Infertility often creates one of the most distressing life crises for couples. Struggles with conception can cause deep feelings of loss to surface. Dealing with with the multitude of medical decisions and the uncertainties that infertility brings can create great emotional upheaval for many couples. So if you find yourself feeling anxious, depressed, out of control, or isolated, you are not alone.
How do I know if I could benefit from psychological counseling?
It is normal to experience a wide variety of emotions in the process of pursuing infertility treatment. However, if your experience includes any of the following symptoms over a prolonged period of time, you could benefit greatly from spending time with a mental health professional. The symptoms include:
- Loss of interest in normal activities
- Depression that doesn’t seem to go away
- Strained interpersonal relationships (with partner, family, friends and/or colleagues)
- Difficulty thinking about anything other than your infertility
- High levels of anxiety
- Diminished ability to focus upon completing tasks
- Difficulty concentrating
- Change in sleep patterns (difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, early morning awakening, sleeping more than usual)
- Change in appetite or weight (increase or decrease)
- Increased use of drugs or alcohol
- Thoughts about death or suicide
- Social isolation
- Persistent feelings of pessimism, guilt, or worthlessness
- Persistent feelings of bitterness or anger
In addition, there are certain points during infertility treatment when discussion with a mental health professional can help clarify thoughts and help with decision making. For example, consulting with a mental health professional may be helpful to you and your partner if you are:
- At a treatment crossroad
- Trying to decide between alternative treatment possibilities
- Exploring other family-building options
- Considering third party assistance (gamete donation, surrogacy)
- Having difficulty communicating or if you are in conflict with others about what direction to take
How can psychological treatment help me/us cope with infertility?
Mental health professionals who have experience with infertility treatment can be very helpful. Their primary goal is to help individuals and couples learn how to cope with the physical and emotional changes associated with infertility and with medical treatments that can be painful and intrusive. Some professionals might choose to focus primarily on how to deal with a partner’s response. Other professionals might spend lots of time discussing how to choose the right medical treatment or how to explore and evaluate other family building options.
Some couples might need help controlling stress, anxiety, or depression (or all three). Mental health professionals can help individuals work through grief, fear, and other negative emotions related to infertility. A good therapist has the ability to help others sort out feelings, strengthen existing coping skills and develop new ones, and communicate with others more effectively. Many have found that their life-crisis of infertility became an opportunity for life-enhancing personal growth.
How can I find a mental health professional experienced in working with infertility?
Make every effort to find a mental health professional who is familiar with the emotional experience of infertility. The professional should have:
- A graduate degree in a mental health profession
- A license to practice and/or state registration
- Clinical training in the psychological aspects of infertility
- Experience in the medical and psychological aspects of reproductive medicine
It may prove beneficial to interview more than one professional. Ask the person for his/her credentials especially regarding their experience with infertility issues and treatments and if they are currently seeing other people with infertility problems. Although the process of finding a professional can be stressful, it can also be a highly rewarding experience.
Reprinted by permission from the American Society of Reproductive Medicine