By: Mirna Chehebar
Q: Can you tell us a little about yourself and your work with Sephardic Bikur Holim?
A: I am a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), and have been in the mental health field for 11 years. I’ve been working at SBH for 10 years, and I started working at the Mental Health Resource division 5 years ago. I’ve been involved in the fertility program from the onset.
Q: What went into running the first Fertility and Loss Support Group in Brooklyn?
The support groups are run based off of training and model we received from Gefen Fertility, a nonprofit organization in Jerusalem that provides emotional and wellness support to fertility challenged women in Israel. 15 mental health professionals and board members were involved in the training.
Q: How is the support group structured?
A: The group is structured using both cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and mind and body exercises to help the women. Firstly, CBT addresses their thoughts, their cognitions, their emotions, and ultimately how they behave. Generally, we are looking to “adjust” some these thoughts, so to speak. The mind/body work is about relaxation techniques.
Q: Can you give us some information on both techniques you mentioned? For example, with CBT, are you working on behaviors people are aware they have?
A: I think it can be both. For example, people walk in saying “I have certain behaviors I’d like to either increase or decrease,” or they may come in and say “I don’t understand what’s going on, I can’t seem to get along with my mother or my husband, and I don’t know what I’m doing or what I’m saying, but I just know I’m not happy with the result.” In terms of fertility, they’re having to deal with things that can seem very difficult or hopeless and a lot of the times when you rethink things and put a spin on your thoughts, it does have the effect of changing some of your behaviors. So if I can change my thoughts about the difficultly, “It’s difficult but I can handle this, I’ve got this, I know how to do this” verses saying “this is a disaster, I’m never going to be able to get through this,” it has the impact of changing the behaviors I either want to increase or decrease, or behaviors I need to be more mindful about. It is important to note that CBT can be used for a lot of things, not just fertility.
Q: And can you tell us more about the mind/body techniques?
A: They are relaxation techniques that include breathing, meditation, guarded imagery – tending to the body’s sensations. A lot of times people don’t understand that there’s a connection between mind and body, so even though they’re attending to the thoughts in the CBT work, the mind/body exercises attend to the body. Sometimes the body responds to situations with stress and tension, maybe even cold sweats, or rapid heartbeats. And when we’re tense and stressed, it’s not the ideal way to enter into the fertility journey. We want to try as best as possible to learn how to be more relaxed. People go in for different procedures and if they learn to relax their body it will help relax their mind and vice versa.
Q: How does being in a group setting help?
Group therapy is great! It helps people tremendously and is an amazing support system. There are a lot of commonalities within the participants, there’s bonding, and it’s flexible in terms of people sharing. It is a controlled environment. We mimic some of our outside world in the group, so it’s a fantastic place for me as a therapist and facilitator to watch and see how people handle themselves as an example of how they may do things outside. And once you see this in the group, then you can learn strategies and how to cope with uncomfortable situations and difficulties that may arise in everyday fertility journeys. I understand there’s a lot of stigma because of confidentiality concerns, and you may not want to be with other people. The first rule is everything is confidential, and what happens in the room stays in the room. Everyone abides by that.
Q: Is there anything extra you’d like to add that people should know?
A: The clients and the support group are a very essential part of the fertility program. In addition to receiving amazing therapeutic support, women can also gain access to additional resources like our peer to peer support, individual therapy, postpartum support groups, and even assistance with fertility injections.
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