An assisted reproduction treatment can be a difficult and stressful experience. In this post, Fiammetta Grignolo, psychologist of our Psychology Unit, talks about the impact of assisted reproduction treatments in personal and couple life and the importance of containing the psychological discomfort they can entail.

The difficulty to procreate can cause an intense emotional crisis in the woman and the couple’s relationship, which is manifested by feelings of denial, loss, fear and anxiety.

Resorting to assisted reproduction techniques represents the possibility of satisfying the desire to become parents, but it also means facing a new and unknown situation, characterized by uncertainty and unpredictability.

90% of patients consider reproductive treatments a stressful experience, with a strong impact on a personal and social level. When stress reaches high levels, it lasts for a prolonged period, and you do not have the adequate strategies to deal with it, the result is a psychological discomfort that can negatively affect the quality of life and lead to abandonment of the treatment.

Anxiety states, which imply an acute psychophysical tension, are the psychological disorders associated most frequently with the assisted reproduction. 

Also, the depressed mood is a recurring malaise, which appears mainly as a consequence of various unsuccessful cycles of treatment. Depression is often related to a loss, which in infertility is represented by the impossibility of conceiving a child naturally.

The critical moments of a treatment cycle are different: diagnosis, embryo development, waiting for the results of the pregnancy test… The negative outcome of the treatment, or the spontaneous termination of pregnancy are the most difficult to deal with and can cause painful experiences of mourning, feelings of guilt, self-reproaches, and mood alterations.

Even when the outcome is positive, the resulting sensations can be distressing and ambivalent, characterized by an alternation of happiness and concern for possible complications during gestation.

To offer support to people with difficulty conceiving, intervention programs have been created to prevent psychological distress and to face reproductive treatment with more serenity.

The psychological intervention objectives are as follows:

  • Facilitate the expression of one’s emotions and contain negative feelings
  • Identify the causes of psychological distress and help manage anxious or depressive symptoms and possible related physical symptoms
  • Promote adaptive and functional behaviours
  • Develop a cognitive restructuring of disturbing thoughts, promoting a more adequate interpretation of one’s reality
  • Improve assertive and communication skills in one’s social context and within the couple
  • Maintain a satisfactory quality of life throughout the whole process.

Psychological assistance should start from the first steps of the assisted reproduction process, to offer patients a space in which to express and overcome their difficulties and face the sense of diversity that is often felt towards people who spontaneously achieve pregnancy.

The intervention develops through different phases:

  • Evaluation of the emotional distress of the patient or the couple

A cognitive interview is carried out, possibly accompanied by a test to assess the level of anxiety, sadness and stress.

During this meeting the distortions or false beliefs that underlie the painful feelings are identified.

  • Use of methods of cognitive self-control

You will learn more functional behaviours and more rational and constructive ways of thinking facing the most complex phases of treatment.

Relaxation techniques are proposed as a valid complement to the management of anxiety symptoms.

  • Modification of avoidance behaviour

The social and family isolation produced by the secrecy with which reproductive treatments are often carried out is corrected.

  • Building an effective communication system

Dialogue is promoted not only within the couple, who in stressful situations tends to become poorer, but also towards the clinical team, the family and the social environment.

Action is taken on assertiveness to deal with critical situations such as asking for work permits to go to medical examinations, participate in events with children and answer people’s suggestive questions.

  • Diversification of social support

The ability to choose the appropriate support figures is improved, so that not only the couple is responsible for mutual emotional support.

If within a couple there are substantial differences in the need for external support, an agreement is drawn up on the type and amount of information to be shared with others.

  • Scheduling rewarding activities

Satisfying activities are encouraged, made less frequent by the implication in the treatment and the emotions that derive from it.

This project has a dual objective of distraction and ensuring that infertility problems have not eliminated the sources of pleasure that existed before.

Infertility is a complex problem that requires complete therapeutic assistance, aimed at enhancing personal resources to reduce its negative impact.

The desire to become parents plays an important part of one’s life, but the difficulties in realizing it should not drastically reduce its quality. It is important to maintain an adequate level of psychological balance even during reproductive treatments, protecting sources of gratification, and social and couple relationships.