TV’s phobia experts Nik and Eva Speakman are in hot demand as the couple who can help us to conquer our fears, so where better for them to unwind than at Juicy Oasis with Juice Master Jason Vale? Juiced! magazine caught up with them after a recent stay at the retreat.
They are best known as This Morning’s resident therapists, and they’ve cured countless celebrities who have sought help to conquer their fears, but there’s more to Nik and Eva Speakman than curing phobias. The couple’s schema conditioning therapy is finally being recognised by the medical profession as a radical, highly effective way to tackle mental health issues. Just as Juice Master Jason Vale has conquered our physical health with his no nonsense approach to nutrition and fitness, The Speakmans’ method for tackling our mental health is a natural partner to the Juice Master’s simple, yet effective reboot philosophy.
It was earlier this year that The Speakmans finally enjoyed a first stay at Juicy Oasis and met up with Jason for a week at his Portuguese retreat. Needless to say, they got on like kindred spirits, forming a firm friendship that will definitely see them return to Juicy Oasis. “We’ve got a lot in common,” says Nik, who, with wife Eva, is as passionate about fitness and nutrition as Jason. “We’ve been in contact for several years and it’s taken two years of trying to get together at Juicy Oasis, as our schedules are so crazy. Jason was everything I expected him to be and we have a very similar outlook on life and shared values. I know he will be a friend for life.”
“They really are so similar,” says Eva. “We were hiking up a mountain and Nik and Jason were walking ahead. I looked up and they were like brothers, they are so similar in personality – even their body language is the same. Since we’ve been back, Nik hasn’t stopped talking about Juicy Oasis and Jason, and they’re constantly texting each other, it really was an amazing experience.”
“I couldn’t believe how much I learnt about nutrition while I was at Juicy Oasis – I felt amazing after a week there”
Having travelled the world and worked with countless celebrities – including Holly Willoughby, Connor Ball of The Vamps, Jeremy Kyle and Vicky Pattison – to help them overcome their fears, it speaks volumes that the time spent at Juicy Oasis means so much to The Speakmans.
“We’ve juiced for years,” continues Nik, “whether it’s full-time for a few days or just for breakfast we always get a juice in, but I couldn’t believe how much I learnt about nutrition while I was at Juicy Oasis – I felt amazing after a week there.”
“I loved the physical side of Juicy Oasis,” says Eva, who ran a gym before the couple’s stratospheric rise to fame as TV’s phobia fixers. “When I’m at home I try to get to the gym early in the morning or before I get home to cook dinner for the kids, but I never have time for classes so it was brilliant to be able to throw myself into all of the activities at Juicy Oasis.”
Of course The Speakmans are instantly recognisable from their ITV slots on This Morning and Saturday Night Takeaway, and while Jason and his team treat every guest as a VIP, the couple created a bit of a stir at the retreat. “We get it all the time,” continues Eva, “when we’re grocery shopping, at the station or getting on an aeroplane, people stop to ask you about their phobia and how to fix it. But the positive thing is people always feel able to talk to us.”
“No-one’s born with a phobia,” explains Nik. “It’s a learned behaviour, and often one we copy from a family member or develop after a traumatic experience, most often between the ages of five and 13 years.”
Even The Speakmans have had their own phobias – Eva was scared of spiders and heights, while Nik was petrified of cockroaches – and while at Juicy Oasis, they helped Jason tackle his own dislike of spiders, and an annoying habit of pulling hair out of his eyebrows when he’s under pressure.
Unlike most therapies which can take years to get to the heart of the issue, The Speakmans’ schema conditioning helps patients tackle their phobia or behaviour head-on, by conditioning their negative thoughts with overwhelming evidence that their fear is irrational. Nik likens the experience to being in a dark room littered with lamps and, rather than thinking about the complexities of how each one is individually wired, instead flicking the switch to cast light on the darkness.
“Psychology primarily studies abnormalities,” he says, “but it’s a myth that if someone has had a phobia for ten years, it could take ten years to remove it. Our therapy focuses on making things right for a person. We developed our technique because we were curious about trauma and understanding why some people process a situation and are totally fine, while the same scenario can create a lifelong problem for others.”
Although the couple have demonstrated the power of their schema conditioning time and again on television, when they are often given less than an hour to transform a person’s psyche to overcome a phobia or bad habit, they still encounter cynicism about their technique. “Everybody’s issues start with a thought process,” says Nik. “We began working on live television to demonstrate how our therapy works. We work with a contributor until they have no fear and it can take just a few minutes to conquer their phobia.
“To achieve success in weight loss, we look at what stage the individual turned to food for such things as comfort or protectionˮ
“In our private clinic we cover far more complex areas of mental health,” he says. “Our technique deals with the thought that created the problem in the first place. For example, to achieve success in weight loss, we look at what stage the individual turned to food for such things as comfort or protection – when they felt they needed comfort they turned to food to fill the void. It’s by understanding the cause and reshaping the thought around that moment that we can help to change deep-rooted feelings and subsequent anxieties.
“We are currently seeing an epidemic in mental health issues and social media is undoubtedly creating greater anxiety in people who are looking for approval with likes and comments to their posts. We get emails from children who are suffering from low self-esteem and also people who appear to have been ‘gifted’ the person other people wanted them to be but which makes them deeply unhappy with who they really are.”
It’s a scenario that Eva herself experienced after an unhappy childhood which left her with low self-esteem before she met Nik, 28 years ago. We got together I was very shy and lacking in confidence. I always anticipated the worst-case scenario and Nik would simply say if you want to be happy, you have to practice being happy and start putting a smile on your face.
“I soon adopted his outlook and together we developed our schemas which initially we didn’t share as we wanted to make sure they worked. We started running workshops about 16 years ago and saw how rapidly our approach got results for people and helped them overcome the things that had held them back for so long.”
“The British public are conditioned to be negative,” continues Nik, “and the sole purpose of the brain is survival so we spend our time looking for danger. If you practice being happy, living in the moment and being grateful, it completely changes your outlook. I always set the alarm ten minutes earlier than I need to get up, and as soon as I hit the snooze button I leap out of bed and think of as many things as possible that I am grateful for. I can usually get to 40 or 50 things and it means I start the morning well. Even my worst days, I believe, are still better than some people’s best days.”
“You learn to catch yourself when you’re thinking negatively,” adds Eva, “and it becomes second nature. If you meet someone who disagrees with you, you just think, ‘That’s your reality, not mine’, and that there is no one reality and no bad people in the world, just bad circumstances.
Their therapy has now been recognised by the medical profession after in-depth scientific studies by psychology professors at universities in Amsterdam and Utrecht which, at the end of 2018, published papers showing the efficacy of the technique. Although there is a long way to go before The Speakmans’ approach is adopted broadly, it is a positive and encouraging first step. “We know our therapy works as scientists have spent two years examining it and we’ve now trained two professors and seven Masters students,” says Eva. “The next stage is to undertake patient studies, then gain ethical approval from the General Medical Council. Our goal is to get our technique into the NHS, as the potential it has to help millions of people is incredible.”
“We’re setting up a charity to fund more studies,” adds Nik, “because it’s so important to us to help as many people as possible. We’ve worked with victims from the Tunisian terrorist attack and other terror events, with post-traumatic stress disorder patients and people who have attempted suicide – this technique can change so many people’s lives for the better.” With their energy, expertise and engaging outlook, it’s time to see The Speakmans for the life-changing therapists that they truly are.