Hypnotherapy for fertility is increasingly being sought by people facing difficulties conceiving, along with acupuncture, homeopathy and yoga. But what are the limits on the effect hypnotherapy can have on fertility – and does it really work?
The key piece of research that a lot of claims for hypnotherapy for fertility relies on is a study from 2004. The headline findings from this were impressive – that hypnotherapy doubled the effectiveness of IVF treatment. Numerous press reports repeated this story of success, and they have been joined by numerous posts on the internet espousing the benefits of hypnotherapy for fertility problems.
However the headline findings, and a substantial number of references to the report, leave out the nuances and controversies behind them. The study was limited to 185 women who were already undergoing IVF treatment, and was intended to see if there was a positive effect on the success of the embryo transfer.
The 185 women were split into two groups. 96 of them were didn’t receive hypnotherapy, and went through one cycle of IVF. The remaining 89 women all received hypnotherapy, but amongst them some also received multiple IVF cycles. At the end of the study only 14% of the 96 who hadn’t had hypnotherapy were pregnant. However 28% of the women who had received hypnotherapy were pregnant, leading to the “hypnosis doubles IVF success” claims.
The issues with the study are obvious, and it was challenged as soon as it was presented at a European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology conference. It wasn’t a blind trial, with both the researchers and the subjects knowing who had been given hypnotherapy and who hadn’t. Nor were the two groups given the same IVF regime, with those receiving hypnotherapy for infertility also undergoing more cycles of IVF.
There was another problem with the study as well, which isn’t as obvious. The 89 women who received hypnotherapy had been trying to conceive for an average of just over four and a half years. The 96 who didn’t receive hypnotherapy for fertility had been trying for an average of nearly seven and a half years. It’s a sad fact that the longer a couple have been trying to conceive without success, the less likely they are to be successful.
In short then the 89 women who received hypnotherapy were already more likely to conceive, and subsequently given more cycles of IVF. The claim of hypnotherapy for fertility doubling the effectiveness of IVF is therefore, unfortunately, fundamentally flawed. Personally I find it sad that people who are looking for help to conceive are still being presented with these claims.
I find it sad as well because I don’t think that hypnotherapy for fertility needs bolstering with such claims. The effects of stress on fertility, both in men and women, are well established. The positive effects of hypnotherapy on stress are equally well established, and so the link between hypnotherapy and general levels of fertility is already there.
Thankfully there are a good number of hypnotherapists who do talk about fertility treatment on exactly this basis. They’re talking about hypnotherapy as part of an overall approach, along with other lifestyle changes and choices, including nutrition and yoga.
They also recognise the dangers of approaching hypnotherapy for fertility in a reductive manner, such as visualising increased sperm count or motility. The drawback to this can be to increase the focus and stress on fertility, thereby moving the person even further away from their goal. The guide here must be to research your hypnotherapist’s standing as you would any other therapist or professional.
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