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Hypnosis with IVF Revisited

In October of 2006, the esteemed journal for reproductive endocrinologists, Fertility & Sterility, published the results of a study in which a group of women going through IVF were hypnotized at the time of embryo transfer.  The transfer of embryos for the control group was done without hypnosis and without tranquilizers.  The pregnancy rates of the hypnosis group were double those of the controls.

The 2006 study had postulated that because the uterus tends to spasm when opened, the muscular contractions may have caused the embryos to be “spit out” before they had a chance to implant.  Last month (April 2013), a study was reported in The American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis comparing hypnosis at the time of embryo transfer with muscle relaxation and diazepam (valium) at the time of embryo transfer.  This took into consideration the postulation of the 2006 study therefore valium and muscle relaxation became the other protocol.

It is no surprise, then, that this research team found that pregnancy rates were the same in both the hypnosis valium groups.  The study did conclude, however, that hypnosis is as effective as valium together with muscle relaxation, remarking also that hypnosis “is less invasive, has no side effects and should be routinely available.”

I would like to zoom in on the use of hypnosis for maximizing outcome for IVF patients in ways that may tip the scales in favor of hypnosis.  Neither of the above-mentioned studies had a way of delineating the many other advantages of hypnosis which in my experience provide much more of a benefit to patients than bodily relaxation alone.

When I work hypnotically with patients, they feel strongly in control of reversing the physiology of stress—which facilitates to ability to relax deeply.  In their session, I’m sure to suggest that this bodily serenity can be transferred to the uterus, thus considering the presumption of the 2006 study.  I encourage them to have an experience in their mind’s eye of receptivity of their “womb room.”  Patients are inspired to trust their mind’s capacity to communicate with their body.

Equally important, they feel in control of their infertility—not that they are on the journey, but how they are on it.  They are relieved to be more than just medical subjects.  Participants feel that they are actively contributing to the outcome.  This is huge!  In 38 years of practice, “I feel out of control” is the universally uttered statement.

The hypnosis I do with patients to facilitate conception can go far beyond the script which is part of the hypnotic protocol which needs to be uniform for a study.  Because I’m not doing a study, I can get to know each patient and personalize a hypnotic intervention to match the reality, sticking points, hopes and dreams of each person.  As a hypnotherapist, I am trained to aim the post-hypnotic suggestions at the unconscious mind, which is where hypnosis gets its power.

In addition, I make a digital recording for everyone, allowing them to take the session home with them, so to speak, to practice the deep, total body relaxation, and to absorb the powerful suggestions for receptivity to a conception.  Both the skill of deep relaxation and optimism builds with practice.

Furthermore, some women come to me prior to the start of an IVF cycle, allowing time to use the hypnosis to potentiate the stimulating ovulation drugs, ease fears about the retrieval and envision fertilization, conception, pregnancy, birth…and parenthood!  The whole enchilada.  The disappointments of infertility sometimes result in a person who feels unable to visualize success.  Hypnosis can mitigate that problem.

I recognize that there are those who prefer to take a pill.  In that case, valium will assist the physical process of embryo transfer.  But, given the nature of stress, the mind and the body often part company.  Hypnosis fosters a unity of mind and body and an inner dialogue between the two that can be magical.

Hypnosis reconnects people with their strengths: the strength of their commitment to their goal and their inner strength, which take a beating during the infertility journey.

As a result, I see feelings of great relief and joy on the faces of those who are willing to engage in the hypnotic experience.  Hope and optimism return in anticipation of a pregnancy.  Anecdotally, I can attest that the vast majority of those in my practice who choose to complement IVF with hypnosis swear that it was the difference that made all the difference.

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About the Author:

Helen Adrienne, LCSW general psychotherapist, clinical hypnotherapist, and practitioner of mind/body therapy with a specialty in infertility. New York City