As I approach Helen Wyer’s Suffolk home, I’m greeted by her welcoming smile and her rescue pup, Maddy. A sucker for dogs, I kneel down to stroke her while Helen tells me that she saved Maddy from being put to sleep after she was deemed ‘too energetic’ by the shelter where she was staying. It’s just one of the ways in which Helen comes off as a genuinely caring person, a trait which goes hand in hand with her career in hypnotherapy and life coaching.
We sit down in her kitchen with a cup of tea each, and Helen tells me what her career is really about. ‘Life coaching tends to be more corporate, and involves me helping out people who are new to their roles or who aren’t very confident, who have imposter syndrome, who are unsure about managing other people. My hypnotherapy work includes helping individuals overcome fears and phobias – there have been lots of patients with a fear of flying coming to me over the school holidays – as well as stress, anxiety and depression. Weight loss, giving up smoking, psoriasis and IBS are more issues which can be helped with hypnotherapy.’
A specific condition which Helen has seen a lot of in her career is anxiety. ‘It underpins a lot of other conditions,’ she explains. ‘It’s something I’m very passionate about, having come from a teaching background where a lot of staff are stressed and anxious, as well as working at a hospice where the same things occurs.’ Luckily, though, she’s noticed that more people are recognising anxiety as a treatable condition, and are more willing to seek help, ‘Celebrities such as Fearne Cotton have spoken about depression and anxiety, and Prince William and Harry are doing a lot with their charity, Heads Together. I think the more public figures speak out about this, the more it will help regular people address their own problems.’
Her transition from teaching to her current work stems from a chance conversation with a friend who had taken a course in coaching. Having realised the similarities between the two career paths, Helen then attended a two-day conference in London to get a better idea of the industry, and went on to complete her NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) certificate. ‘From there it was a real natural progression into hypnotherapy,’ she says.
The part of Helen’s work which she enjoys most is seeing her patients overcome their issues. One patient described her mental health problem as a bag of heavy rocks that she was carrying around on her back, and once she had sought help, she told Helen that she felt much lighter. ‘To know that I have been a part of that is what gets me really excited. I love making a difference. Having patients come to see me in one state and leave in a better one is the best part of my job.’
In terms of our country’s mental health services, she thinks we could be doing more. ‘If a person were to visit their doctor with depression and anxiety, they’re usually offered six sessions of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), which isn’t enough. On top of that, the waiting list is so long. I’ve had people come to me having been told they’ve got to wait eight months on the NHS. In that eight months, their issue could get worse. I think there are a lot of organisations, such as Suffolk Mind, who are trying to help; but people with mental health problems often don’t know where to go to get treatment.’
Helen hasn’t just worked with people in the UK, however. She has lived and worked in countries across the world, including Zambia, where she resided in a mud hut for two years! ‘After coming back from working in a daycare centre in America, I wasn’t ready to go into what I would call a “grown-up job”. My uncle had lived in Zambia and he told me that some people he knew had set up a school, and they needed someone to run the catering. He said that I had to work for two years and train up a Zambian to take on my role after I’d left.
It was deepest, darkest Africa – a little place called Mkushi. The school had started off with 50 children and around ten staff, and it was really basic; when we needed meat, we would have to ask for a cow to be slaughtered and butchered, and we baked our own bread and bought food from people who were carrying vegetables in sacks around the village. While I was there, I created nutrition plans for the villagers, encouraging them to breastfeed their babies and use natural foods instead of the packet food that they mixed with dirty water from ditches. I feel like I really made a difference.’
When I ask Helen where her favourite place in the world is, she says, ‘Africa got under my skin. It was the colours – I’ve heard people say similar things about India – the sunsets, and the people. They were so welcoming. I’ll always remember the singing; the ladies working in the fields would have their babies cradled in shawls around their backs, and one of them would burst into song, and then they all would join in. Even talking about it now, I feel the hairs on the back of my neck standing up!’
Aside from her stints abroad, Helen has lived in Suffolk all her life. ‘I was brought up in Sibton Green and my parents were farmers. Me and a lot of my school friends moved away, but most have come back again! There’s a draw to this county, a pull. It’s very sleepy, but it’s beautiful and very dear to me.’
‘I love the coastline here. If I were to recommend a day out, it would be in Southwold or Walberswick. They’re two of my favourite places. You’ve got everything there: a lovely walk along the beach, fish and chip shops, pubs. I love that area of Suffolk.’
When she’s not working, Helen can usually be found walking with Maddy, horseriding, or meeting up with her friends for a coffee. ‘We’re very lucky here. We can either go to the waterfront, or nip to Bury St Edmunds.
When I ask Helen about the rising trend for mindfulness, she says proudly that she’s an advocate for the movement. I push her for some advice, to which she says, ‘most of our worries come from looking back at what has happened, and looking forward and assuming something will happen. We ask ourselves ‘what if?’ and we time leap. Often what we assume is going to happen, doesn’t. And when we look back, we should look back and learn, but not dwell. Staying in the ‘here and now’ is important, and that can apply to anything: drinking a cup of tea and thinking, “this tastes really good, and it’s so warm and comforting,” or standing in the shower and inhaling the lovely scent of your shampoo. Even after that, if you’ve got a stressful day, you’ve turned it around slightly.’
And confidence? ‘If you’re sitting down with shrugged shoulders and a closed posture, it’s very difficult to say sincerely, “I feel wonderful”. But if you stand up with your shoulders back, it’s difficult to say, “I feel rubbish” without a smile on your face. Posture can make a big difference in a short amount of time.’