NCHP ‚Hypnosis for Fertility‘ Practitioners Course Assessment Paper
Bettina Traxler, Linz, AT
26. April 2021
Below you can read my written exam to achieve Certification in Hypnosis for Fertility:
„The longer a couple have been trying to conceive, the less likely they are to conceive“ (Dr Francoise Shenfield)
From the viewpoint as a hypno-psychotherapist, list and explain the reasons why might this be the case? Devise an action plan for assisting your client.
Every sexually educated person knows, when a man and a woman have sexual intercourse without contraception around the time of the woman’s ovulation, a pregnancy can occur. As simple as that.
Sometimes an embryo nests in the womb without the sexually active couple planing, wishing or even wanting it. At other times, the couple is very clear about their wish of having a baby, some couples even plan a pregnancy for when it suits them most in their life plan. There’s nothing wrong about any of these mind sets, especially not if a dream comes true or the couple accepts and deals with life’s surprises in their own mindful way. However, plans do not always work out, wishes do not always come true and conception does not always happen. So… maybe conception is not ‚as simple as that’ after all.
Contraception, birth control, female labour market, feminism, homosexuality, from forced marriages to self-determination. All of these terms influence our lives and, moreover, today’s fertility in some way (Siegers 1991; Lundquist et al 2015; Niethammer and Satjukow 2016).
The age of couples wishing to start a family rises (Donner 2018), using contraception for years can delay getting pregnant, homosexual relationships call for technical support in conceiving and higher self-determination means to be free to choose not to have children after all. Going with the time, we face new topics, new turns and new challenges. When it comes to conception all these factors play a role.
In addition to the above mentioned turns and challenges of modern society there are many other factors that contribute to conceive or not to conceive.
Thanks to a number of studies we know today, that both physiological and psychological factors of both men and women must be considered in preconception. Good preconception preparation helps to become pregnant and ensure the best possible pregnancy, claim Murkoff and Mazel (2009).
So, on the one side, physiological causes could make conception trickier than expected. According to Kinderwunschzentrum (2021) studies show, that they occur in women (14,1 %) as well as in men (53,5 %). Some of these causes include, for example, genetic defects, low sperm count or a matter of quality and motility of the sperm in men. Endometriosis, Hydrosalpinx (a blockage in the fallopian tube) or thyroid disorder cause difficulties in conceiving in women, to name just a few.
On the other side, psychological factors must be taken into account. As stated by Mustard (2009, p. 3) „One (body) without the other (mind) can be ineffective.“ Studies have shown that psychological well-being, including the effect of stress and the belief that pregnancy can occur, plays an important role in conceiving - either naturally or with ART (assisted reproductive techniques). Thus, a positive belief system and a relaxed lifestyle are a brilliant basis for a healthy pregnancy. However, not only the woman’s mindset and emotions have a significant impact on becoming pregnant - as believed in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Also men should adapt their lifestyle, trying to be relaxed and positive about a future pregnancy. Elezaj’s 2015 study on infertility in men with and without Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (cited in Mustard 2009, p. 5) showed, that secondary infertility is much higher in veterans with PTSD. Furthermore, significantly reduced sperm motility and higher sperm abnormalities could be found compared to men without signs of PTSD. There’s also research that explored the semen quality of stressed men. Stressful jobs, life events or bereavement cause significantly reduced straight-line velocity as well as lower sperm motility, as stated by Fenster et al (1997) cited in Mustard (2009, p. 13).
Another study (Ryan, 2004) on women’s stress level during IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) shows that reducing stress increases fertility rates. A team of Soroko University, Israel, looked at hypnosis helping women to relax during an IVF treatment and therefore improving the chances of a successful embryo transfer. In their study they found out that hypnosis can double the success of IVF treatments. Akhter (2016) informs that women who reported feeling more stressed than others in general or during ovulation were 40 - 45 % less likely to conceive (cited in Mustard 2009, p. 14). A link between a higher stress level and conception especially a few days before ovulation has been pointed out by Jensen (2019). She additionally states that a high stress level in women is not only the consequence but can also be the reason for infertility.
As stress is such a big factor in fertility and conception, I believe, that this is one reason why Dr. Francoise Shenfield states that „The longer a couple have been trying to conceive, the less likely they are to conceive.“ (Ryan, 2004) Another reason is the age factor. The longer a couple tries and waits for a baby, the older they get. According to de Kat and Broekmans (2018), at the age of 30-31 years the chances to get pregnant start to decrease. Natural sterility occurs at an average of 41 years which leads to menopause about 10 years later, conforming to data from the early 19th century.
Consequently, it is obvious that conceiving is easier when the parents to be are young, healthy, in a stable relationship and have a secure income, so that most stress factors are not existent. However, today the desire to start a family comes later and later. Apparently, men and women nowadays feel younger than they are. But, for fertility, the biological age of the egg is the crucial factor (Donner, 2018). So, age is one reason why parents to be might feel stressed about becoming pregnant soon after wishing for a baby.
Another stress producing reason can be our busy lives. Establishing a professional career next to taking part in social events, juggling friendships and care for our families can create a high level of stress. Thus, it can be beneficial to look at our overall lifestyle. Not only stress or relaxation but also sports, food intake, drug use, air pollution or domestic violence are to be considered when it comes to living a healthy life (Murkoff and Mazel, 2009). After couples decide to have a baby many of them do everything possible beforehand to conceive and allow for the woman and the baby to have a good start. It is great and very helpful to go for a healthy lifestyle, mentally prepare for a possible pregnancy and take pregnancy supplements before and after an embryo nests in the womb. However, I think, it’s important to take it easy and not become too absorbed in and stressed about precautions. A healthy, human body is perfectly capable of reproduction when the time is right.
Even in today’s modern society, a human body is still perfectly capable of becoming pregnant - despite of various ways of contraception, women working full-time, the choice of a same sex partner and the free choice of having a baby or not. No matter what reason we’re dealing with that leads to difficulties in conceiving - be it physiological infertility, emotional stress or a traumatising event in the past. There’s always a way to handle any situation. Keeping a positive belief towards a healthy pregnancy despite health professionals, the internet or family members telling us that the ‚clock is ticking‘ can sometimes be very difficult. Not only couples in their late 30s but also younger couples, who tried for a baby and didn’t get pregnant in the first place can become insecure and worried. Unsuccessful tries can cause irritation and eventually lead to stress. Understandably, the longer a couple tries to conceive, the more stressed they become. Their positive belief system is weakened and they might even loose hope after trying for years.
This is, where hypnotherapy can help. While hypnotherapists can’t change their clients’ age, we can very well work with their emotions to achieve positive change and self-regard.
Some couples might choose to go to hypnotherapy to get extra support during IVF treatment, others call a therapist when they realize difficulties in conception or when they experience emotions like fear, stress or sadness related to family planning. No matter when a man or a woman decides to ask for help, hypnotherapy can be effective on its own or as an adjunct to conventional fertility treatments.
Below is an example of an action plan for assisting my client with hypnotherapy:
When a client comes to my practice, first thing for me to do is, find out in what position they are at the moment. In our initial consult I would ask how long they have been trying to get pregnant, do they already get any kind of support or fertility treatments, is there a known physiological cause for infertility and what is their personal and family history? Furthermore, I’m interested in what their day-to-day life looks like. All the information I can get upfront helps me to get a sense of whether we are dealing with the consequences of a busy life, family or personal issues of the past that need attention, uncovering subconscious blocks or dealing with physiological infertility. It’s also important to know if and how many IVF treatments they had, as it makes a difference in the therapy plan when a woman is here to get support over the next few months or when she comes 3 weeks before her final IVF try.
Let’s assume a man or a woman comes to therapy after trying naturally for a baby for one year. Following the above mentioned initial consultation during the first session, I will introduce him/her to the emotions wheel (Mustard 2009). Figuring out what one’s feelings are and being able to name them, often helps to accept even unpleasant feelings. The emotions wheel also helps to break down overwhelming emotions into smaller, more understandable feelings. I encourage to feel those feelings and welcome them instead of suppressing feelings in the hope that they would disappear. It is normal and healthy to feel as long as overwhelming feelings are not consistent but seen as a way of communication. Our body wants to tell us something and we should see it and listen to it. If we have time at the end of the first session, I’d offer my client a short introduction into hypnosis, in order to get to know the approach and leave with a sense of calmness and relaxation. I might also recommend Cranio Sacral Therapy as an adjunct to Hypnotherapy, when I think a physical approach is necessary to be able to work on all levels.
One week later, in the second session, firstly, I will ask for feedback about the last time and how it was going up until today. After checking in, I’ll lead my client into a pleasant hypnotic state to establish believe in conception, according to the script „Believing that conception can happen…“ (Mustard 2009, pp. 5-6 ). I intentionally do not teach much this time, as I think my client could profit from believing in and not overthinking conception as much as possible.
During our next meeting, establishing a healthy lifestyle is being mentioned, which important to increase chances of conception. If the client is not already aware of it, it needs to be made clear that smoking, alcohol, drugs but also stress, body weight and physical exercise play an important role in fertility of both men and women (Mustard 2009). Jensen (2019), a physiotherapist in Copenhagen, points out that a healthy lifestyle and the participation at Alice Domar’s mind/body courses prove successful in physical and mental stress management, and thus, increase conception. In addition, Jensen is convinced that the right amount of physical exercise is key to a successful and healthy pregnancy. Therefore, it seems important to mention, that both no exercise and too much exercise can cause fertility problems. Finding a good amount of physical exercise and healthy nutrition could be the task of this session.
In session 4, one or two weeks later, the reproductive systems of men and women can be explained in order to understand logically how conception works. Additionally, we will work on the positive believe system towards a future pregnancy and on remembering to enjoy time with the partner including sexual intimacy. A script like „Visualise Success & Re-capture Sexual Intimacy…“ (Mustard 2009, pp. 8-10) can be used during a hypnotic trance.
Like in every session at the beginning, the following meeting will start with feedback from last time to check in and see how things are at the moment. This time I would like to prepare the client’s body for conception. Most couples have successfully prevented conceiving a baby for years. So, now it is time to tell the unconscious that a different chapter is about to begin and body and mind can allow conception to happen. In this session we allow the body to do its’ job. Mustard’s (2009, p. 11) script „Preparing your body for conception…“ is a good option to do so.
I see my client for the 6th time now. To commence the therapy, I will now look at physiological causes. Maybe the man or woman has already seen a doctor, maybe they found out about physiological problems causing infertility, but maybe no physiological abnormalities could have been found at all. In any way, we will explore their body in a hypnotic trance and repair what needs to be repaired. It is important to keep a positive state of mind towards a possible pregnancy, even if or especially when no visible causes can be identified. Without any visible physiological causes, doctors can’t treat their patients and the patients might feel helpless and not in control of their own body and life. Depending on what’s best for my client I will either use hypnosis with an anatomical
focus („Anatomical Focus for physiological causes…“ in Mustard (2009), pp. 20-21), „Body lights for Fertility - physiological blocks…“ (Mustard 2009, pp. 21-22)
or for men with low sperm count „Increasing sperm count…“ (Mustard 2009, pp. 22-23).
In case conception still has not worked out and the client decides to go for the often difficult, painful and expensive way of IVF, hypnotherapy offers support to overcome fears, relax, increase the effectiveness of and prepare for an IVF cycle (Mustard 2009). To support a woman undergoing an IVF cycle, I encourage her to challenge her thoughts and detect any negative self-talk and limiting believes. After talking about it rationally I reinforce positive thinking with „Cancelling unwanted negative thoughts“ (Mustard 2009, pp. 40-41) under hypnosis.
In the following session, stress management will be learned by being able to relax physically and mentally during the session and at home. Or, if necessary, we work on „Uncovering subconscious blocks…“ (Mustard 2009, pp. 36-38).
About a week before the embryo transfer, I introduce the woman to a hypnotic intervention that is specifically designed to relax her, bond with the embryo that is waiting to be implanted in her womb and feel confident towards a successful procedure. In addition to talking her through the script during the session, I give her the same recorded script to take home and listen to it before and during the embryo transfer. Furthermore, I offer weekly support during the two weeks wait to keep up relaxation and positive thinking. This gives the woman a sense of being in control of her body and the embryo the best chances to nest and develop in the womb.
In case of permanent infertility, hypnosis can help to let go and find peace in the situation the clients are dealing with. Also, it can help a couple to realize how their relationship might have suffered and how to find ways of accepting, understanding and growing.
To summarize, I think from the many options there are to support getting pregnant, hypnosis is one of the most versatile and powerful techniques. While some clients prefer a more physiological approach others appreciate the flexibility and versatility of hypnotherapy as it brings together physiological and emotional aspects. Hypnotherapy can lead to a successful pregnancy and shorten the waiting time. It can improve bodily functions and help to be at ease. However, hypnosis is no guarantee to get pregnant, either. I think, what’s really important is to know who we are and what we want - without following our friend’s or society’s norms. It’s great to have clear and, more importantly, our own wants and wishes. But it is even more important to be able to adapt to our life’s surprises and accept the turns we don’t foresee. In my opinion, this is the art of a happy living - with or without therapy.
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