11 November 2020

The importance of psychological support during fertility treatment

Psychological support
Consultant Gynaecologist
Dr Mireia Galian

IVI Birmingham


Anyone who has experienced infertility knows that it can feel like more than a simple reproductive problem.

It can strike at your confidence and your very sense of identity. Once you decide to take the plunge and seek treatment, that too can feel like an emotional rollercoaster. It is important to remember that infertility affects around 14% of heterosexual couples in the UK (so, it’s nothing unusual) and that stress resulting from infertility treatment is also normal and inevitable.

The Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority (HFEA) is the body that regulates and inspects all fertility treatments in the UK. It considers infertility counselling and psychological support during fertility treatment to be so important that they are essential parts of any infertility service. Psychological support in this situation will not only help you and/or your partner feel better, but it could also improve the outcomes of your fertility treatment.


Infertility is a cause of anxiety, and so is fertility treatment

A study published by the British Journal of Medical Practitioners investigated the psychological aspects of infertility. It made some startling findings.


The experience of infertility is stressful

Infertility is seen as a problem across virtually all societies and cultures, affecting an estimated 10 – 15% of couples worldwide. Over recent decades, the number of people seeking help for infertility has increased sharply. Researchers consider that this is partly due to more widespread awareness of treatments available. They also consider the well-documented phenomenon of women delaying childbearing until later in life to be a factor. This in turn has led to increased levels of research into the links between infertility, infertility treatment and psychological wellbeing.


The pain of unfulfilled expectations

Researchers recognise that parenthood is a major milestone in life for both women and men. The stress of not fulfilling the wish to become a parent is frequently associated with feelings of depression, anger, frustration and anxiety. Hard enough to deal with on their own, these can even lead to relationship problems and sexual dysfunction. Both men and women can experience a sense of identity loss and feelings of being somehow “defective”. When undergoing fertility treatment, these negative feelings can be made worse. Treatment can itself trigger stress, depression and anxiety. It is no wonder that many patients going through this experience find great mental and emotional benefits from psychological support.


Infertility counselling could affect the outcome of fertility treatment

Most interesting of all, the study reported that infertility counselling, important as it is for the wellbeing of patients, has another even more significant impact. In a trial of women undergoing IVF treatment, patients were divided into three groups. One received psychological support in the form of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), one was assigned a support group, and the third had no psychological support. Results showed clinical pregnancy rates were 55% for women in the CBT group and 54% for women in the support group. The clinical pregnancy rates were just 20% for the group that had no support.


Where can you find psychological support during infertility treatment?

The HFEA recognises that the support of a partner, family and friends can be a wonderful source of comfort, but in many cases it is not enough. The opportunity to share your thoughts and feelings with a professional counsellor or people who are going through the same experience can make a vital difference. Others who can relate to what you’re going through can provide exactly the type of support that family and friends, despite being sympathetic, may not be able to offer.

That is why the HFEA, in line with the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), requires that all fertility clinics offer counselling before, during and after all fertility treatments, whatever the outcome.

There are other resources in the UK that can also provide helpful support if you’re going through infertility treatment. These include:

  • NHS support: This may be available in your area. The first step is to talk to your GP about getting counselling through the NHS.
  • The British Infertility Counselling Association: It offers a directory of accredited counsellors and therapists, many also offering virtual assessment.
  • Fertility Network UK: It offers events and infertility support.
  • Fertility Friends: It offers forums and support networks including support groups known as ‘cycle buddies’.
  • For men, there are support networks as well, including the Men’s Health Forum with information about men’s health and the opportunity for an anonymous online chat forum, or HIM Fertility Campaign which encourages men to open up about fertility problems and provides signposts to other sources of support.


What psychological support does IVI offer?

Taking time with a trained and experienced counsellor is a positive and constructive step in your fertility journey. As an integral part of our commitment to patient care, we always offer counselling, whether it’s before, during or after your treatment. It is friendly, confidential and tailored to your needs. This is not about telling you what to do or how to feel. It’s to help you understand, take control, and give you the tools you need to better deal with the situation.


See for yourself at our IVI London clinic

Part of the stress of fertility treatment is the fear of facing the unknown. At IVI London, we always want you to feel as comfortable as possible. We encourage you to visit our clinic, meet our physicians and make yourself at home! You can sign up for an Online Open Evening to find out more about us and how we can meet your needs. Alternatively, just complete our online contact form to make an appointment with one of our specialists. Let’s talk!

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