My Career Living life well

Mindfulness Teacher, Sleep & Insomnia Therapist, Health & Wellness Coach, Jean O Hanlon tells us about her career
My Career Living life well

Jean O Hanlon Mindfulness Teacher.

Name: Jean O Hanlon

Age: 36

Lives: Belgooly, Kinsale, Co. Cork

Job title: Mindfulness Teacher, Sleep & Insomnia Therapist, Health & Wellness Coach

Salary bracket: Variable from year to year.

Education background: After leaving school I spent six years at UCC, firstly studying for a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science, followed by the Higher Diploma Conversion Course in Psychology (degree equivalent). Since leaving university, I have completed several additional qualifications at certificate and diploma level, including counselling & psychotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBT-i), teacher training in mindfulness; positive psychology, and health & wellness coaching. I also regularly attend CPD courses to expand my knowledge base and keep abreast of the latest research. Luckily, learning is one of my greatest passions in life!

Hobbies: Reading, travelling, yoga, walking/hiking in nature, music and singing. I‘m a member of a Cantabile Vocal Ensemble and it lights up my soul!

Describe your job in five words: Mission-based, energising, heart-warming, rewarding, innovative.

Describe yourself in five words: Curious, passionate, empathic, creative, recovering- perfectionist!

Personality needed for this kind of work? I think empathy and compassion are hugely important for this type of work. Listening skills are also vital. Having the capacity to be fully present with your clients whilst genuinely wanting the best for them can bring a lot of healing alone, even before the teaching, coaching or therapeutic work comes into play. Those who enrol on my courses or come to see me privately might have been through a lot in their lives and it may be their first time reaching out for professional support. Every individual is on their own unique and sometimes challenging journey and it’s so important to be sensitive to that.

How long are you doing this job? I’ve been self-employed in this line of work since 2014.

How did you get this job? I came to my current position on a somewhat convoluted path! As a child, I never knew what I wanted to do “when I grew up” but I had lots of different interests; from music, to art, psychology, science, nutrition and astronomy! I started out with a degree in Environmental Science but having always had a fascination with the mind, I decided to apply for the Higher Diploma in Psychology (conversion degree) at UCC not long after I graduated. As it was a very competitive course (only six out of around 100 applicants are selected), I didn’t expect to get in, so I planned to work for a year and then travel to Australia with a friend.

The Higher Diploma was an intensive two-year program (three years rolled into two), but I absolutely loved every minute of it and put my heart and soul into the coursework. At the end of the two years, I was asked to stay on and complete a PhD in the area of my thesis, but I was quite worn out at this point and needed a breather. I decided to work, get some money together and take that trip to Australia! After two weeks of volunteering in a community rehabilitation centre supporting people with acquired brain injury, I was thrilled to interview for and gain the position of Rehabilitation Assistant. I found the whole area of neuropsychology and neuroplasticity fascinating, so it was a great start to my career.

The main aim of the organisation I worked for was to support and educate clients in the areas of social, emotional and cognitive rehabilitation. I worked both in a one to one and group facilitation setting and regularly attended CPD trainings and meetings with senior staff and the resident counselling and clinical psychologists. It was a fantastic learning and experience opportunity and I stayed here for nine months initially. After taking a year and a half out to travel, I returned to the same organisation – this time promoted to the role of Rehabilitation Officer. Rehabilitation work is very similar to occupational therapy and also has elements of coaching to it. It involves guiding and supporting clients to meet their own individual goals around optimising their level of daily functioning and wellbeing. Although it was demanding on many levels, it was also very rewarding and allowed a lot of room for creativity around program development and finding ways to engage and motivate the clients. It was here that I found my love for supporting and empowering others to make positive change.

At the age of 29, I went through a period of ill-health and burnout that would completely change the trajectory of my life. Alongside living with an underlying, untreated health issue, I experienced a number of life-stresses, all of which started to weigh me down significantly.

During this time, I contracted a very bad case of food poisoning and never really recovered my energy after that. I continued to work however, ignoring all of the messages my body was trying to send me until I eventually ran out of battery! In the months that followed, I was so ill with chronic fatigue that I had to spend full days in bed at times. It was terrifying to be so ill, but it forced me to take a long hard look at my life and ask myself how I had gotten to this point? I knew I needed radical change – in many areas.

All I could do in that initial period was spend my time resting and meditating. I also decided to completely overhaul my diet. As my energy started to increase, I went for long slow walks in the woods, and in my spare time, I spent hours upon hours reading everything I could find related to optimising one’s health and wellbeing. Slowly but surely, I began to reclaim my health, and as I did, I became hugely passionate about the practices and methods I had employed in the process. After an extended stay at Plum Village Mindfulness Practice Centre in France in the summer of 2014, I returned home, happier and healthier than ever. Now that I was well again, I wanted to help others who were ill, burnt out or suffering. I wanted to show that there was another, more easeful way of living, and that we have a lot more control over our health and wellbeing than we think. As the plane touched down back in Ireland, I was completely clear on my life purpose. I started to embark on a number of different post- graduate training courses that would qualify me to educate, support and guide others in their pursuit to manage stress & anxiety, improve sleep and ultimately, live a more joyful, healthy and fulfilling life (training outlined in Educational Background above).

Do you need particular qualifications or experience? Legally speaking, it’s not essential to have a specific qualification to teach mindfulness or practice coaching in Ireland at this point in time, but ethically speaking it would be very much frowned upon. I think in any line of work where you’re working with people, it is so important to have the right qualifications and training, especially when it comes to working with vulnerable people or mental health. I feel it is just as important however, (perhaps even more so) to have previous experience working in a clinical or healthcare setting under the supervision of more senior professionals. I was very lucky to land my first professional role fresh out of college. If I hadn’t had this previous three years of work experience behind me, I would have found it very daunting going it alone.

In working in the area of sleep therapy & insomnia support, you most definitely need specific qualifications. Sleep is a complex area and requires specialised expertise. I travelled to Cardiff to complete my foundational training in CBT for Insomnia (CBT-i) in 2014 as there were no training programs in Ireland at the time, and most recently travelled to Edinburgh to complete the advanced practice of same. I’ve also completed CPD training in sleep medicine in Dublin, am a member of the Irish Sleep Society, and attend the annual AGM to keep up to date with research and best practice.

Describe a day at work: I like to start my day with a mindful cup of warm lemon water or Sri Lankan tea, sitting in the bright morning light in my conservatory/office. This allows me to wake up slowly and gently while admiring the countryside views. I spend about 20-30 minutes checking my emails and social media to see if there are any urgent inquiries that I need to respond to, and after this I’ll take time to make a protein-rich breakfast.

After breakfast I’ll return to the laptop and do another couple of hours of work. This usually involves some more emailing and admin work, as I’m involved in a number of different projects and can have a lot of queries and planning/organising to do in order to move things forward.  I can get quite overstimulated from computer work so after lunch, I’ll do a guided meditation to still my mind and press the reset button. 

I see my clients in the afternoons and evenings and run evening courses too, so depending what’s on the day’s schedule, I’ll spend time preparing my material and going over my notes. If I don’t have clients, a course running, or a workshop scheduled, I’ll generally spend some time blogging or writing posts for social media. Some days I’ll take the afternoon off and bring my beautiful goldendoodle for a mindful walk or meet a friend for coffee (decaff of course!). The joys of being self-employed..

How many hours do you work a week? It’s hard to put a number on this. Maybe 35-40? Initially I used to only count my client-facing hours, but there is so much more work that goes on behind the scenes. Luckily, I enjoy all of it, and I can go at my own pace, so it doesn’t really feel like work! Unless I have an event running on a weekend, I will always take the full weekend off and I also regularly take time out for weekend or week-long meditation retreats and immersive spiritual practice.

Is your job stressful? How? Rate it on a scale of 1-10: Living a balanced life is central to my ethos in life, so I am very careful not to take on too much work. To help me stay well, I have a daily meditation practice and am conscious of eating well and maintaining good gut health and nutritional status. I have found that keeping physically well is an often under-rated part of maintaining good mental health and managing stress levels, and this is a core component of my personal wellbeing practice and my teachings. Having been through ill health and burn-out in the past, keeping myself healthy is my number one priority! If I didn’t practice what I preach, I could potentially get ill again, and I cannot afford to take that risk.

Do you work with others or on your own? I worked alone for the first couple of years but soon started to miss being part of a team. Since then I’ve been collaborating with a few select professionals and institutions, and have really enjoyed the different projects and events we have co-created!

I’ve run a number of events with my dear friend and fellow mindfulness practitioner, Katie Ahern, owner of Cork Lotus Yoga at Long’s Yard Studio, off Barrack St in Cork City. Working with Katie is a joy and our intention is to spread this joy to those who come to our Yoga & Mindfulness retreats. We have a pre-Christmas day retreat coming up on December 8 in Katie’s studio and will be holding our 3 rd annual weekend retreat next May. All welcome!

I’ve also recently started working with a fascinating lady, Annabel Beerel PhD, who is based between Ireland and the USA. After a chance meeting on Oysterhaven Beach this summer, we struck up a friendship and are holding our first mindfulness day retreat on December 1 in the Trident Hotel in Kinsale. Annabel has studied the areas of Transformational Psychology and Comparative Religions extensively, has written ten books and is a regular speaker at international conferences. I am very excited for Annabel to share her teachings with us on the day.

I’ve also been linked in with Cork Institute of Technology for about three years now, running mindfulness and wellbeing workshops with the students. Last year I was asked to come on board to co-develop and co-facilitate a holistic wellbeing program, and in Semester 2 of 2019 we launched the “BalanCIT” pilot program. This 6-week student wellness series presents workshops centred around attaining key life-skills in the areas of stress management, healthy eating, physical activity, sleep and achieving a healthy life balance. Since then, we’ve been working on improving and expanding the program based on student feedback, and will offer the new 8-week program in Semester 2 of 2020. I just got news today that we’ve been selected to present an overview of our program at the national AHEAD academic conference at Croke Park Conference Centre early next year. After a lot of hard work, we are thrilled with this news!

Best bits: The best part for me is seeing the transformations that occur within my clients as we work together. I am blessed in that I get to work with a lot of truly amazing people, and when I receive testimonials or Thank You cards, my heart just sings! It makes me so happy to see my clients happy and thriving - living healthy, joyful lives and achieving goals beyond their dreams. That’s what it’s all about for me! I also love the flexibility of being self-employed; working to my own schedule and having the ability to move and flow with what inspires or calls me.

Worst bits: As any self-employed person will tell you, not having a regular pay-check at the end of the week can be hard going when you’ve got bills to pay! There are times when you can be very quiet and times when you’re very busy (like January and September) so you have to be creative in finding ways to keep yourself afloat.

Advice to those who want your job? I would say to honestly ask yourself what your main intention is for going into this line of work. While ‘mindfulness’ and ‘wellness’ have become buzz words of late, this does not necessarily mean there is a lot of money to be made. I think this work is more of a vocation, so if you feel genuinely called to it – go for it! And gain the required qualifications and experience along the way.

Be prepared to learn a lot of new skills outside of the required skill set. Unless you have the means to pay a lot of different people, you will potentially need to be your own writer, graphic designer, promoter, marketer, web-designer and accountant!

Any other comments? For any young person confused about their career, I would say try not to stress too much about knowing exactly what type of role you want. When I was 17, my career hadn’t even really emerged as a profession yet, so you never really know where life will take you. I think the best advice is to follow your own personal passions and interests, not what others think you should do, or what your friends are doing. If you stay true to yourself, you won’t go too far wrong.

To find out more about sleep therapy and CBT for insomnia, visit thesleepclinic.ie or email thesleepclinic.ie@gmail.com

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