The Fertility Wellbeing Clinic: The Fruit of a Successful Synergy

Fertility Wellbeing ClinicBy providing therapists with welcoming and convenient rooms to build and develop their practice, The Practice Rooms has also established itself as the hub of a growing therapeutic community. Being part of this community is not only supportive but also a chance to broaden one’s perspective by meeting professionals with different therapeutic approaches. Occasionally, successful synergies can spontaneously develop. This is exactly what happened in Salisbury soon after a group of therapists started talking at an Open Day and discovered their similar interests and complementary approaches.

It was at the TPR Open Day in Salisbury, in September 2013 that Harriet Combes, a reflexologist and Secretary to the Association of Reproductive Reflexologists, first met Sarah Pestell, a psychotherapist with significant experience in the fields of infertility and IVF, and a member of the British Infertility Counsellors Association. It didn’t take long for them to hone in on their converging therapeutic interests and their respective experience in dealing with fertility. At the same event, Harriet and Sarah also met the acupuncturist Kay Hay who had a wealth of knowledge and experience in treating unexplained infertility. All three could clearly see the potential for an alliance of practitioners to join forces and provide a more thorough assistance to men and women struggling with issues around fertility. Not long after, the hypnotherapist Coral Dunwell volunteered to join the group and The Fertility Wellbeing Clinic was born.

Fertility Wellbeing Clinic logo

Since March 2014 the group has been supporting couples through pre-conception planning, natural pregnancy, assisted pregnancy, birth and post-natal care. According to Kay Hay, the ethos behind the partnership is that by coming together they are able to offer more than the sum of the parts: We can offer a fuller service by cross-referring our clients so that they receive the treatment most likely to give them the maximum benefit.” Potential clients can attend their regular drop-in sessions for free advice and information. The Fertility Wellbeing Clinic also offers clients a complimentary fertility review to signpost them on the next step to take. As a group we are there to ensure that people have access to information and support to enable them to make the right choices for themselves, whether or not that involves treatment from one of us. This might be something that the group can help with directly, or it could be something else such as nutrition, supplements, or even further testing and the IVF route if that is what they need.

According to Harriet Combes, approximately 1 in 6 couples are struggling with their fertility. Harriet stresses that the Fertility Wellbeing Clinic is very keen to see them before they are sent down the IVF route. The group is passionate about empowering couples to make the right choice by providing them with the most up-to-date information on the ranges of different approaches available to dealing with fertility issues before they consider IVF. However, Harriet adds that the partnership also has a wealth of expertise in working with clients receiving IVF treatment.  “Kay and I are experienced in working with IVF clients. We are also very fortunate to have Sarah Pestell to whom we can refer clients. People underestimate just how stressful IVF treatments can be, and are not getting the support they need.” Undergoing IVF is as intense and stressful as any other major life event. The treatment cycle includes several key stages – oocyte retrieval, fertilization, embryo transfer, waiting period, and pregnancy test stages – with rising levels of stress, anxiety and anticipation, which reach their peak with the waiting period. The importance of providing emotional assistance during such an intensive time in a couple’s life is nevertheless overlooked. Harriet emphasizes that promoting awareness of the need for emotional support during IVF and providing it is another area that the Fertility Wellbeing Clinic passionate about.

Sarah Pestell’s combined experience as a psychotherapist in a clinical psychology department, a licensed fertility clinic and private practice has allowed her to understand the psychological impact that fertility problems can have: “When conception does not go to plan, this creates a sense of loss, with feelings ranging from hopelessness and despair, to anger and disbelief.” She hastens to add that this is only the beginning of a long infertility journey punctuated with GP visits, investigations, a referral to an NHS infertility clinic, more investigations and, finally, a fertility centre. There usually comes a point during this difficult journey when couples need counselling and psychotherapy. Also, having also worked alongside GPs, Sarah is well aware of the wide ranging of health conditions and life events that can affect fertility in a couple, often leading to increased levels of anxiety and low mood, which in turn affect everyday life: “There are young adults diagnosed with cancer whose treatment can impact their fertility, or people whose physical injuries or genetic disorders also lead to infertility problems. And what about the effect of an untreated chlamydia infection? What about the woman who has recurrent miscarriages or the couple who are struggling with sex? What about the couple who have “been trying” for years, not seeing their friends as they all have babies? ” The list goes on, and this is where counselling and psychotherapy is of invaluable help to a couples facing fertility issues.

Continuous and future developments:

Each constituent of the group is very keen to keep up-to-date with the latest research and the partners meet once a month to discuss the recent training they’ve received or articles they’ve read. Thus experience and resources are pooled together and updated continually, enhancing the group’s effectiveness in bringing up-to-date information to couples seeking advice. The Fertility Wellbeing Clinic is still evolving with a view to expanding and is interested in welcoming new members with experience in fertility issues and a special interest in this field. Ultimately what matters most to the group is the original ethos and intent that made the partnership and synergy possible in the first place:  “To learn and to support each other, and to do our best to help all those who come to us”.

Practical Information:

The Fertility Wellbeing Clinic has a drop-in clinic on the 1st Tuesday of every month from 5.30 to 6.30, offering couples one-to-one sessions and advice as to how they can move forward. It may be they just need some emotional support from Sarah Pestell or Coral Dunwell, or they may like to try a series of treatments with either Kay Hay or Harriet Combes.  The group also plans on giving a series of talks in 2016 on the same evening, at about 7pm, on topics such as ‘Understanding your Fertility.’

About our contributors:

harriet combes counselling therapy Bristol, Bath, Salisbury, ExeterHarriet Combes originally trained with the International School of Reflexology and her skills include training in Maternity Reflexology, Reproductive Reflexology and Natural Fertility.  She also trained with Barbara Scott of Seren Natural Therapy, one of the UK’s leading experts in working with couples undergoing assisted fertility treatment and the founder of the Association of Reproductive Reflexologists. Harriet joined her as Secretary to the Association and has recently taken on a teaching role. She has also produced all the diagrams for a new book by Barbara Scott, entitled Reflexology For Fertility – A Comprehensive Practitioners Guide to Natural and Assisted Conception. The book will be published by Watkins and is expected to be out in February 2016.



Kay HayKay Hay was awarded with a degree in acupuncture in 2006 and has since completed numerous postgraduate courses including training in fertility, endometriosis and in acupuncture for use in supporting IVF. Formerly an electronics engineer, Kay’s interest and involvement in Chinese Medicine developed as a result of her own personal experience as she sought to start a family. The decision for a radical change in career was partly to obtain a more family-friendly lifestyle and partly to ensure she would have a career that would absorb her heart and soul in case the longed-for family never did materialise. Kay gave birth to the first of her two daughters in her final year at college, following a few years of investigations, medications, herbs and acupuncture. Fertility and the treatment of women remains an area of acupuncture practice that is particularly close to her heart.


Sarah-PestellSarah Pestell is an accredited member of the British Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapists and a member of the British Infertility Counsellors Association with nearly 30 years’ experience working within the caring professions. She has a wealth of experience in the field of infertility and currently works in an NHS clinical psychology department, a licensed fertility centre and private practice. Sarah supports individuals and couples using a number of different therapies including psychodynamic, CBT, person centred and systemic approaches.


Coral Dunwell counselling therapy Bristol, Bath, Salisbury, ExeterCoral Dunwell is a member of the National Council for Hypnotherapy and her skills include Cognitive Hypnotherapy, Psychodynamic Counselling and NLP. She is also a qualified Confident Childbirth Practitioner and has a special interest in the use of hypnosis to aid fertility and alleviate issues that may arise during pregnancy. Coral is passionate about supporting both women and men on their fertility journeys, and offers hypnotherapy either as a means of increasing their chances of conceiving naturally or of supporting the processes of medical treatments including IVF or drug therapy.



January 2016


Perspectives, January 2016 – Links to other articles in this issue

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Julia Vaughan SmithInterview with Julia Vaughan Smith – The ‘Sentence of Intention’: An Approach For Working With Psycho-Trauma  –  Nadia Sajadi-Rosen from The Practice Rooms interviews the psychotherapist Julia Vaughan Smith about her experience in working with trauma. Read more…

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Twitter BeginnerFor The Twitter Beginner: A Guide To What It’s All About & How To Use It  –  This article is addressed to those who are still reluctant to explore Twitter and considers how practitioners of talking and holistic therapies might use it today in a worthwhile manner. Read more…