One of the most challenging aspects of the infertility experience is dealing with the emotional ups and downs relating to medical treatment, the uncertainty about outcomes, and the challenge of having to make important decisions. Infertility can be one of the most distressing life crises that a couple experiences together. The inability to conceive a child over a long period of time can evoke significant feelings of loss, anger, guilt and shame. Coping with making many intense medical decisions and the uncertainty that infertility brings can create an emotional upheaval for most couples. It is important to learn how to take care of yourself, make sure that you get the support you need, and to manage your emotions so that your self-esteem and outlook on life remains as positive as possible.
If you find yourself feeling anxious, depressed, out of control, or isolated, you may benefit from seeking support from a certified metal health professional. Infertility can have an impact on your psychological well-being. The process of coming to terms with infertility is a slow and gradual process. It’s important to remember you are not alone.
How do I know if I could benefit from psychological counseling?
Everyone has feelings and emotional ups and downs as they pursue infertility treatment. Feeling overwhelmed at times is a perfectly normal response. However, if you experience any of the following symptoms over a prolonged period of time, you may benefit a great deal from working with a mental heath professional:
- Loss of interest in usual activities
- Depression that doesn’t lift
- Strained and interpersonal relationships (with partner, family, friends and/or colleagues)
- Difficulty thinking of anything other than your infertility
- High levels of anxiety
- Diminished ability to accomplish tasks
- Difficulty with concentration
- Change in your sleep patterns (difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, early morning awakening, sleeping more than usual for you)
- Change in your appetite or weight (increase or decrease)
- Increased use in 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 mental health professionals of various options and exploration of your feelings about these options can help facilitate clarification of your thinking and help with your decision making. For example, consultation with a mental health professional may be helpful to you and your partner if you are:
- At a treatment crossroad
- Deciding between alternative treatment possibilities
- Exploring other family building options
- Considering third party assistance (gamete donation, using a gestational carrier)
- Having difficulty communicating or if you have different ideas about what diction to take
How can psychological treatment help me/us cope with infertility?
Mental Health professionals with experience in infertility treatment can help a great deal. Their primary goal is to help individuals and couples learn how to cope with the physician and emotional challenges associated with infertility, as well as with the medical treatments that can be painful and intrusive. For some, the focus may be on how to deal with a partner’s response. For others, it may be on how to choose the right medical treatment or how to begin exploring other family building options. For still others, it may be on how to control, stress, anxiety, or depression. By teaching patients problem-solving strategies in a supportive environment, mental health professionals help people work through their grief, fear, and other emotions so that they can find resolution of their infertility. A good therapist can help you sort out feelings, strengthen already present coping skills and develop new ones, and communicate with others more clearly. For many, the life crisis of infertility eventually proves to be an opportunity for life-enhancing personal growth.
How can I find a mental health professional experienced in working with infertility?
Making sure you choose a mental health professional that is familiar with the emotional experience of infertility is important. The American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) recommends the mental healthcare professional 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
Make sure you (and your partner) are comfortable with the mental healthcare professional you choose to seek care with. Interview the individual; ask them for their credentials as well as their experience with infertility issues and treatment. Ask if they are currently seeing other people with infertility. Interviewing more than one mental healthcare professional may help you (and your partner) gauge who will best support you through your family-building process.
The Complementary Alternative Medicine Program at RMANJ provides the additional emotional and physical support during your cycle. Our compassionate experts provide counseling, acupuncture, yoga, nutritional guidance, and other natural interventions to compliment your clinical care. If you’re looking for someone to talk to about the ups and downs of treatment as an individual or couple, our counseling experts are here to listen. For patients dealing with the loss of a pregnancy or coping with cancer and the need for fertility preservation, counseling could provide the right perspective at the right time.
For an alternate referral to a competent mental health professional, you can check the ASRM website to find members of the Mental Health Professionals Group. You can find more information on infertility counselors by reading over the Qualification Guidelines for Infertility Counselors (PDF). Additional resources include contacting a national support group to seek further recommendations: RESOLVE or The American Fertility Association (AFA)