The effect of expressive writing intervention for infertile couples: a randomized controlled trial.

Hum Reprod. 2017 Feb;32(2):391-402. doi: 10.1093/humrep/dew320. Epub 2016 Dec 21.

Frederiksen Y1, O’Toole MS2, Mehlsen MY2, Hauge B3, Elbaek HO4, Zachariae R2,5, Ingerslev HJ6,7.

Is expressive writing intervention (EWI) efficacious in reducing distress and improving pregnancy rates for couples going through ART treatment?

SUMMARY ANSWER:

Compared to controls, EWI statistically significantly reduced depressive symptoms but not anxiety and infertility-related distress.

WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY:

ART treatment is considered stressful. So far, various psychological interventions have been tested for their potential in reducing infertility-related distress and the results are generally positive. It remains unclear whether EWI, a brief and potentially cost-effective intervention, could be advantageous.

STUDY DESIGN SIZE, DURATION:

Between November 2010 and July 2012, a total of 295 participants (163 women, 132 men) were randomly allocated to EWI or a neutral writing control group.

PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTING, METHODS:

Participants were couples undergoing IVF/ICSI treatment. Single women and couples with Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis or acute change of procedure from insemination to IVF, were excluded. EWI participants participated in three 20-min home-based writing exercises focusing on emotional disclosure in relation to infertility/fertility treatment (two sessions) and benefit finding (one session). Controls wrote non-emotionally in three 20-min sessions about their daily activities. The participants completed questionnaires at the beginning of treatment (t1), prior to the pregnancy test (t2), and 3 months later (t3). In total, 26.8% (79/295) were lost to follow-up. Mixed linear models were chosen to compare the two groups over time for psychological outcomes (depression, anxiety and infertility-related distress), and a Chi2 test was employed in order to examine group differences in pregnancy rates MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE: One hundred and fifty-three participants received EWI (women = 83; men = 70) and 142 participants were allocated to the neutral writing control group (women = 83; men = 62). Both women and partners in the EWI group exhibited greater reductions in depressive symptoms compared with controls (P = 0.049; [CI 95%: -0.04; -0.01] Cohen’s d = 0.27). The effect of EWI on anxiety did not reach statistical significance. Overall infertility-related distress increased marginally for the partners in the EWI group compared to the partners in the control group (P = 0.06; Cohen’s d = 0.17). However, in relation to the personal subdomain, the increase was statistically significant (P = 0.01; Cohen’s d = 0.24). EWI had no statistically significant effect on pregnancy rates with 42/83 (50.6%) achieving pregnancy in the EWI group compared with 40/80 (49.4%) in the control group (RR = 0.99 [CI 95% = 0.725, 1.341]; P = 0.94).

LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTION:

The results for depressive symptoms corresponded to a small effect size and the remaining results failed to reach statistical significance. This could be due to sample characteristics leading to a possible floor-effect, as we did not exclude participants with low levels of emotional distress at baseline. Furthermore, men showed increased infertility-related distress over time.

WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS:

EWI is a potentially cost-effective and easy to implement home-based intervention, and even small effects may be relevant. When faced with infertility, EWI could thus be a relevant tool for alleviating depressive symptoms by allowing the expression of feelings about infertility that may be perceived as socially unacceptable. However, the implications do not seem to be applicable for men, who presented with increased infertility-related distress over time.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28007790