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Should You See a Fertility Counselor?

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a blog by Ellen Glazer,

I often get calls from prospective new clients who say, “I’ve never talked with a counselor before, but my doctor suggested I call you.” Knowing how difficult it must be to make this call, I want to offer some perspective on how I see it coming from the other direction.

First, let’s distinguish counseling from psychotherapy. Sure there are women and men going through IUI or IVF who may seek psychotherapy for issues relating to infertility or not. Some may also seek a psychopharmacological consultation to explore taking medication to relieve some of the depression and/or anxiety that often accompany infertility. These are good options for some, but different from the counseling/coaching that I and many other fertility counselors offer.

What is fertility counseling? (Note—I’m using the word “fertility” rather than “infertility” because I know that the latter often upsets people.) Here are some common characteristics:

Fertility Counseling is Supportive
When I see someone going through infertility my goal is to help them cope with the challenges of these experiences. There are challenges to time, finances, a marriage, friendships, faith, career and more. The goal of counseling is to help you cope with this multi faceted assault. This means finding communication strategies for talking with others. It also means identifying ways of keeping a marriage and friendships alive. Help with time management is often crucial and steady support for the pain that inevitably comes when a friend announces a pregnancy.

Fertility Counseling Seeks to Reduce Stress
Women often have a need to talk about infertility and their husbands do not always share this need—or at least feel it to a lesser extent. What do you do then when you have a need to talk about the thing that is on your mind virtually all the time and your partner is starting to feel that it is taking over the relationship? One might suggest talking with friends or other family members but they seldom have an understanding of the infertility experience. Talking with someone who is knowledgeable about infertility, both medically and emotionally, can reduce the isolation and frustration one feels when you have a need to talk and no one to talk with.

Fertility Counseling Involves Decision Making
When you are struggling to have a child and it is not coming easily, there are decisions to be made. Do you seek a second (or third) opinion? Do you change doctors? Do you consider ending treatment and moving on to a donor or adoption? If you have a partner, you will surely want and need to discuss these decisions with him/her but again, having “an outside knowledgeable person” can help. Here’s an instance when you might want to see a counselor with your partner as so often, partners do not move at the same pace, especially when it comes to considering alternative paths to parenthood.

Fertility Counseling Can Be Infrequent, Intermittent and Combine Couples Meetings with Individual Sessions
I have occasionally had clients who wanted to see me weekly for several weeks. However, a much more common model is one of visits as needed. I may see a new client for two or three weeks in a row and then not again for a month or six weeks. People sometimes schedule appts to come right before or right after a treatment or surgery or right around the time of a pregnancy test. Flexibility is the key—this is not about involving someone in an intensive exploratory psychotherapy but rather, being there as a support, traveling companion, guide or sounding board as needed. It is especially gratifying to me as counselor to know some people over time with our relationship spanning many years. Not infrequently, a year or more can pass between visits.

And so if your RE or a friend suggest that you contact a fertility counselor, I hope that you will see the referral as an opportunity to talk with someone who may be helpful in any number of ways. The referral to a counselor is not a commentary on how you are coping with all you are going through.

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