CBT Tips for Fertility Support
The emotional and psychological well-being of couples and individuals who undergo fertility treatment is very important. Supporting the psychological, emotional and physical well-being of both women and men experiencing fertility issues has been shown to positively affect fertility.
According to Dr Alice Domar, who pioneered the Mind/Body Programme at Harvard University,‘Several studies conducted within the past three years support the theory that psychological distress can have a significant adverse impact on success rates in in vitro fertilisation (IVF). Mind/body treatment of infertility patients has been shown to both increase pregnancy rates as well as reduce psychological distress.’ Facing infertility issues is one of the most challenging experiences an individual or couple can go through. Before seeking fertility support treatment (either natural health or medically assisted), most individuals have already gone through a range of thoughts and feelings, either in response to their own beliefs or those of others, such as family and friends. The experience can trigger some powerful negative emotions, including low mood/depression, grief, anxiety, anger, unhealthy envy, loss of self-esteem, feelings of being judged harshly by others, and guilt.
Integrating stress-reduction techniques and establishing self supportive thinking patterns and beliefs can improve your wellbeing by encouraging self-acceptance and compassion in the face of a deeply personal or couple crisis. This can bring about a positive change in your overall health, ease relationship problems and improve your emotional experience.
How can Cognitive Behavioural Therapy help?
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) works on the understanding that there is a correlation between our internal dialogue and our corresponding emotions. It essentially aims to change the way we feel by challenging and changing unhelpful thoughts and beliefs about our experiences. Firstly, it is helpful to understand the types of thoughts or beliefs you hold about your experience of dealing with infertility.
Unhelpful thoughts that may arise when feeling stressed with issues relating to fertility
- This has to work or it means I’m a failure (selfdowning)
- If it wasn’t for me, my partner would have a better life (fortune telling with negative filter)
- Everyone else has it easy (over-generalising)
- My life is not worth living unless I can have a baby (life-negating and discounting your positive qualities and worth)
- People absolutely shouldn’t ask me if I want a baby (other-downing even if they are unaware of your challenges)
- Others are doing much better than me (overgeneralising)
- Other women drink and smoke and still give birth – life shouldn’t be like this (black-and-white thinking; things should be absolute, in black or white categories)
- I left it too late (over-personalising responsibility, as the individual/couple were not aware that they had an issue; lacks compassion)
- It’s his/her fault or it’s my fault (personalisation and blame – you blame yourself/other for something/medical issue that you are not responsible for). had an issue; lacks compassion
- It’s his/her fault or it’s my fault (personalisation and blame – you blame yourself/other for something/medical issue that you are not responsible for).
Whilst it is completely understandable to have negative feelings relating to the crisis that may be associated with infertility, if we leave unhelpful thinking unchallenged, it can deepen the crisis by triggering emotions that are hard to manage (e.g. anxiety and/or anger). Often our negative thoughts about ourselves and our partner are untrue and cruel. However, these thoughts have a huge emotional impact.
Write down your most unhelpful thoughts and ask yourself:
- Is this thought true?
- Is it absolutely true about me/him?
- Is this a belief I have had about myself in other situations?
- If so, where and when did I learn it? (Usually from an early life experience.)
- Prove it. Write down the evidence that this thought is true.
- Disprove it. Write down the evidence that does not support this thought.
- Do I believe that I will be judged harshly by others? Is that likely? Everybody?
- What would happen if I let go of thinking about myself in this way?
- What would I tell my best friend if she had this thought in this situation?
- Am I underestimating my ability to cope in difficult situations?
(List some life challenging events you have coped with inthe past.)
- What supportive resources (people, places, things) do I have?
- How do my reactions affect me?
- How do they affect others?
- Is there anything I can change about this situation, my environment, my reaction, or my behaviour right now?
- Is this situation within my control or out of my control?
- If the current situation is out of my control, can I make an action plan or a plan B?