"Lisa Caldwell, The Hearing Coach, talks to Hearing Aid UK about all things tinnitus, meditation and what's behind her drive. A tinnitus sufferer herself, she discusses how she has dedicated her life in the pursuit of helping to support those who are on the same journey"
Kimberley Bradshaw - Hearing Aid UK
You are the founder and lady behind ‘The Hearing Coach’ - helping steer those with hearing loss and tinnitus gain control of their life again. Could you tell me a little more about what you do and who you work with?
Of course, thank you for asking to interview me! The Hearing Coach is a not-for-profit organisation that offers help and support to people a wide range of people who have one thing in common – their hearing loss or tinnitus (or both) is badly affecting their quality of life.
They might, for example, not be getting the support they need at work, or their relationship with their spouse or partner might be strained because of their hearing challenges. In these situations, I work with people on a 1-2-1 basis.
Together we identify what the goal is – and then I coach those individuals on the steps to take to move from the challenges they face now to the place they want to be.
I also work with groups of people, teaching mindfulness techniques to help them move from suffering from tinnitus to managing it well in their daily life. I do this face-to-face and also online, with clients from all around the world.
What was the pivotal moment in your life that jump-started your career?
I developed hearing loss and tinnitus overnight in 2005. I was very lucky in that I had wonderful support from my then manager at work. During that job, I trained in advocacy and coaching skills, as well as doing in-depth research on my new conditions.
But it took someone involved in the hearing loss industry to point out that my knowledge and experience could help people in a similar situation. In early 2015 I took the leap and set up The Hearing Coach. I wouldn’t do anything else!
As well as being a hearing coach, you are also a trained Mindfulness Meditation Teacher. How do you feel this helps those who suffer from tinnitus and have hearing loss? How do you think this role has changed your life?
Mindfulness has been life-changing for me. I have always found tinnitus more of a challenge than hearing loss. With hearing loss, there are techniques to learn and assistive equipment available that helps you manage your hearing loss better.
They’re not perfect, but at least you feel that you’re in the driving seat. Tinnitus can feel completely out of our control. It spikes randomly. Some nights it might wake us up, other nights we might not notice it. For some of us, it changes sound unpredictably. For me, it felt like I was wrestling an untameable wild animal and losing every time.
I trained in mindfulness in 2014. It taught me that I was looking at tinnitus from completely the wrong angle. I couldn’t tame it or train it. Instead, I needed to train how I reacted to it. It takes time and consistent repetition to master, but, boy, it’s worth it!
So, it’s now my mission to pass this training on – to stop people suffering from tinnitus, and instead enable them to live well with it. That’s why I’ve created Mindfulness-Based Tinnitus Management - a bespoke course solely for people struggling with the overwhelm of tinnitus.
You seem to have this natural ability to connect and relate with the people who reach out to you for help, due to your own personal hearing loss and tinnitus suffering. How important is seeking help early?
Thank you! Many of my clients tell me that my personal experience of both hearing loss and tinnitus makes such a difference to them. Our first sessions are often a combination of tears and laughter as we compare experiences of hearing loss or tinnitus and the challenges they bring.
Seeking help early is so important. I was lucky in that there was a lipreading course available in my area, and my manager gave me time off work to attend this. I was the youngest person there by 30 years, but it made a huge difference to my understanding of hearing loss, as well as my self-confidence as a newly deafened person.
Do you feel that people are slow to act upon these struggles due to stigma or common misconceptions about hearing loss and hearing aids?
I think there is still definitely a stigma about hearing loss. It doesn’t help that adverts from well-known shops reinforce this with adverts for hidden hearing aids (which won’t help everyone and come with little functionality).
But now that even NHS hearing aids are starting to become more advanced, with improvements such as Bluetooth functionality, the under ’50s are starting to recognise that hearing aids are just another piece of technology that can improve our lives. All we have to do now is persuade the NHS to give us hearing aids in funky colours rather than brown and beige!
Quite often it’s the partner or relatives of someone with hearing loss or tinnitus who approaches me for help first. They can see how much the person they love is struggling and are desperately searching for ways to support them. I love that because it means the person with hearing loss or tinnitus already has a great support network in place, ready to help them improve their quality of life.
What’s been your ‘shine’ moment in your career? A time when you’ve felt most proud?
That’s a tricky one! I get a real buzz out of most of the coaching I do. Helping people hear on the mobile with assistive technology when they’ve not been able to have a phone conversation for decades always makes me a bit weepy! But my proudest moment I think is working closely with a young woman whose hearing loss had really knocked her self-confidence.
She had resigned herself to a basic job that was deeply unsatisfying because she didn’t feel she warranted any reasonable adjustments at work. We worked together on self-advocacy and self-confidence, as well as practical hearing strategies.
After a couple of months, she was so confident she wanted to apply for a better job elsewhere. I coached her through my Hear to Work course and she got the job she wanted AND the adjustments she needed to thrive there.
To all those people who are thinking of becoming a hearing coach like yourself – what would be your advice?
All the coaching qualifications in the world are worth nothing if you don’t have compassion and empathy for your clients. Develop a deep understanding of the reality of living with hearing loss and tinnitus in order to give them the service they deserve. Then go for it!
What’s been the biggest challenge of your career journey so far?
The biggest challenge was finding a career that set my heart on fire. I trained as a solicitor far too many years ago to count and worked as a lawyer for 6 years. After that, I spent many years working in marketing for law firms, which is where I discovered my love of writing.
But finding this job - that is my complete passion came about by coincidence, good fortune and good timing. And I couldn’t be happier!
What excites you about the future of audiology?
Two things – research and patient-centred care. Thanks to the work of the British Tinnitus Association and the American Tinnitus Association there’s always dynamic and hopeful research in the works that inches us further towards finding potential cures for tinnitus. That’s always exciting for anyone in the tinnitus world.
Patient-centred care might sound like an odd thing to mention, but it’s at the heart of what I and other like-minded hearing professionals offer. There’s a real shift among both NHS and private audiology providers to focus on the needs of the patient first, rather than the process of managing hearing loss or tinnitus.
And that is resulting in patients who feel much more involved in their treatment options. It’s also leading to more collaboration among professionals so that patients get the holistic treatment they need.
Any new business and personal projects on the cards for the new year?
In 2020 I’m excited to be offering my online Mindfulness-Based Tinnitus Management courses to more US time zones. I’m also going to be providing more face-to-face courses around the North West and Derbyshire for people living with tinnitus.
On a personal level, I’m going to be finishing my counselling qualifications, so I can offer that service to people who need an extra level of support to live with tinnitus.
And I’m writing a very practical, easy-to-apply book on living your best life with tinnitus. So, I’m going to be a bit busy. But happily, so! I’m really looking forward to 2020!
Lisa Caldwell - The Hearing Coach
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