given time to talk about issues that are causing personal stress, allows him or her, in partnership with me, to develop possible solutions.

Strategies which are often used include breathing techniques to regulate arousal and anxiety, various self-talk techniques to re-structure negative thinking, and a variety of imagery techniques to induce relaxation. Progressive muscle relaxation is also a very useful strategy to reduce stress.

3. I understand that you not only work with elite athletes but as a performance psychologist in many other disciplines - such as with doctors, surgeons, airline pilots and barristers. These are very stressful professions aren't they? How are the techniques that you use to reduce their stress and facilitate performance similar (or not) to those you use with elite athletes?

Yes, there are a number of occupations which seem to have more stress than others. The main thing is to identify where the stress is coming from.

Sometimes I have clients who present with what they think is the stressful situation, and it turns out to be some other stressor which is impacting upon their performance.

For instance, a doctor comes to me because he keeps failing his oral exams, and he thinks it is because he's not doing enough study. When I dig a bit deeper, I find that he is trying to second guess what the examiner wants, and responds to questions with answers which might be based on the perceptions that the examiner is showing approval or disapproval, rather than trusting his own knowledge and experience.

I tend to have a wide range of techniques and strategies on which I can draw, and nearly all of them have been used with athletes at some time or other.

After all, elite athletes have other facets to their lives, and sometimes if these other areas are overly stressful (for instance, work, study, relationships) then this is going to impact on their sporting performances.

4. Are there any stress management techniques that you find more beneficial than others? If so, why?

I find that stress management techniques which relax the body will then have a beneficial effect on the mind.

I do like breathing techniques, as these tend to alleviate stress very quickly.

However, there are also strategies, such as certain imagery technique, that relax the mind, which in turn can have a beneficial and relaxing effect on the body.

5. You're a leader in your field and also teaching university students to become trained psychologists like yourself. Being a university lecturer, do you find that students could benefit from stress management techniques?

Of course they could.

Students often have symptoms of extreme stress before their end of semester exams.

Sometimes this is because they have left their study until the last minute, but often it is because they are overwhelmed with the number of assignments they have to complete for various units.

These students would definitely benefit from learning some stress management techniques which they utilize on a regular basis.

6. Dr Tremayne, thanks again for this interview. Before we go, do you have any advice for the stressed out athlete, student or business professional?

Think about your values - what is important to you?

Make daily lists of things you have to do each day, and prioritize them according to need.

Take a little time out for yourself each day.

If you would like to contact Dr Patsy Tremayne with a question and possible consultation, please fill out the form below.

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