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The Right to Expect?

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In mind/body medicine and psychotherapy, the mind and body cannot be separated at all. What happens to one happens to the other. It is all connected in a fiber so fine, comprising a tapestry so complex, that if you pull one thread the whole picture changes.

For women struggling with fertility, this understanding can be both daunting and relieving. They have another option that can both enhance any further procedures that are medically indicated and, when procedures and technology have proved ineffective or when there are no biologically evident causes for the problem, can help facilitate conception itself.

Approximately 10 to 15 percent of all women experience fertility problems (Speroff, 1994) and, of those, 80 percent demonstrate a clear physiological cause. What about the remaining 20 percent? Without any clear cause, there is no clear course of treatment.

Most physicians today readily acknowledge the relationship between stress and fertility and research has documented the link since the 1980s. Mackett and Maden (Waxman, Ed., Medical & Dental Hypnosis, 3rd Edition) cite that stress, acting via the hypothalamus, can modify pituitary function and upset the finely-tuned hormonal balance necessary for fertilization to occur. They postulate that hypnotherapy is the ideal method for reducing stress because it specifically avoids negative drug interactions or effects. According to the MBS Institute in Central Pennsylvania, they are reporting a 70 percent success rate for conception with their patient population.

Reproduction is one of the most delicately balanced biological systems. It is one of the first systems to shut down when there is a perceived threat: persistent stress, malnutrition, illness. When our resources are needed elsewhere, reproduction takes a backseat to our own survival. If women lose too much body fat, they cease menstruating. Stress can do the same thing by increasing or inhibiting hypothalamic function, which in turns regulates the pituitary and adrenal glands. If our hormones do not flow properly, we do not conceive.

Infertility has also been linked to depression. Women with a history of depressive symptoms report twice the rate of subsequent infertility. (Psychosomatic Medicine, 1995, Vol. 57) However, according to the Journal of the American Medical Women's Association, (1999, Vol. 54) women treated appropriately and proactively for depression, showed a 60 percent viable pregnancy rate. When they were not treated, unfortunately, they showed a 24 percent success rate. That is almost three times less.

One study (Fertility Sterility, 1998, Vol. 37) went so far as to state that because mind/body programs are effective in the soothing of disturbing emotions that can impair IVF success, patients should routinely be offered such a program whenever they undergo IVF treatments.

The process is cyclical, for as much as depression interferes with fertility, continued infertility can cause depression and the effects can make conception even more elusive. Depression has been shown to ensue approximately three years into the infertility treatment process.

There is an option, however, according to one study in Reproductive Technology (April 2000, Vol. 73, issue 4). When women were treated prophylactically in their second year (before symptoms of depression were noted) through group counseling, it seemed to prevent the expected third year onset of depression and had significantly increased viable pregnancies.

Mind/Body Techniques to Increase Fertility Response

Stress Reduction/Relaxation

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Judith Acosta, LISW, CHT is a licensed psychotherapist and clinical homeopath in private practice in Placitas and Albuquerque. Her areas of specialization include the treatment of anxiety, depression, and trauma. She has appeared on both television (more...)
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