The importance attached to counselling in infertility has increased a great deal over the past few years. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority states that counselling is a key element in the provision of infertility services. Everyone who works in the infertility field is aware of the intense emotional feelings experienced by the infertile couple, and the reactions to the stresses and strains of the treatment itself. Infertility hospitals and clinics have trained counsellors who are available to all their patients.
What is Counselling?
Counselling is a process by which a trained counsellor helps patients explore, understand and gain insight into their feelings about what is happening to them in relation to their infertility. The counsellor and the patient develop a working relationship, and identify the specific difficulties of each individual. The counsellor offers support, empathy and acceptance of painful feelings in a non-judgmental and non-directive manner.
Who needs Counselling?
The diagnosis of infertility can sometimes feel like a life crisis, and may be very difficult to come to terms with. Many patients and couples experience feelings of distress, loss, anxiety, sadness, isolation and frustration - all feelings that can be overwhelming and difficult to deal with. These feelings may affect all relationships - with the partner, relatives, friends and colleagues at work. They may also affect self-esteem and sexual relationships. The counsellor is available to give time and support, and to provide therapy to patients who experience these feelings and want help in dealing with them.
Couples may come for counselling together, or each partner may feel the need to see the counsellor individually. Sometimes acknowledging and talking about painful feelings can be very therapeutic. Counselling also gives time, outside the medical setting, to understand treatment options - whether to go ahead with infertility treatment, to stop treatment, to consider adoption or to come to terms with childlessness. All patients and couples who are considering infertility treatment with donor sperm or eggs are required by HFEA to see a counsellor, to explore the issues, anxieties, uncertainties, implications and expectations of having a donor child.
Counselling sessions usually last for 50 minutes but further sessions can be arranged if the counsellor and patient jointly decide this is advisable. Counselling can help, if necessary, bring about the acceptance of infertility and the confidence to share the experience with close friends and relatives which may, in turn, have a beneficial effect on daily living.
When is counselling available?
Some patients feel that they need counselling early on to help them understand their feelings and make decisions, others at a time when treatment is proving distressing and upsetting, others when relationships become strained, or when treatment has been unsuccessful and an ending has to be faced. It is recognised that patients need help at different times, and that it is not a sign of weakness when counselling is sought.
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