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dealing with losses
Aug 7, 2002

I am a social work student. I have done volunteer work or internships working with people with AIDS since 1994. Recently I lost a friend from AIDS, and several other clients died (children) in the last couple months. Many of my co-workers at my new internship are also positive, and they get sick at times. i guess i'm just feeling overwhelmed. I feel deeply committed to this work- so many people i care about are infected and living- and i really enjoy my work most of the time. but the more work i do, the more people i meet and care about and stand to lose. I know this is part of the work, but i still haven't found a way to deal with these losses. this week, i feel like i don't even really want to get to know my co-workers because i feel so sad about maybe losing them too... i think its that so many deaths have piled up. i know most people are living a long time, but people are still dying. how do you deal with this effectively? any articles to recommend?

Response from Mr. Shernoff

As a new worker it is essential that you do figure out how to integrate the reality of loss into your work and life. This is an important area to spend time talking about in your supervision and in training groups with your peers. Additionally I strongly suggest that you also talk about this in your own personal therapy. What you are wrestling with has become known as "bereavement overload."

There obviously needs to be a balance between not shutting down to engaging with and caring about people and not becoming numb or overwhelmed. This is the key. Many of us have found part of an answer in living more consciously and fully. This way a person becomes more aware of the fragility of our own lives and how crucial it is to take responsibility for our own happiness and well being and to show up for the relationships that we have with people who are alive at this moment.

I know that this sounds a bit "new age" or even hokey, but it is really one way I have found to keep my own balance in the midst of this ongoing horror as well as how I try to help students, supervisees and my own clients who struggle with this as well.

The following link is to an article I wrote entitled "The Last Journey: Remaining Fully Alive in The Face of Death (Psychotherapy With People With AIDS)," that deals specifically with this issue: www.gaypsychotherapy.com/article2.htm. I hope that it is helpful to you.

Thanks for asking this question and reminding us all of the relevance and importance of this issue.

Michael Shernoff, MSW



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