Fertility problems can be highly stressful – as are the tests, investigations and treatment procedures. They frequently evoke a range of powerful feelings – including anxiety, anger, grief, humiliation, denial, confusion, guilt, blaming and depression. Often self-esteem suffers – this is quite normal!
It’s not easy to make good decisions in this highly stressed state. It can be difficult to continue one’s normal social life and work. The relationship between a couple often is tested to the limit.
In general, counselling is a process through which individuals and couples are given the opportunity to explore their thoughts, emotions, reactions and beliefs with an impartial and sympathetic professional who understands the issues involved.
Good counselling helps people cope better. It usually brings greater clarity, a broader perspective and some peace of mind. Decisions about what choices to make become less murky and are based on realism and self-knowledge. The process should be strictly confidential.
THE LAW & FERTILITY COUNSELLING
The Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority (HFEA) requires that anyone undergoing licensed treatment MUST be offered counselling by the clinic. Sometimes this counselling is free. It is well worth finding out how a fertility clinic operates its counselling procedures, as they are not all the same. Some are more generous than others.
You are not obliged to accept counselling, but you may find it a valuable opportunity – you won’t know until you try. It is important to find a counsellor whom you like and respect (sometimes clinics have more than one counsellor available).
The HFEA Code of Practice sets out three types of counselling that should be available in licensed clinics. These include:
1) Implications Counselling
The implications of treatment that you are considering will be explored with you. The course of treatment may have implications not just for you, but also for your wider family and any children born as a result. This type of counselling is aimed particularly at people thinking about using donated sperm, eggs or embryos. It may also include genetic counselling.
2) Support Counselling
The aim is to provide emotional support at times of particular stress – for example, if treatment fails to produce a pregnancy or the pregnancy ends in miscarriage. It’s important to remember that most high-tech fertility treatment, such as IVF or ICSI, do not succeed. There is the potential for a lot of disappointment connected with these procedures.
Support counselling might also be useful if you discover you are pregnant with twins or triplets.
3) Therapeutic Counselling
This usually encompasses support counselling, but goes beyond it. Broadly speaking, it aims to help people cope with the consequences of infertility and fertility treatment. The HFEA brochure says “it includes helping people to adjust their expectations and to accept the situation”. It may also help couples repair any damage to their relationship caused by the stresses of fertility problems & treatment. It could offer a chance to explore wider issues that may be hindering a successful outcome.