Patients are often puzzled when their physician suggests a psychological consultation. Some even misinterpret the referral to mean that the doctor believes that they are to blame for their infertility -- the problem is "all in their head." Let me assure you, this is completely false. Research has clearly demonstrated that infertility patients experience high levels of emotional distress, and levels rise as the intensity and duration of treatment increases. Depressive symptoms are very common. In fact, studies suggest that about 40% of women report feeling depressed and/or anxious during the initial evaluation with an infertility specialist.
Patients often express fear that their emotions and stress level may be contributing to their inability to conceive. Developing symptoms of depression and anxiety, however, seems to be a typical response to infertility. If left untreated, such emotions can begin to exert a negative influence on treatment efforts. For example, feelings of depression can interfere with self-care (e.g., eating and sleeping) and can make it hard to think clearly about treatment decisions. Also, feeling anxious and depressed can decrease the motivation to pursue treatment options. Research shows that women who are depressed are more likely to drop out of treatment, thus making it far less likely that a pregnancy will be achieved. Most infertility patients are successful, resourceful people who have the skills to manage their daily lives just fine. However, infertility poses many challenges that few people are equipped to deal with.
Infertility can negatively impact every area of a patient's life:
Relationship with family members
At CARE, we recognize the importance of psychological support at every phase of treatment. We are the only infertility practice in the metroplex that has an on-site licensed psychologist devoted to providing support for our patients.
CARE offers a complimentary psychological consultation for all new patients. This can be a very useful visit and can identify the level of support that a particular patient needs. For example, a new patient may just need to "vent" and receive validation that her feelings are a normal reaction to the stress of infertility, Patients who suffer a miscarriage or a failed treatment cycle, may benefit from time-limited counseling to work through feelings of sadness and grief.
Stress Management Training
Patients who want to gain a greater sense of control during treatment may elect to participate in stress management training to bolster their ability to handle the ups and downs of treatment cycles. Patients often feel helpless in regard to their infertility. Learning the relaxation response and other mind/body techniques for self-nurturance is empowering. In addition, cognitive behavioral therapy can help address negative self-talk and is an important evidence-based treatment for depression and anxiety disorders associated with infertility. The decision to move on to more invasive treatment techniques (e.g., IVF) or use of donor gametes poses special psychological challenges. Couples often find that having an objective party to help them sort through their feelings about issues such as multiple births and cryopreservation of embryos is extremely helpful. Likewise, embracing third-party reproductive technologies is a process that involves working through and coming to terms with a complex set of psychosocial issues. The third-party psychological consultation gives the couple or individual the opportunity to reflect upon the treatment decision, receive important educational information, and facilitate communication about important issues like privacy and disclosure.
You do not have to weather this stressful journey alone! CARE psychologist, Dr. Patricia McBride-Houtz, offers consultations and services at all three locations. Call CARE Fertility today to schedule your appointment.