The Powerful Link Between Fertility Awareness and Mental Health
As a psychotherapist, you wouldn’t think I’d spend much time talking about women’s reproductive health. Instead, you might assume that I work with my clients to address their anxiety, depression, relationship struggles, or career challenges. It’s true that these are most often what my clients want to work on in therapy, but you might be surprised to hear how often reproductive issues also come up in my work with female clients.
I have had clients who are struggling with the loss from a miscarriage. I’ve had clients who are coping with the stresses of having a new baby and monitoring themselves for postpartum depression. I’ve had clients who are desperately seeking an explanation for their cycle-related symptoms but come up against one unsupportive doctor after another. I’ve had clients who struggle with painful periods and other cycle-related symptoms who are told their only options are hormonal birth control or continuing to suffer from painful periods.
While I didn’t expect to be an advocate for Fertility Awareness-Based Methods (FABMs) in my work as a therapist, it’s become clear to me over the years that not only is there a powerful link between fertility awareness and mental health, but that talking about FABMs and how empowering they can be continues to be incredibly important. In my work as a clinician, I’ve seen firsthand the benefits that can come from using FABMs. Conversely, I’ve also seen the limitations that can come from not using a FABM, or from working with a medical professional who is not experienced in these matters.
Fertility awareness promotes better mental health
One of the primary benefits that I see from my clients who practice FABMs is that once they start using a FABM, they feel incredibly empowered. For my clients who are struggling with painful periods or other cycle-related symptoms, charting can give them valuable data to help identify what might be going on, and can help them figure out how to best address the issue. Knowing what the issue is and how to address it is much more empowering than feeling as if taking hormonal birth control (and dealing with the potentially unpleasant side effects that it comes with) is your only option to eliminate these symptoms. I’ve witnessed my clients feeling stuck and hopeless because they think hormonal birth control is their only option, and I’ve seen my clients feeling hopeful and empowered when they discover that there are other options out there.
You’ve heard the saying “Knowledge is power,” and it certainly applies to FABMs. Fertility awareness can provide incredibly valuable, empowering, and healing information about your body in general, your mental health, and your cycle.
How fertility awareness increases self-advocacy
Another way in which I’ve seen FABMs empower my clients is that it equips them to advocate for themselves, and to be more assertive about their needs. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a client lament to me that, when they tried to bring up their health concerns to their doctor, he or she dismissed or minimized their symptoms and recommended hormonal birth control or, in some extreme cases, a major surgery to “fix” the issue.
In these types of situations, it’s easy for anyone to feel helpless and unheard by their doctor—the very person who is supposed to help them. It’s also very common to feel discouraged by a one-size-fits-all recommendation. Sometimes, a doctor’s dismissal of a woman’s symptoms can even lead her to question the validity of what she’s experiencing.
When a woman is using a FABM, it empowers her to better understand her body, and it gives her the information she needs to communicate in an assertive way to her healthcare provider. Feeling more empowered with the knowledge of her body, she has greater confidence that what she is experiencing is indeed very real. Furthermore, a woman using a FABM knows to seek answers that address the cause of her symptoms, rather than just masking them with birth control. These women still may need to “shop around” to find a healthcare provider who is willing to take a comprehensive healthcare approach, but simply believing that they deserve to be heard and taken seriously can go a long way in helping women find truly helpful solutions to whatever they are struggling with.
Empowering women with the knowledge of fertility awareness
Unfortunately, not everyone knows about the benefits of using a FABM and there is a lot of misinformation about these methods. Many of my clients have never heard of charting or have inaccurate information about it. I have also worked with clients who are frustrated because their physician has not been trained in, or is skeptical of FABMs. Because of this, it remains imperative that we continue to raise awareness of the benefits that FABMs offer and the empowerment they provide to women. Every woman needs to know that she has a variety of choices when it comes to her reproductive health needs, and FABMs place the knowledge and tools at her fingertips to take ownership of her health.
My dream is for every woman who comes into my office to feel empowered about her mental health and her reproductive health. Connecting women with information about fertility awareness is one way that I (and you) can help make that happen.
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