Her job used to be to keep stars safe on shows like Strictly and Top Gear, now Co Down mum is a hypnotherapist
Judith Ward, from Bangor, swapped her exciting role in TV to retrain in a new career and move home to NI. She tells Stephanie Bell about the techniques she uses in her work
When you think of making a TV drama, you might think of actors, directors, camera crew and producers, but the idea of the role Judith Ward held in the team - head of trauma support while filming difficult storylines - is not one that would immediately spring to mind.
It was a job which sparked in Judith a deeper interest in how the brain works and in supporting people facing pressure in life. It, in turn, led the Bangor woman to retrain for a new career as Northern Ireland's first "solution-focused" hypnotherapist.
Judith's is a modern approach to hypnotherapy which avoids clients having to talk about their past or relive painful memories. And this new technique is one which has just won her the prestigious title of Hypnotherapist of the Year 2017, making her the first hypnotherapist in Ireland to pick up the accolade.
Helping people overcome anxiety, depression, phobias or addictions from her home clinic in Bangor is a world away from her early career in the BBC when she worked on big shows like Strictly Come Dancing, Top Gear and Sports Relief.
Judith (43), who is mum to Daisy (3), returned home from London to Bangor two years ago and set up her clinic in January 2016.
Not only has she a steady local clientele of men, women and children, but word of mouth has spread way beyond these shores thanks to her sessions held via Skype with people from as far afield as New Zealand.
She left Northern Ireland at 18 and, after studying for a degree in environmental health in Leeds, moved to London where she worked with a hotel chain for five years before joining the BBC to work in production safety.
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"I started working on entertainment and comedy and would have done most of the Saturday night shows, including Strictly Come Dancing and programmes like Children in Need and Sport Relief," she explains.
"If the shows involved any risks or dangers it was my job to ensure they were carried out safely so I worked very closely with the production teams.
"It was a really varied job. One year for Sport Relief they did the entire dance for Strictly under water and we even had the glitter ball under there. I had to make sure that we had divers on hand and that anyone taking part was healthy and that it was all done according to regulations.
"I would have seen all the different talents on the show, but mainly I worked behind the scenes.
"I also worked on Top Gear, which was a very testosterone-charged programme. And when David Walliams swam the channel for Sport Relief it was my job to make sure all the safety precautions were in place."
Her role changed, though, when she completed a trauma risk assessment course and started to specialise in supporting people working on programmes with traumatic content. She also trained others in the role for regional BBC stations across the country.
It was this which sparked her interest in helping people on a deeper level and led to her retraining as a hypnotherapist.
"I remember one programme where they had a team going out to America to film people who were on death row and who would be building up a relationship with the families of these people who were about to be executed," she says. "It was my job to give them peer support during the process and also follow up afterwards. This got me interested in knowing how the brain works and I started to study hypnotherapy."
Judith also had some changes in her own life. She was expecting her first child and decided to leave the BBC to focus on her new baby girl, Daisy.
Sadly, when Daisy was six months old, Judith's marriage broke up and she decided, for the sake of her daughter, to move back home to Bangor for family support.
These huge changes in her own life further deepened Judith's desire to work in an area where she could help make a difference to the quality of life of others.
"Working in TV and the media, with its long hours and pressure to perform, can be very stressful and I could see that people were finding work tough," she says.
"Also going through my marriage break-up was difficult - I had built up my whole life in England but I knew that looking after a young child on your own in London would be very challenging so I moved back home.
"I'm quite a strong person anyway and there were other people on the course with me who were also coming through divorce and I found it all really useful in helping me understand how the brain works."
Judith trained at the renowned Clifton Practice in London for the HPD in Solution Focused Hypnotherapy - which is regarded as the gold standard in hypnotherapy, as it requires 450 hours of case studies to qualify.
She is also a member of the Association for Solution Focused Hypnotherapy (AFSFH) which requires its members to adhere to a high standard of professional conduct and ongoing supervision alongside attending various industry events throughout the year.
Such is her dedication that she has also just embarked on a more advanced course which will take four years to complete.
At her Judith Ward Hypnotherapy Clinic in Bangor she helps people with an array of issues from anxiety, panic attacks, low self-esteem, depression and phobias.
So what exactly is solution-based hypnotherapy?
She says: "The difference is - and this is what people like about it - you don't have to go over the past. It involves leaving the past behind and focusing on the future, should that be a new career, weight loss or leaving a horrible relationship behind.
"It is very forward-facing and we use proven techniques which involved a combination of NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming), mindfulness and the latest brain-based theories from neuro-scientists with powerful results.
"It is about lowering stress in the brain and also giving patients coping strategies and practical information which they can take away with them and apply in everyday life.
"I am passionate about hypnotherapy," adds Judith. "I have seen how it has worked for me as well as my clients and that's why I am currently undertaking an additional advanced course that is not available in Northern Ireland and takes four more years to complete.
"Whilst it is not compulsory to have this extra qualification, I like to offer my clients the best possible service I can and give the latest research to help them become a happier version of themselves."
Her mission statement is "Be a Happier Version of Yourself", and it is achieving this for her clients which she says is the most rewarding aspect of her work.
The vast majority of people who seek Judith's help are struggling with depression and anxiety.
Lack of confidence and low self esteem is another big issue she deals with especially among teenage girls and young women in their early 20s, as well as children.
She says: "I deal a lot with anxiety, especially among young people dealing with low self esteem issues, which can be due to exam stress or comparing themselves to others.
"Young people tend to soak the treatment up like a sponge. They go away with the little techniques I give them and feel more confident about themselves.
"I do see some children with anxiety issues and sadly it is now more common in younger people. Panic attacks are another big thing.
"I do really enjoy my work. It feels so good when you see someone whose life is not going the way they want start to make changes and get their life together. I had one man who was really depressed start to enjoy life again and it was great to see that.
"Some people are afraid of flying or want to get weight off and seeing them leave here feeling really positive gives me great pleasure."
Although hypnotherapy is now a very common form of alternative treatment, Judith believes there is a still a general misconception that it is similar to stage hypnotherapy, which is purely for entertainment.
She says: "Even today people still get the two mixed up and are sceptical, and it continues to surprise me how many people ask me what the difference is.
"They are completely different and hypnotherapy doesn't involve putting people into a trance.
"It is a relaxing therapy designed to reduce stress levels."
Judith was delighted to be recently awarded the title of Hypnotherapist of the Year 2017 in the UK wide annual Lux Health and Well-Being Awards.
She is the first hypnotist from Ireland to be given the accolade.
Judith adds: "Yes it was great, it's good to know that somebody recognises what you do."
For more information go to www. judithwardhypnotherapy.co.uk