Meet Fiona Brennan, a Dubliner who is a Clinical Hypnotherapist and mindfulness practitioner based out of her clinic in Blackrock. She is the author of the bestselling book The Positive Habit and has an immensely popular hypnotherapy program of the same name.
Fiona’s story begins in Sandymount which she tells me is a reason she loves the sea. But Dublin was not the only place she lived in as a child, this explorer also spent spells in Greece and Paris and Prague as a young adult.
‘I love to travel but I am also a total home bird!’ she tells me. ‘I come from a small, close family. My older sister is like an angel to me, she lives in Berlin, but we are still and always will be very close. My parents are both writers also and very dynamic people, they are in their seventies but have young hearts and minds and are a constant inspiration to me.’
Fiona has been with her husband since she was 20 and has spent 24 years with him.
‘After fertility issues, we were blessed with a son, Luca, he is the apple of our eye. The three of us are a really strong team and we have a lot of fun together. Every day I feel blessed to have them,’ she explains.
Though now a successful hypnotherapist, this was not the career that Fiona initially embarked on. For 10 years, she worked as a determined but struggling actor.
‘I have always been fascinated by people, I love listening to them and studying them and above all helping them,’ she explains and says that, in fact, there are many parallels between acting and therapy. ‘The imagination is important, especially in hypnotherapy.’
The aspiring actor eventually fell out of love with the craft and decided to pursue something new.
‘I had an epiphany on stage that I didn’t want to play tragic roles any longer,’ she tells me. ‘I wanted to help real people overcome real challenges.’
‘I trained in Clinical Hypnotherapy with ICHI Ireland and became a certified NLP instructor for two years while my son was a toddler. I believe though that we always keep learning. I never stop doing CPD training, reading, researching, and writing.’
Fiona tells me that she has not looked back since.
This busy hypnotherapist and mental health professional works every day with clients and says that even though it’s very intense and raw, it ultimately is marvellous and she loves her job.
‘I help people to see the full potential of their minds and how to transform negative thought and behaviour patterns into positive ones,’ she explains.
‘What makes me ‘an expert’ is the thousands of hours over the last eight years since I graduated that I have spent listening to people share their pain, fears and suffering. When you do that with an open heart, you see patterns emerge, your sense of understanding is greater.’
‘I also believe we are all experts of our mental health and what makes us understand others is our ability to know and to love ourselves.’
Fiona says that hypnotherapy is the most honest placebo you will ever receive.
‘The fact that the mind and body are connected has become an accepted fact in science, the power of the mind is profound,’ the hypnotherapist says.
‘Hypnotherapy accesses our subconscious mind which is where our emotions, beliefs and habits live. I established The Positive Habit online hypnotherapy programme as a means to train the mind using hypnotherapy as the main tool to self-generate positive emotions.’
When it comes to sceptics, the Dublin-based hypnotherapist says that she meets them all the time and welcomes their questions but ‘really there is nothing that bizarre about hypnotherapy. It is simply a tool to quite the conscious and busy mind. To reach beyond thought and re-programme the brain for health and happiness.’
Fiona explains that a typical session will consist of talk therapy and hypnotherapy which requires the client to recline in a chair and simply listen to her voice.
When asked if as a society we’re more stressed and suffering from more mental health issues now as people are ingrained into the Digital Age, Fiona says that it’s a tough call.
‘There are certainly more daily stresses for many people, thanks to the digital age, where we are always switched on,’ she says.
‘The expectations people put on themselves to be perfect also creates a lot of pressure. There are many people who through a lack of self-care and also self-knowledge due to the busy nature of their lives suffer from anxiety, stress and low self-esteem.’
So what can we do? One suggestion is mindfulness. Fiona practices meditation every day (or heartfulness) which she says is the same as mindfulness but places her awareness on her breath and her heart.
‘I find it incredibly calming and empowering,’ she explains. ‘I have been meditating for at least 10 years. It needs to be a habit and continued practice that is brought into everyday life. I first came across heartfulness almost three years ago when I interviewed Ivor Browne, the psychiatrist.’ (Browne has been practising heartfulness since the 1970s).
Fiona also listens to her own hypnotherapy audios every day and says that they help cement and reinforce into her brain the positive shifts that she has already made.
‘It is so important to sustain positive emotions through repetitions and hypnotherapy is excellent for this.’
But what advice would Fiona give on how to start meditating? How does one begin to learn the value of silence?
‘Stare out a window as you did as a child. Breathe deeply into your belly. If you find it hard to close your eyes and sit still, don’t worry, your body can be active but your mind very still. You can meditate when you are walking, running, doing the dishes. It is the skill of being present and it takes a lot of practice. A more formal practice is best done with being guided, Insight Timer has a lot of wonderful free downloads.’
In 2017, Fiona gave a TEDx Talk about Your Subconscious Power and how to be anxiety-free.
‘You need to have a strong message and I believe I gave one,’ she says.
‘Ultimately, it is a story of hope and transformation. I love public speaking and a TED talk is such an incredible and intelligent concept. I probably over-prepared my talk and I was trained to learn it as a script, next time, I will of course prepare but intend to also let it flow naturally. Let the heart speak, let the heart connect and you can’t go wrong.’
One of the biggest positive habit tips that Fiona would give to someone who is just feeling overwhelmed is to simply be kind to yourself.
‘Be patient with whatever emotions arise. Have a solid self-care routine that creates space and silence each day,’ she says.
‘Take the time to reflect on your life before lockdown and what you would like your life to be after. We must flourish under fire and find meaning in our suffering.’