The Mind/Body Approach To Fertility
An Interview with Dr. Elizabeth Muir
By Jim Schwartz, Board Certified Hypnotherapist
Originally Published in the RESOLVE Newsletter, Winter 2004
As infertility has become more prevalent in recent years, there has been a great deal of interest in what role the mind/body connection might play in creating a healthy conception. One of the pioneers in this field is Dr. Elizabeth Muir, a clinical psychologist based in London, who introduced the practice of hypnotherapy in working with infertility patients. Dr. Muir conducted a ground-breaking study where she focused on the mind/body connection—using mostly hypnotherapy and some psychotherapy—with women who had unexplained infertility. The results of her research showed that, after completing Dr. Muir’s program, 45% of the women who had experienced infertility were able to conceive. That study created quite a stir because, up until that time, the focus of infertility work had been based almost solely on biological causes. Emotional and psychological elements hadn’t been considered a factor. Two more studies in the last five years reinforced Muir’s research and have raised the question of what role the mind plays in the conception process. Dr. Muir now runs a clinic in London where she specializes in working with infertility clients. I asked Dr. Muir if she would be willing to answer a few questions for the members of the Colorado chapter of RESOLVE, and she was happy to share her insights.
Q: Many couples focus primarily on physical or biological conditions when addressing infertility. How important is it to address the mental and emotional aspects in creating a healthy conception?
Dr. Muir: It is very important to address the mental and emotional aspects in creating a healthy conception. Emotional and psychological issues—the circumstances of our lives—affect our bodies and manifest themselves in physical symptoms even if we are not consciously aware of it. Every thought has an emotional connotation; every emotion has its biochemical counterpart. Therefore, each emotion triggers numerous biochemical changes not only in the brain but in different parts of the body, very often activating memories that might have embedded themselves there previously. As a result of that, the body's natural healthy balance is disturbed and it stops the body from its natural manifestation, in this case reproduction. The body and mind are engaged constantly in dynamic interactions, and there is a continuous communication going on between the mind and the different systems, cells and parts of the body. For instance, the immune system constantly communicates with the nervous and endocrine systems, sending chemicals which are messenger molecules.
Q: What role does hypnotherapy play in your work? How can it be useful in promoting fertility?
Dr. Muir: Hypnotherapy is particularly successful in the area of fertility. It enables us to access subconscious issues which might be related to fertility such as memories or experiences which become a source of negative conditioning, causing fears or doubts in the area of reproduction. Very often an individual is not aware of those issues. Some [issues] may go back to the time in the womb. Hypnosis is a very natural tool which allows the intervention to take place on mental and physical levels. During the state of hypnosis, biochemical changes take place in the body and the access is made to the subconscious mind that stores not only our experiences and memories but also our resources. With the skillful use of hypnotherapy a subject is helped to elicit her own individual ability to resolve her specific issues of fertility.
Q: What kinds of fears or issues or roadblocks can be contributing factors to infertility?
Dr. Muir: There is a whole range of issues that can contribute to infertility. Fears connected with childbirth, ambivalence to motherhood, fear of repeating the mother's story, insecurities in the existing relationship, a sense of guilt stemming from the experience of termination in the past, a sense of punishment, or even the fear of new responsibilities [can all be factors]. These are some examples which usually correspond with disempowering beliefs about pregnancy, parenthood, [and entering parenthood while trying to maintain] a professional life.
Q: Many women become discouraged when their FSH level is too high. Have you had success with hypnotherapy in working with that condition?
Dr. Muir: Yes, I have had success with women with elevated levels of FSH. Some of these women were told by medical professionals that they had been menopausal. This, however, was not the case at all. In my opinion, FSH level is very much affected by the level of stress, as far as fertility is concerned. For instance, if there is a subconscious fear of having a baby, every time she embarks on the reproductive process, it is going to trigger in her a response from her body. In this case [the response may be a] higher level of FSH or some other physical manifestation stopping the reproductive process.
Dr. Muir’s research has become known worldwide. Since her landmark study, hypnotherapy has become an important tool used to help identify and process roadblocks and fears that may be preventing pregnancy. The importance of the mind/body connection has been widely supported in the teachings and writings of several prominent doctors including Dr. Christiane Northrup, Dr. Andrew Weil and Dr. Deepak Chopra.
If you have any questions about this article or about hypnotherapy, you can contact the author of this article, Jim Schwartz. Jim is an NGH certified hypnotherapist and the Director of the Rocky Mountain Hypnotherapy Center which specializes in the “Hypnotherapy to Promote Fertility” program. Jim and his wife Julie, an Acupuncturist, have an established healing center in Lakewood, Colorado where they combine hypnotherapy and acupuncture to assist couples experiencing infertility. You can contact Jim at (303) 987-1604 or at www.rmhypnotherapy.com