Hazel Stewart-Hyslop is a therapist in E18, London

What attracted you to become a therapist?

I was born on the island of Tobago and, from childhood, I have vivid memories of two young men, who were described as crazy. Once a year, you might see them roaming the village and you were told to stay away. However, what I noticed was the whole village keeping an eye out for them. 

When these ‘crazy’ episodes occurred, they were sent to the hospital for 'mad people'. I was also curious about what went on in the hospital and felt generally sad and powerless. What was interesting, though, is that once the young man had completed his treatment, he appeared so calm and different, which gave me a sense that going to a hospital was safe. At 24-years-old, I came to the UK with one plan in mind, to study psychology and mental health and open a therapeutic community for the mentally ill in my country on my return. I achieved all of my goals, except opening up the centre in Tobago. But it's never too late...

Where did you train?

I trained in 1991 initially as a psychiatric nurse, so my foundation is in working with clients in in-patient and community settings. Working for the NHS and social care has instilled in me a compassion and deep understanding of human suffering. While studying for my nursing qualifications, I was also secretly studying a Bsc hons in Psychology at the University of East London part-time. I was determined to fulfil my dreams and took every opportunity to study. 

Amazingly, I was pregnant with my first child while coming to the end of my nursing course and starting the third year of my degree. Then once completed my degree and began working as a qualified nurse, I started my Msc in Family and Systemic Psychotherapy in 1997, two weeks after giving birth to my second child! I then went on to doing a Postgraduate in Systemic Supervision in 2010 and then a Diploma in coaching.

Can you tell us a bit about the type of therapy you practise? 

My main therapeutic style is the systemic approach, although I use other models such as CBT, solution-focused and coaching, when needed. Systems theory argues that you cannot treat a problem in isolation from the context in which it was formed. That we are all part of systems (e.g. family, schools, work etc.) and at various times, these relationships will impact us and vice-versa. 

So when a child, for example, is struggling in school, he/she might be stressed and certain behaviours will show up both at home and school (anger, self-harming etc.) How the family or teacher understands and responds to the issue can be significant in helping the child manage their difficulty. Alternatively, it might be that the context at school or home, maybe contributing to the stress within child and they need to also hold responsibility for managing the problem. I chose this approach because it's a whole system approach rather than individual-led and it reminded me of my experience of growing up, where the whole community was responsible for the problem.

What sort of people do you usually see? 

I work with all ages, class, identity. I am a specialist in working with child and adolescent mental health as well as adults, families, groups and organisations.

What do you like about being a therapist?

It's such a privilege and unique opportunity to be a therapist – to be trusted by my clients to reveal themselves to a complete stranger. I like that I can make a huge difference in people’s lives. I like that I am able to hold hope for my clients when at times they are unable to see possibilities of moving forward. 

I like that I get to be challenged in my own life by the work I do and that I cannot take anything for granted. 

I like that I can stay compassionate and open my heart to feel and understand the fragility of life. I like that I am constantly growing and changing because you are forced to read and research and connect with other therapists. I like that clients trust me to help them.

What is less pleasant?

That feeling of helplessness you get on the rare occasion, or when I forget to stay grounded and practise self-care, I tend to feel exhausted.

How long you’ve been with welldoing.org and what you think of us?

I have been aware of welldoing.org over a year now. I initially signed up but did not complete my registration as I was ambivalent. However, I decided to take the plunge in the past three weeks. I like that the rates are reasonable and the flexibility of knowing I do not have to commit to long contracts, that the therapist can get involved through sharing their stories and also contribute to writing articles. I like the booking/diary system and finally, I have been really impressed with how quick Louise and the team responds to queries.

Do you ever suggest books or apps to clients?

All the time! I sometimes even do meditations from apps in the sessions with clients who are struggling with anxiety or stress, and they will also ask for recommendations.

What you do for your own mental health?

Loads! I have a strong spiritual practice (meditation, reading self-help and spiritual texts, prayers etc.) and I belong to different support groups, such as a book group, systemic therapist peer group, church groups, women's social group etc. 

I love dancing, pilates and walking in the forest, so this helps me to stay grounded, relaxed and joyful. I also like being with family and friends, but really value time alone to reflect and relax.

You are a therapist in South Woodford, London. What can you tell us about the areas you practise in?

I see therapy clients in South Woodford, London and City road mainly, although I sometimes do outdoor therapy and coaching.

What’s your consultation room like?

Really spacious, bright and private.

What do you wish people knew about therapy?

That it's not just for 'crazy' people and that therapists are not always on duty. I was speaking to an engineer this morning who came to service the boiler and he asked me what I did. His comments were, "Are you analysing me?" (classic) and "You must meet a lot of crazy people." So I it was a good opportunity to explain that I am not on duty and secondly, that therapy can help anyone, whether its relationship issues, anxiety, stress etc.

What did you learn about yourself in therapy?

I think you are constantly learning about yourself. In the therapeutic context, I think the greatest learning for me, has been to trust the wisdom within me and trust my instincts. It's OK to learn lots of theory and technique, but my observation has been that the greatest outcome in therapy is when I trust the process, stay authentic, connect to my vulnerability and to be open to the wisdom within me and in others. To trust the process.

Contact Hazel here

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