- If you need emotional support during your fertility journey, reach out to a therapist.
- Talk directly to your fertility specialist for education and clarification and to alleviate stress.
- The most important part of getting emotional support is determining the goals of your therapy during fertility treatments.
If you are going through fertility treatment and thinking that you may need some mental health support and therapy, you are not alone. About 80% of patients dealing with infertility experience some emotional distress, and between 30%–40% experience clinically-significant depression and anxiety1.
When your sense of control, sense of choice, and ability to predict what is coming next decreases, stress increases. Unfortunately, that means most fertility patients will be stressed because becoming pregnant is no longer under your control, your choices are suddenly limited, and your reproductive future may be unknown. Additionally, if you not only feel stressed as a result of your fertility challenges, but also believe the myth that daily stress is the cause of your fertility problems, you’ll probably be feeling self-blame and shame in addition to the stress.
The good news is that client-centered counseling by mental health fertility specialists has been found to be helpful in preparing patients for treatment, dealing with relationship stresses during treatment, and helping them design their lives after treatment, no matter what the outcome2. Particularly when you are going through egg retrieval, embryo transfer, waiting for pregnancy test results, dealing with negative results, considering donor sperm or egg, adoption, or surrogacy, studies find that you are likely to feel in need of mental health support3. If this sounds like you and your situation, reach out.
Talk To Your Fertility Specialist
Early in the fertility journey, education and clarification of procedures, medical terms, and outcome probabilities are enough to reduce anxiety. For example, learning that stress-induced hormonal changes are usually self-correcting and time-limited, or only triggers for pre-existing medical conditions, can help reduce any guilt or shame, and help you feel more comfortable sharing your concerns with others.
Later in treatment, you may need a therapist’s help for decision-making support, information on the side-effects of fertility medications, techniques for dealing with intrusive family questions or friends’ pregnancies, balancing work demands and self-care during treatment, or even crisis-intervention4. Your fertility practice can usually refer you to a therapist who has special training in infertility.
Most therapists trained in a fertility specialty say that six to eight weeks of support can make a big difference in stress levels during treatment. Though most patients with mild anxiety or stress rely on family and friends for support, and many who reach out to a therapist for emotional help find they attend only one to three sessions5. It’s important to get the help you need, as long as you need it.
What Type of Therapy is Best for My Fertility Journey?
If you are wondering which type of therapy is most useful and effective for fertility patients, the answer is all of them. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, and mindfulness-based therapies are used most often, but a survey of therapists in this field found that although, as a group, they were trained in more than 12 types of therapies, they all said they were flexible and used more than one approach to help patients with their specific journey6.
What’s the Goal?
More important than the techniques are the goals of your emotional support therapy during fertility treatments. One of the biggest goals is helping you move forward without losing precious time. Having someone who can reassure you that there are no ‘neat’ emotional stages for you to ‘work through’, that we all deal with and recover from disappointments at different rates, and that we can experience more than one emotion at the same time, can help you continue to move forward toward your family building. You do not have to resolve all your issues to move forward. Life doesn’t work that way and neither does fertility treatment.
Other critical support goals that most of my colleagues focus on include: giving patients an opportunity to hear themselves express their fears and hopes out loud, helping them reduce excessive and obsessive information-seeking, modifying social isolation during their journey, helping to normalize their relationships so they get maximum support, identifying signs of depression, and discouraging patients from seeking medical or emotional advice on unfiltered social media (a big one these days).
To find a therapist near you, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.
1 [(BMJ Open. 2021; 11(11): e050373.online 2021 Nov 9. Doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2021-050373 Infertility-related distress and clinical targets for psychotherapy: a qualitative study Loveness Dube,1 Nokuthula Nkosi-Mafutha,2 Ashley A Balsom,1 and Jennifer L Gordon SHAPE \* MERGEFORMAT 1].
2 [ J Hum Reprod Sci. 2018 Jul-Sep; 11(3): 219–228. ]
3 . [ Verhaak CM, Smeenk JM, Evers AW, Kremer JA, Kraaimaat FW, Braat DD, et al. Women's emotional adjustment to IVF: Hum Reprod Update. 2007;13:27–36. [PubMed]
4. [ Gameiro S, Boivin J, Dancet E, de Klerk C, Emery M, Lewis-Jones C, et al. Routine psychosocial care in infertility and medically assisted reproduction-a guide for fertility staff. Hum Reprod. 2015;30:2476–85. [PubMed]
5. [J Hum Reprod Sci. 2018 Jul-Sep; 11(3): 219–228.. Role of Mental Health Practitioner in Infertility Clinics: A Review on Past, Present and Future Direction, sAnsha Patel, P. S. V. N. Sharma, and Pratap Kumar1]]
6. [Frederiksen Y, Farver-Vestergaard I, Skovgård NG, Ingerslev HJ, Zachariae R. Efficacy of psychosocial interventions for psychological and pregnancy outcomes in infertile women and men: A systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ Open. 2015;5:e006592.]