How hei! helped me after an assault

Dystin Johnson found that her membership of hei! helped her re-gain control after a sudden, vicious attack.

A couple of months ago, I was assaulted by a man on the street outside my flat.

It was violent and unexpected. I was left with a large bite wound to my face, also cuts and bruises to my head and upper body caused by the walking stick that he used to hit me.  Lasting no more than twenty seconds, of course the attack was shocking, however during it my mind was calm; at one point I recall feeling that I would be left with a brain injury and then a moment later I wondered if this was in fact the day I would die.

I was admitted to hospital for two days, during which I had surgery by a top maxillo-facial team.  I’ve been an actress for twenty-five years, so you can imagine the level of my concern: In the short term, I was due to start filming on a new series for itv in less than two weeks. (Moreover, in the long term, I believed the injuries to my face would mean the end of my career – that remains to be seen).  With the towering strength and help of my friends and the doctors, my main focus was being able and ready for work.  The production company were outstanding in their support, reassuring me that my job was safe.  The following week after the attack, I went for a make-up test and the amazing make-up designer had a plan of action that wasn’t just workable but brilliant – it’s amazing what you can do with a wig and a pair of prop glasses! I didn’t miss a beat of filming for the entire contract.

I felt very secure on set, however outside life was very different: I was in a high state of anxiety most of the time. I had problems walking from my flat to my car along my street; being around crowds and strangers in general.  I would be very wary of anyone who was remotely like the man who attacked me, even people who weren’t like him but used walking sticks or acted in a loud or erratic manner.  I would have flashes of the event play in my mind and try to push the thoughts away, distracting myself with excessive TV watching, often waking through the night and watching numerous episodes of a series as an escape from my own thoughts. As the days progressed, my anxiety spread; I began to see potential accidents everywhere as if I was preparing myself for worst case scenarios… What would I do if this train crashed? What if that guy had a gun and pulled it now? What if that car ploughed into that wall? What if? What if…?  I was in a constant state of alertness for danger – it was exhausting and upsetting.

I felt I needed some professional help. I contacted Tadhg at The hei! Clinic and he kindly offered to see me.  Over a one-to-one session and a couple of phone calls, Tadhg taught me about our basic instinct as human beings, that my mind was making me relive the event in order to ‘learn’ from it – that I needed to acknowledge the events of the assault and actively think what lessons could be taken from it; this would enable my inner self to progress away from the loop replying the scene.  He also helped me realise that my heightened state of alertness or ‘arousal’ was again a basic need for survival, but he gave me the tools to realise my state, and to turn down the dial on that arousal to it’s proper place.  With practise, my over-alertness calmed.  As for the hot-spots of fear, that is walking on my street or seeing someone similar to my attacker, I practised retuning my mind to be in the moment, remembering that my imagination playing possible outcomes was simply a construct that I could choose to not run. It’s still early days but I’m certainly not afraid to go out.

Tadhg used something called Essential Beliefs Super-cognitive Therapy (E-BST), which his research team created in Northern Ireland for people traumatised by sudden violence. For me, the E-BST was an informative and stimulating chat followed by some very warm, guided meditation and it enabled me to safely visit and explore the attack. I also am still meditating in order to practise the craft (if I can call it that?!) of returning to the ‘now’.  Tadhg has really helped me focus my meditation practice as, although I’m not new to meditation, I’m very new to being more patient and persistent with it!

It’s now two months down the line, my face is healing and I’m more hopeful that my scars won’t prevent me from working.  My general confidence is good and considering my attacker remains out on bail, I’m certainly more able to walk around my local area without fear overwhelming me. The attack does not soak up my thoughts and actually, I’m less worrisome about things in general.  My recovery has been truly aided by meeting with Tadhg.

I feel my journey with hei! and mindfulness is just beginning, I want to learn more about the processes of mindfulness and how it’s simplicity can further help me be more content and at ease with myself and my life.

What was emphasised to me was that as well as being a useful tool for people in our business, mindfulness practice would help to prevent the effects of the E-BST wearing off.  I was given recordings to listen to, but I want to do the proper course. So I hope to see lots of my hei! colleagues there.

The hei! Clinic specialises in supporting and advising people in the arts and entertainment industry.

It also has the only residential facility specifically for people in the arts and entertainment industry in Europe. For more details please contact us

Inner Security

hei! member Andrew Baguley reflects on the personal meaning for him of The ELK-Foundation’s new tagline

A foundation for inner security

taken from a letter written by Albert Einstein in 1950 to a father who had lost his inner security, after the death of his child, and wrote to the scientist asking for possible meaning upon which he could possibly build a future.

The ELK-Foundation, together with the Jermyn Street Theatre, runs the hei! campaign for a healthier industry for people in the arts and entertainment.

I’m rarely free from worry. “Will I keep healthy? What’s that spot? Is it cancer? Why has nobody called me? Have I upset my friends? Will it hurt when I die?”

And these are just the normal existential worries!

I also have to throw the stress of being an actor into the mix. “Was I any good last night? The Director said I was. But did she really mean it? And even if I was any good last night will I be any good tonight?” When I’ve finished worrying about those things I can always panic about where my next paycheck is coming from.

I’m not saying these thoughts cripple me. I still function. But they do degrade my happiness. I imagine a peaceful city-state of inner security floating calmly somewhere in my upper cerebellum, just waiting to flood my body with pods of lithe, sexy endorphins. But they can’t get out! They’re trapped! Surrounded by evil tentacled worry monsters like those things from the Matrix. Always attacking, crowding in.

Ok, I’m being a drama queen. It’s not just me who worries, not just me who get stressed. It’s the human condition, isn’t it? All we have to do, surely, is simply keep it in balance. And a bit of stress is good for you. I read that in a magazine. A hangover from early humans, fight or flight. That’s why we have adrenal glands. Although perhaps I could have mine removed. They probably do that in California somewhere.

But joking aside, worry and stress is a curse. And when the foundation of my inner security is breached it stops me from being the wonderful human being I could be. Perhaps I should look for someone to blame. It’s not my fault surely? My parents? Or maybe it all started when that dog barked at me in my pram. Yet the more I analyse the further I get from a solution.

Recently I’ve been reading about “Inner Security.” Inner security is described “as an awareness, found in a moment when we have chosen to pay attention to our safety, that we can cope with the uncertainty of what another moment might contain.” And that jogged my memory.

Half a lifetime ago I did Tai’Chi. I’d been doing it for 6 months and was just beginning to get the moves into muscle memory. And randomly, as I moved my body, out of nowhere I saw the whole of creation, understood everything, and realised that the universe was unfolding as it should. A second of instant total happiness, and then I was back to, what, normal?  I’ve never experienced that again, although I did come close once in a dream.

Now the universe has been in touch again. By email. It’s told me about the mindfulness course I can do for free through hei!

hei! stands for A Healthier Entertainment Industry and I think the exclamation mark stands for Wow! The money comes from a charity called The ELK-Foundation. Of course I worry that there will be no places left on the mindfulness course. But that aside, if I can find a way to bolster the foundations of my inner security through a structured programme that will be wonderful. And then, I’ll eat my worries for breakfast.


Why do we just accept what powerful people think is important?

Oxfam Scotland has called for a new prosperity measurement that focuses on equality rather than just economic growth.

It argues that GDP doesn’t work as a measurement, as levels of poverty and inequality have increased at the same time as GDP has grown. They might have added (though they didn’t) that cultural funding has also plummeted over the same period.

The issue sparks debate over whether, as a society, we focus too much on the economy?

The belief that economic growth leads to better standards of living is often stated to be almost universal – but is it? Is it worth speculating that the groups who worship economic growth tend to be groups who have “jobs” rather than “vocations”?

Already I can hear a clambering – and quite rightly so. It may be that actors and directors and nurses and vets (I mean the British meaning of ‘vets’ – not the American one!) and vicars and, well, the obviously “Vocated Ones” do have a lower opinion of economic growth than most people who have jobs separate to a life, but aren’t politicians people with vocations?

So why do we have so much “stuff” from them about money, and so little about quality of life and art and just feeling rather happy. God knows, it’s not like politicians have a record of being good at the money thing. The current economic woes are because they’re just AWFUL at it – along with most of the economists and almost all of the bankers.

A survey of people working in the Third Sector: social enterprises, charities and non-profit making enterprises, undertaken for Third Force News [link to:  currently shows that 72.5% of visitors to the site think wellness is more important.

Is it time that we shifted our focus away from a constant need to increase profits on to general wellbeing: a rich life full of the arts and entertainment and the teaching of empathy and emotional intelligence?  I’d be interested to hear your views.

Why choosing the right training for a ‘supporting career’ matters

Each month, so far this year, I have received more and more requests from people in entertainment and arts for advice about setting up a viable ‘supporting career’. What’s a viable ‘supporting career’? Well, it’s hei!’s name for something that people in this industry can do that doesn’t stop them from pursuing their №1 vocation – yet is a lot more than casual work.

I’ve worked with a couple of hei! members on discovering the essentials for a successful ‘supporting career’.  So far they seem to be:

  • that the ‘supporting career’ can be put to one side or redirected to someone else
  • that the hours can be flexible
  • that it has a high degree of real interest – a supporting career shouldn’t be boring!
  • that it should actually make a decent amount of money!
  • Yes, the one about money did come last – but it was there.

It’s not surprising then, particularly in light of what hei! is doing, that the most frequently asked question is ‘I’d like to know more about training to do something in psychology or some sort of talking therapy – can you help me choose a course?’

The answer is, absolutely yes, hei! can and will help members with this. Choosing a course is a minefield and we know a route through.

But here’s one tiny piece of critical, direct advice in case you are thinking of doing some sort of talking therapy course but may not get around to contacting us. Choosing a course is about accreditation. Be ruthless about this or you could well be wasting an awful lot of money.

Any training course you contemplate must be accredited by a government-recognised agency and it should be accredited by more than one university.

Your course should also have a wide appeal to people like you (many of your clients are likely to be quite like you) and not be too specialist.  So, unless you have a lifelong fascination with the psychoanalytical theories of Jacques Lacan as applied to error and knowledge in pre-school children, a course concentrating on this is best avoided.

For hei! members, training to be a psychotherapist can be a good choice and it really is well worthwhile making sure that the course includes safe, proper training in clinical hypnosis. Changing habits and overcoming panics and phobias are common requests from people in entertainment and the arts, and clinical hypnosis (which is nothing like stage hypnosis) is a fantastic tool for this.  But please, please, remember that it is about accreditation. There are dozens of quite dodgy training set-ups out there – so, I repeat, the course must be accredited by a government recognised body and it should be accredited by more than one university.

In the opinion of hei! the government recognised bodies that matter in UK psychotherapy are only three, despite many others claiming otherwise. Out of these three, the only one that accredits clinical hypnosis courses is the UK Council for Psychotherapy

When hei! went looking for a partner to develop courses for the new profession of Registered Stress Practitioners, it soon became clear that one college fulfilled both the requirements of our supporting universities and those of the UK Council for Psychotherapy.

Do get in touch with us if you are contemplating a ‘supporting career’ in the talking therapies.  But if you’re in a hurry, do check out the National College  first. We believe that it is the most broadly accredited college that trains people in the therapies that can earn a good secondary income – in the UK; probably in all of Europe.

Tadhg Ó Séaghdha, trustee at The ELK-Foundation, one of hei!’s sponsors, offers some critical advice