Infertility counseling is a form of psychotherapy designed to support individuals or couples who are faces challenges around fertility. For example, you might work with an infertility counselor if you are struggling to conceive a child, considering using a sperm or egg donor, or thinking about adoption or surrogacy.
Infertility is often stressful for both individuals and couples, and it can cause significant strain in relationships between partners. Sometimes, these stresses can lead to symptoms of common mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. If this is the case for you, infertility counseling can be a helpful way to move through these challenges.
How common are mental health challenges related to infertility?
Infertility is a relatively common in the United States, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reporting that about 12% of women ages 15 to 44 face challenges getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to term. Additionally, about 6% of married women in the same age range are unable to get pregnant after one year of trying.
Infertility affects men as well as women; the CDC also reports that in about 35% of couples with infertility, a male factor was identified as well as a female factor. In about 8% of such couples, only a male cause of infertility could be identified.
Additionally, several studies indicate that couples and individuals struggling with infertility commonly experience anxiety and depression in reaction to these challenges. Other studies demonstrate that these mental health conditions do not necessarily cause infertility, but infertility and mental health symptoms seem nonetheless to be closely linked.
What are some symptoms that infertility counseling can treat?
Infertility counselors are prepared to provide support around any number of challenges that might arise in relation to infertility. Some of the most common symptoms they treat include:
- Anxiety or worry: You may be find yourself frequently preoccupied with thoughts about infertility, perhaps to the point of being overwhelmed or unable to focus on other things.
- Sadness or depression: Challenges around infertility often cause feelings of sadness, loss, listlessness, or hopelessness.
- Physiological symptoms of stress: You may have trouble sleeping or experience physical symptoms including muscle tension, headaches, and digestive troubles.
- Guilt, shame or self-blame: Especially in a culture that places a high value on reproduction and nuclear families, you may blame yourself and feel guilty or ashamed if you’re struggling with infertility.
- Conflicts with partners: Infertility can often lead to conflicts between partners in intimate relationships.
Common challenges around infertility
Infertility counselors can help you at any point during your struggles with infertility; you don’t need to have a specific problem or symptom in order to seek support. That said, some of the most common scenarios include:
- Wondering about options: If you’ve recently started dealing with infertility or are unsure of what your next steps should be, an infertility counselor can provide you with information about your options and help you figure out what would be the best choice for you.
- Considering egg or sperm donation, surrogacy, or adoption: Infertility counselors have experience with the nuances and emotional issues related to these big, sometimes confusing decisions. They can help you weigh your options and proceed thoughtfully with whatever choice you make.
- Facing relationship tension: An infertility counselor can help you and your partner work through the tension or conflict you may experience around your infertility challenges.
- Dealing with social, cultural, or family pressure: Infertility can often become a painful interpersonal issue, particularly in relation to family expectations or friends who are fertile. Infertility counselors can provide support around these external pressures.
- Considering not having children: If you’re thinking about stopping fertility treatments or choosing not to have children, an infertility counselor can help you through this transition.
What to do if you’re experiencing challenges related to infertility
If you’re dealing with any of the challenges described here, consider exploring these options:
- Therapy. Find a therapist who can help you understand your challenges and find strategies for improving your related symptoms. You might work with a therapist on your own, or you and your partner(s) might choose to attend therapy together. (See more tips below on selecting a therapist.)
- Support groups. A support group can give you perspective, understanding, and solidarity from others who are facing similar challenges. You can search for a support group in your area through The National Infertility Association.
- Meditation or mindfulness practices. You might find it helpful to experiment with meditation or other mindfulness practices through classes or apps. Studies have shown that these practices can help reduce the symptoms of stress and anxiety that may accompany challenges around infertility.
- Exercise: Some studies show that regular physical activity can decrease the stress symptoms that may come with infertility.
- Hotlines: If you’re having thoughts of suicide or need immediate support, you can always call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
What should I look for in a therapist for fertility counseling?
Therapists differ in their approaches to fertility counseling, and you’ll want to make sure that your specific therapist has experience treating people who have faced challenges like yours. Some common approaches to infertility counseling include aspects of the following: