A former graphic designer from St Helens has turned a personal tragedy into a way to help others in similar circumstances, through her counselling studies at the University of Chester.
Ella Haselden, who is 52, worked as a graphic designer in the print industry from the 1980s, becoming self-employed in the mid-1990s. When her mum passed away in 1999, she inherited her mother’s shop with her sister and to this day they continue working there in partnership. She reached a turning point in 2011 when she decided to close her design business, which coincided with her dad becoming ill. In the June of that year he died and Ella decided to ‘dip her toe in the water’ by undertaking an introduction to counselling course the following January.
Having enjoyed the course so much, classmates recommended that she enrol for an MA in the subject at the University of Chester. She looked through the prospectus for the MA in Clinical Counselling and saw that it offered key aspects in which she was interested: theory; professional skills development, personal development and membership to the BACP (British Association of Counselling Practitioners).
Ella picks up the story: “I applied to the University of Chester on the off-chance of a miracle happening. I was elated when I got an interview for a place on the MA in Clinical Counselling, which was the only course which carried automatic membership to the BACP (British Association of Counselling Practitioners). After the day of the interview, introduction to the tutors and outline of the course, I realised that Chester offered everything I was looking for. The high standards set by the tutors reassured me that on completion I would be competent and enabled to deal with future clients’ issues. I came away feeling that it was the only place for me, and decided to forgo studying if I was not accepted. Hence, it was an amazing moment when news came that I had been offered a place.”
During her MA, Ella was able to further explore a tragedy that was very personal to her, and ultimately to use it as the starting point for her academic research.
She explained: “In 2005, I experienced a first trimester miscarriage at 12 weeks. I was planning on telling others about the pregnancy after the first scan, but this point never materialised. I was left with little support as I found it difficult to articulate what had happened. When I did, responses were sometimes uncomfortable and indifferent, which silenced me. From 2013 onwards, through my MA studies, I benefited greatly from acknowledging my experience through journal writing, talking to student counsellors who were empathic, and through connecting with my baby, who I now perceive in a spiritual manner. Personal therapy, journaling and quiet reflection offered me time and space to re-create a narrative and make meaning of my loss, which has been fundamental to my grieving process and journey of reconciliation. I was therefore curious to see if it was the same for others – hence the research.”
Ella is now presenting the findings of her research at the annual BACP conference, which is taking place in Chester this May, and is being co-hosted by the University of Chester.
She said: “The title of my presentation is ‘Ways in which women who have experienced a miscarriage acknowledge the life and death of their unborn child’. The term ‘acknowledgements’ is an overall term I used to mean ‘marking’ or ‘giving personhood’ to the loss, which is witnessed by the self/ others, examples of which could be through narrative, creativity, material objects, symbols and rituals.
“It highlights how early miscarriage can be overlooked by society as a significant loss and that traditional ways of marking the event are therefore often withheld. Due to this, many women create their own ritual, ceremony, or use symbols to acknowledge or mark the event in a way which is meaningful to them.
“The central focus of the research explored ‘acknowledgements’ made by five women who experienced a first trimester miscarriage, the significance and meaning they held, their therapeutic outcome, and subsequent awareness raised for counsellors in this area. Conclusions suggested that acknowledgements which hold significance and meaning could be beneficial because they:
- enable connections to others;
- validate the loss, establish identities and help make meaning;
- enable the formation and articulation of narratives;
- facilitate hope of reunion in the hereafter;
- create a tangible presence of the personhood of the loss;
- form memories through their performance.”
Ella hopes that her research increases awareness of the possible impact of early miscarriage and the role of acknowledgements in helping women find peace and comfort.
The Rev Professor Peter Gubi, Professor of Counselling and Spiritual Accompaniment at the University of Chester, who was Ella’s academic supervisor on her MA, said: “Ella, on the basis of her personal experience and reading, identified a deficit in the literature and in the research around the area of how people personally acknowledge premature loss when little is spoken about it in society. Ella has done a fantastic piece of research for her dissertation (which was awarded a distinction mark). Her willingness to present her research, and to publish it, will help others in coming to terms with their own loss, and raise the awareness of the counselling profession in helping clients to work through these issues.”
She is now looking forward to a future combining counselling work with running the family retail business in St Helens. Ella volunteers at the Brooker Centre, which houses adult mental health inpatient wards on the Halton Hospital site, facilitating hour-long creativity groups for men’s and women’s wards. She is also continuing her professional development through attending counselling training days, which build on the firm foundation laid by her studies at Chester.
Ella added: “Gaining the MA in Clinical Counselling has been life changing. It has enabled me to break free from the restraints of low self-worth; I am now competent in facilitating others on their journey to freedom.”
If you have been affected by miscarriage, the Miscarriage Association offers information and support. Their website is: www.miscarriageassociation.org.uk