When Counseling Is Required
Wednesday February 25th, 2009 11:03 AM

Patricia Mendell, LCSW, Excerpted from, Choice Moms

Some clinics require people who are using donor insemination to have a session with a mental health counselor as a prerequisite. Many women are nervous about this, or take offense, especially if the clinic doesn’t require the same counseling session with married couples. I have regular contact with some of these counselors, who are affiliated with the Mental Health Professional Group of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. One of them, New York-based Patricia Mendell, offered this advice on the types of questions she tends to ask women. She says that although the interview might serve a gate- keeping function, similar to the home study in adoption, it is often psycho-educational in nature.

Her advice is to try to relax about the interview itself, and see it as yet another learning experience on your journey to motherhood, such as attending this Choice Moms Expo. It not only reassures clinics that they are working responsibly with patients, but gives you an opportunity to talk things through, outside of your own head, in a kind of clarifying practice run before you start talking to family and friends

Non-Traditional Family Building

What Ifs

A Counselor’s Role as Gatekeeper

As mental health practitioners who interview people seeking donor conception, we are asked to maintain
our boundaries and objectivity while straddling the roles of evaluator and educator. It is important that each time we interview potential recipients we ask ourselves two questions:

It is important that we do a thorough psychological history. At the same time, we are obligated to help them understand the many responsibilities they will have when choosing this option. Sometimes this is the first opportunity that a recipient has to fully discuss some of these questions.

As everyone does, potential recipients come to this process with years of emotional baggage. If they did not need assistance in using a donor, this baggage would never be explored. Many recipients feel angered by the psychological probing, while others are relieved to find a place to explore and share their feelings about their family building options. Typically, a mental health professional is asked to evaluate, educate and counsel recipients in one or two sessions. It is a very difficult dual role to serve as both educator and evaluator, to both assist and judge whether the recipient is ready to move forward, but the reality is that no one has been able to find a better way to serve both purposes.

One of the concerns in the Mental Health Professional Group for the American Society of Reproductive
Medicine is the fact that there is no one regulated standard for evaluating donors or recipients. Efforts
continue to be made through MHPG to establish a standard, yet there continues to be tremendous
variation among mental health practitioners. For many, their own bias is often a part of the evaluation, as
well as the limitations that are imposed by the practice or program that is being represented.

The bottom line is, the screening is not about whether a recipient is married or single or in a committed
relationship. Many programs mandate that regardless of a recipient’s marital status, the recipient is required to meet with a reproductive mental health professional who can educate them about parenting options, as well as screen them as to their readiness to undergo the rigors of treatment and the potential outcomes.