How ex-teacher is helping children to battle exam stress
42-year-old draws on experience at sharp end of education to open her own business
Louise Oliver has seen plenty of exam stress first hand.
As a South Yorkshire sixth form head, she watched year-after-year as children battled their nerves and worries in the face of exam pressures.
But it was after working with one particular student, who was buckling under the pressure of meeting education targets, that something changed for Louise.
“This girl was so fearful of failure that she couldn’t even cross the threshold into the exam room,” recalls Louise.
“That’s how bad it was. I felt helpless, watching her struggle and putting so much pressure on herself. She had become trapped, inert and very depressed. I tried to support her but, as head of sixth form, I found my professional role and desire to do the right thing were completely at odds.
“In the end she had to take some time out of sixth form and start afresh the next year.
“When she returned, she was a completely different girl. Her shoulders had relaxed, she stood straighter and was more confident.
“It turned out, she’d been for some hypnosis and I was bowled over by the change in her.”
This episode had a significant impact on Louise. She decided to make a career change, leaving her job of 16 years as a teacher to re-train as a hypnotherapist.
“My heart wasn’t in teaching any more,” says Louise, aged 42.
“I tried some hypnotherapy for myself and thought it was brilliant. I discovered one of the UK’s big hypnotherapy training schools was located in Dronfield and signed up.”
Following eight months of training, in which she gained a diploma in hypnosis and psychotherapy, Louise opened her own hypnotherapy business - ‘Louise Oliver, Hypnosis, Health & Wellbeing’ - in her hometown of Rotherham a little over a year ago.
And Louise has already been inundated with parents wanting help for their children, and believes her own experience at the sharp end of the education system gives her a unique insight into the problems faced by 21st century pupils.
Louise says: “The kids I dealt with needed help there and then, and NHS waiting times could be anything up to a year for counselling services. I truly believe hypnotherapy offers a far better alternative to that, and to medication.
“Although medication has its place, we are too ready to try to deal with these issues by prescribing tablets to deal with external symptoms.
“I deal with the deeper issues at hand rather than just the physical manifestation of anxiety.”
An estimated 300,000 young people in the UK have anxiety disorder – something that peaks at the time of exams. Stress and anxiety are the root cause of many health problems such as IBS and heart disease.
Louise adds: “Hypnotherapy can empower people to have the courage, and to gain the tools, to deal with their own issues.”
And Louise is quick to dispel any preconceptions that hypnotherapy involves ‘controlling’ a subject.
“There are always going to be those people who think what I do is similar to the stuff they’ve seen stage hypnotists do,” smiles Louise.
“But of course it’s nothing like that. I work mostly with people on stress management, anxiety and panic attacks, and confidence building. I can’t make people do anything they don’t want to do. My job is to bring people into a relaxed state - the kind of trance you’re in watching TV or daydreaming - and when you’re in that highly suggestible place, you can better take on board the instructions you need to help you meet a goal.
“Work is really picking up at my practice now. I’ve been working quite a lot with children who are having trouble sleeping and have been seeing children as young as six for anxiety.
“I’ve also started a course of mindfulness workshops which I’m going to be delivering at local schools in the run up to SATs and GCSEs this year.
“Most people who come through my door are really positive about what they think hypnosis can do for them. Although there are always those who will respond easier to hypnosis than others, I’ve haven’t met anyone I haven’t been able to help so far.”
Louise’s top tips for youngsters Heading into tHe sats season
Louise has a couple of top tips for children and teens heading into SATs season:
* “Try some breathing exercises. If you’re feeling particularly stressed, it’s good to do some controlled breathing, making sure your in breath is shorter than your out breath.
* “Focus on one thing at a time. We’re all guilty of trying to do too many things at once, but watching a screen or having TV on in the background while you’re trying to hit the books will be counter-productive.
* Don’t multi-task, do one thing at a time, and then make sure you’re taking some leisure time to switch off afterwards and allow your brain to relax.”