When to see a Therapist

Therapy and Infertility

Interview with Peggy Orlin, MFT, Pacific Fertility Center’s in-house therapist about the key psychological issues affecting individuals and couples experiencing infertility.

What is the most common reason why someone comes to see a therapist at PFC?

At Pacific Fertility Center everyone who uses a known or unknown egg or sperm donor or a gestational carrier are required to meet with our therapist. This is mainly an educational session designed to help people think through and discuss the issues involved with using a third party to assist them in building a family. Each meeting is custom tailored to meet the patient’s particular needs.

Some of the topics covered during these sessions are the following:

  • Use of a third party for reproduction and its impact on your relationship
  • Attachment to a non-genetically related child
  • Disclosure of third party reproduction to family, friends and the resulting child
  • Choice of meeting or not meeting with the donor
  • Use of a family member or friend as the donor
  • Multiple pregnancy (twins or triplets) and its impact on your lives. Selective reduction?
  • Choosing an ovum donor; what to look for
  • Support services during and after treatment

What are some of the other reasons people seek a therapist’s help?

The stress of infertility diagnosis and treatment often brings them to our PFC therapist. It is important to understand that no two people will have exactly the same experience. Infertility can strongly impact those within a committed relationship. A recent diagnosis of infertility, as well as the stress and/or disappointments of treatment, can lead to feelings of isolation and depression. Additionally, people may experience grief over the loss of fertility choices. It is not uncommon that our counselor the first person, other than their partner, with whom they discuss their feelings about their infertility challenges.

There are those who are at a critical decision point and are seeking help thinking through their reproductive alternatives. This may include deciding whether or not to do one last IVF, move on to egg donation, select an egg donor or complete their family through adoption or childfree living. In the therapy sessions, we discuss and explore the pros and cons of a decision from the unique perspective of their life beliefs and situation. 

Others may need help with developing positive coping mechanisms and stress reduction techniques such as setting aside time each day to discuss infertility with their partner, rather than allowing it to be a constant topic of conversation. We may also discuss how they can reduce their isolation possibly by talking with others who are having similar experiences. We may even explore how to include moderate exercise in their schedule to reduce symptoms of depression.

What is your advice to those who are uncertain whether or not they should see a therapist?

For patients at the clinic, one exploratory visit can be helpful. Their doctor can refer them to our therapist for one free session during which we can discuss any concerns they may have and talk together about whether or not seeing a private therapist might be useful for them. The patient is not signing on for long-term therapy by talking with her. Just as with stress reduction techniques- it can't hurt and it might just help.

What is the Mind/Body at PFC Workshop and who might benefit from attending?

The jury is still out on the connection between stress and infertility. Recent studies indicate that there may be a stronger connection between depression and infertility than between anxiety and infertility. The Mind/Body classes not only teach people simple ways to relax, but the small group class gives them the experience of being in a safe environment with others who are all experiencing infertility and know just what it’s like to be going through infertility treatment. This group experience helps to reduce stress and may be helpful to ease mild depression.

Depression frequently accompanies infertility. When should someone seek a therapist?

The experience of symptoms of depression which last more than a couple of weeks is an important reason to set up an appointment with our therapist or a therapist of your choosing. Remember, everyone will feel some of these symptoms, some of the time. They become a problem when the number and intensity of symptoms increase and/or don’t abate.

Symptoms of depression:

  • Feelings of emptiness or extreme sadness
  • Loss of interest and motivation to do regular activities
  • Increased level of anxiety
  • Decreased level of energy
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping more than is usual for you
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Abnormal weight loss or gain
  • Obsessive thinking about your infertility
  • Feelings of isolation from friends and family
  • Extreme and persistent feelings of anger
  • Persistent thoughts of death or suicidal thoughts or attempts
  • Persistent feelings of inadequacy, or worthlessness

What is the best way to make an appointment?

Pacific Fertility Center patients can phone the front desk (415) 834-3000 and ask to set up an appointment.

Read more about Peggy Orlin, MFT.