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How woman overcame fear of beaches

By Stephanie Bell

This is the moment when a 27-year-old Belfast mum, Kelly Murray, took her first step onto a beach since childhood.

For almost two decades Kelly was unable to walk by the seaside. The very thought of treading on sand left her palpitating and fearful.

Yet it took only one session with life and business coach Gillian Killen to rid the west Belfast woman of her terrifying phobia.

This week she posed happily for photographs on the beach at Seapark in Holywood to show how her life has utterly changed.

And now she is looking forward to her first foreign holiday by the sea in Portugal and building sandcastles with her four-year-old daughter, Grace.

Stepping onto the beach for the first time without fear was a dream come true for Kelly.

She said afterwards: “I should have been really nervous at the thought of it but I wasn't.

“It didn't annoy me in the slightest.

“It really was amazing. I walked up and down it and picked up shells from my daughter and felt dead relaxed for the first time that I can remember.

“I can't wait until the the summer now. I will be at the beach with my daughter as often as we can. It's just brilliant. I feel like a normal person now, just like everyone else.”

Kelly explained how her phobia developed. “I know how silly it sounds but I have been terrified of crabs and the beach since about the age of eight. I couldn’t even look at a crab on TV without wanting to throw up,” she said.

“We used to go to Newcastle on holiday when I was a child and my sister would pick up a crab on the beach and chase me with it.

“That’s where it all started. From then I would only go on the beach if my parents brought plenty of towels for me to sit on and even then I would be panicking and constantly looking to see is there were any crabs near me.

“I wanted to go and play in the sand and the water like other children but I just couldn’t.

“As I grew up I avoided the beach.

It wasn’t until I had my daughter, Grace, who is now four, that I realised I needed to do something about my phobia.”

Kelly said: “My partner and I took Grace to the beach when she was 15 months old and I couldn’t bring myself to go onto it. Just the thought of it made me break out in a sweat and have palpitations. It was then that I knew I had to do something about it for my daughter’s sake.

“I wanted to be able to bring her to the beach, build sandcastles and paddle in the water, and just play and be normal.

“I had one 20-minute session with Gillian just before Christmas and incredibly my phobia seems to have gone. She took me back to the time before I had the phobia and after it and to the future. She had me replay the scenes in my mind as if I was looking at a cinema screen and picture life without the phobia.”

Suddenly the future looks sunnier for Kelly: “I’m looking forward to booking my first ever holiday in Portugal this summer when I can go to the beach every day. I can’t believe after all these years that one 20-minute session has taken away my fear and I can’t thank Gillian enough.”

In the last few weeks Gillian has become a familiar face on our TV screens as the ‘no-nonsense’ expert on the popular BBC series The Last Resort.

Viewers saw the north Down life and business coach use her skills to help six volunteers battle chronic health conditions at a rural retreat in Fermanagh.

“The beauty of the programme is that it is real people helping real people,” said Gillian.

“I have been amazed by the level of interest the show has generated and by the numbers who have stopped me in the street to say they got so much out of it which has made a difference in their lives.”

It was just three years ago that Gillian, a grandmother from Portaferry, launched her business, Life Style Designers in Holywood, through which she has helped hundreds of people overcome a whole variety of personal and work-related issues.

The loss of her father in 2004 led her to make the life-changing decision to end a successful career spanning two decades in sales to retrain as a life coach.

“My dad’s death made me stop and take stock of my life. And in order to try to come to terms with his loss, I enrolled on a life coaching course in Dublin,” said Gillian.

“I loved it and when it was finished, I immediately signed up for a course on Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) with Paul McKenna (right) in London.

“The two together made a very powerful combination and really helped me to build my own self-

confidence.” People suffering from phobias, weight problems, confidence issues, anxiety and depression make up the bulk of Gillian’s clients.

Business clients come to her for help to overcome their fears of public speaking and she has even coached a number of national and local celebrities whose identities she cannot reveal.

“It is a relatively new phenomenon in Northern Ireland whereas in America everyone has a coach of some sort, should it be spiritual, life or fitness,” said Gillian.

“At the start it was fairly slow to build the business up, but in the last couple of years it has really taken off quite dramatically.

“While the first year was mainly helping business clients, an increasing number of people started to ask for help with their emotional health and well-being, especially self-esteem and confidence issues.”

Gillian believes that it is most people’s self-beliefs that hold them back.

“Each person’s belief system, values and experiences in life contribute to what they are today.

“A lot of people struggle because they think that because they have had a problem for a long time that it will take a long time to change it, but the brain works much quicker than most people think.”

Gillian also works closely with community groups in Belfast and north Down focusing on the very serious issues of depression and suicide.

“It’s a very rewarding part of my work being able to go into the heart of local communities and work directly with women and young people who are struggling with depression,” said Gillian.

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