A holistic form of group counseling can help calm some of the anxiety that women undergoing in-vitro fertilization (IVF) often feel, a new study suggests.
Researchers in Hong Kong found that a “body-mind-spirit” form of group support eased anxiety levels in a group of women about to undergo IVF.
The therapy, according to the study authors, used breathing exercises, yoga, meditation and other techniques to improve the women’s sense of physical, emotional and spiritual well-being - and therefore make them more resilient to the effects of anxiety.
Celia H. Y. Chan and her colleagues at the University of Hong Kong report the findings in the medical journal Fertility and Sterility.
Anxiety is a common response to fertility problems, and to the prospect of IVF treatment. Couples often view the procedure as their “very last chance of childbearing,” Chan and her colleagues note in their report.
In China, they add, fertility problems often carry a stigma, and women may feel the added stress of hiding the fact that they are receiving treatment.
For their study, the researchers assigned 101 women to participate in four 3-hour sessions of group therapy before having their first IVF attempt. Another 126 women were assigned to a control group that did not go through therapy.
The researchers used a standard questionnaire to measure the women’s anxiety levels before group therapy, and then two more times during the IVF process.
Women in the therapy group, they found, showed reductions in both anxiety and the importance they attached to being able to have a child. There was no clear difference, however, in IVF success rates between the two groups.
Some past studies have found that women with a natural tendency toward anxiety have lower pregnancy rates when they attempt IVF, and other research has linked women’s views of their marital harmony to the odds of IVF success.
Larger studies, according to Chan’s team, should look into whether the anxiety reductions their therapy brought can translate into better IVF outcomes.
SOURCE: Fertility and Sterility, February 2006.
Revision date: July 3, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD