Definition & Overview
IVF counseling is a highly recommended step in the process of seeking in vitro fertilization. Going through the whole process can be challenging both physically and emotionally, and counseling can give couples the support they need. These counseling sessions are offered by the same fertility clinics that offer the procedure, so it is easy for couples undergoing IVF to access it.
Fertility clinics offer mandatory pre-treatment counseling as a part of the treatment while also providing optional counseling during and after the process. This is in accordance with laws concerning Assisted Reproductive Treatments or ARTs, which require all individuals and couples to undergo at least one session of counseling prior to the start of the treatment.
Who Should Undergo & Expected Results
According to IVF organizations, all couples should be offered counseling before, during, and after an IVF procedure as well as other assisted reproductive treatments. It is deemed beneficial not only for couples who have been through an unsuccessful treatment, but also for couples who are still undergoing treatment and those who have been through a successful IVF procedure and are now awaiting the birth of their child or adjusting to their new role as parents.
Embarking on the procedure makes couples vulnerable to the onset of many different, and sometimes conflicting, emotions. On one hand, the procedure may feel exciting and may fill couples with a hopeful feeling as they prepare to welcome a new addition to the family. On the other hand, they may also be filled with nervousness and anxiety, fear, and uncertainty as they proceed. Counseling can help keep patients on track and focused on the procedure while dealing with all these feelings. The following situations/scenarios are usually addressed during IVF counseling.
Implications of treatment/s. The most important role of IVF counseling is to help both partners understand and cope with the effects and implications of what they are undertaking.
Failed IVF treatment/s. Patients need to be made aware that the treatment is not guaranteed to work. One of the most important goals of the counseling is to prepare them for any outcome, including a failed attempt or several failed attempts. Failure of an IVF cycle may trigger feelings of frustration, hurt, disappointment, hopelessness, depression and fear among couples. Counseling can help them sort through these feelings and assist them in deciding whether they wish to try again.
Succeeding attempts after an unsuccessful procedure. IVF counselors generally advise couples to take a few months after an unsuccessful treatment before giving the process another try. This is to give them enough time to recover from the stress caused by the procedure. This time can also give them a chance to discuss with their IVF doctors the possible reasons why the treatment was unsuccessful so that additional effort and improvements can be undertaken to improve their chances of success in case they decide to undergo the process again.
Successful IVF treatment and successful birth. In case of a successful IVF treatment, counseling may still come in handy to help couples adapt to their new roles as parents. Since this is a major change in the patients’ lives, the IVF counselor can provide valuable support as they cope with new challenges.
Miscarriage or pregnancy loss. There are also cases wherein a successful IVF treatment, unfortunately, ends in a pregnancy loss or miscarriage. This is yet another possible scenario that couples should be prepared for and that counseling sessions can help with.
Handling mixed reactions from outside sources. People tend to react differently to an IVF treatment; some people may be supportive while some may not be as accepting of the process. IVF counseling also helps couples deal with any reaction they may receive.
Considering other options. Counseling may also help couples consider other available options to make sure they are really committed to the IVF process or they are better off pursuing other options. During the counseling, patients can reflect on adoption, surrogacy, or sperm/egg donation
How Does the Procedure Work?
Counseling is a commonly used type of therapy to provide emotional and psychological support for a person who is undergoing certain challenges, difficulties, or experiences in life. Its goal is to provide patients with a confidential and reliable environment wherein they can freely talk about their thoughts and feelings. It is provided by a counselor who has received specialty training and whose role is to listen to the patient, provide empathy, and generally assist the patient in dealing with any situation he or she faces.
Counseling for IVF couples, however, are facilitated by counselors who have special training in dealing with the psychological and emotional implications of the in vitro fertilization process. Its goal is to help the couples understand the entire process, cope with the challenges the process may come with, and provide the support the couples need especially at the critical points of the process. IVF counseling becomes most beneficial when the treatment becomes unsuccessful.
In many cases, couples undergo just the mandatory session before they proceed with the procedure. However, couples can also choose to continue attending counseling sessions throughout the whole process and even after the treatment, regardless of the results.
Some clinics also offer counseling and consultation over the phone as an added benefit for their patients if there are any reasons hindering the patients from coming to the clinic.
Possible Complications and Risks
IVF counseling is not intended to provide couples with advice regarding their situation. Counselors should not interfere with the couples’ own decisions or try to influence them in any way. This is why counselors usually just allow patients to share their thoughts and feelings while listening to them without giving any advice.
There is also a risk that couples may focus on the implications of the treatment on their relationship or the feelings of one partner more than the other, and thus forget to address how each partner feels about the procedure. An IVF counseling session should invite both partners to become open to each other about what they feel.
Goldberg JM. In vitro fertilization update. Cleve Clin J Med. May 2007; 74(5): 329-38.
The Practice Committee of the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology and the Practice Committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Criteria for number of embryos to transfer: a committee opinion. Fertil Steril. Jan 2013;99 (1):44-46.