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Communication Apprehension: Origins and Management

Betty Horwitz
Singular/Thompson Learning, 2002, ISBN 1565939247


Review by Mel Churcher

Fear of speaking in public is the single-most common anxiety suffered by the general public - according to numerous studies cited by Horowitz - coming even above the fear of dying.

Her book tackles this subject of "communication apprehension" from a number of angles, including the physiological, the psychological, the developmental and the environmental perspectives.

Primarily directed at speech and language therapists the book is, of course, of enormous interest to anyone involved in any aspect of communications and is a book long overdue. She argues for a more exact understanding of the causes of this specific anxiety within each individual, more awareness within speech pathology of possible links to communication disorders and more education on the subject within performing institutions.

Horowitz deals mainly with individuals who have to speak as part of their work or to give presentations. She urges that these speakers receive more knowledge of the speech-making process, know "the relationship between thoughts, language and speech", and not feel that they must "focus on words rather than on ideas".

She explains that by not "fixing" the words, speakers can retain spontaneity in their presentations. This is an admirable approach but this practical advice comes late in the book, is treated fairly superficially and is not taken further to see how speakers, like actors, can achieve this spontaneity within a fixed text. As actors are mentioned regularly during the course of the work, it would have been interesting to see this theme developed more.

The author runs a course on speaking without fear at New York University and the book is full of case studies and references to this course - the participants of whom are described as "generally educated and upwardly mobile" and come from various professional backgrounds. The course structure is laid out in detail but the practical section, which advises biofeedback, simple visualisation and hypnotherapy techniques, breathing and relaxation is fairly limited. The work will not come as any surprise to anyone who uses Accent Method breathing or who has done relaxation work.

Some of the advice on lifestyle and nutrition has a slightly moral edge. Horwitz writes, "There is no place for all-nighters, excessive caffeine intake, smoking, and unhealthy lifestyles, if someone is serious about overcoming communication apprehension." As this seems to describe fairly accurately the lifestyle of many performers and busy executives, it does not seem to offer much hope for the less dedicated client.

The book is written in a fairly technical and pedagogical style, which has, at times, the air of a slightly undigested thesis with a few spelling mistakes and haphazard quotes. Having said that, however, the chapters by contributors Richard Gervitz and Donald Moss and the author's own excellent analysis of how "flight or fight" syndrome affects body and brain and the connections between the two are fascinating and well worth the price of the book.

Betty Horwitz ends her reflections at the back of the book by stating "respiration is fundamental to teaching and achieving relaxation." Another ingredient to add to the current debate as to the importance of breathing techniques in voice teaching and therapy.



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