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Help with learning to deal with social isolation
Jun 9, 2011

I am an HIV positive social worker who has worked in the AIDS field for 12 years now. I've been positive for nearly 20 years. Because of my professional contacts, I have been keeping overly strict boundaries with my clients and even those with HIV who are not my clients. I am lonely but cannot engage the normal support groups, agency functions. I have pushed my friends away. I am very, very depressed and need help but don't know how to proceed. I am currently seeing a counselor and have a few limited close friends with whom I have sporadic contact. I should also mention that I am hard of hearing which makes it difficult for me to engage as well. I would appreciate any feedback you may have for me.

Response from Dr. Fawcett

Codes of ethics in various professions, including social work, provide guidelines for our interaction with clients, each other, and the profession. I understand and respect your application of strict boundaries but such guidelines are not meant to deprive the professional of access to support. Ongoing work in this field can be extremely challenging and it is important for each of us to be certain that we maintain a high level of self-care. Communities vary across the country, and some HIV-positive professionals have found that revealing their status helps reduce stigma. Sitting in the same group as clients, of course, is still problematic. Where I live there were enough HIV-positive professionals in the same position that we formed our own support group. In many ways, local HIV communities are like small towns and I would encourage you to consult with other social workers on possible adaptations so that you can be certain to get the support you need. Your professional obligations shouldn't impact your personal support system and you may need to push yourself to engage in more regular contact with friends. Since you report a significant level of depression, seek out a psychiatric referral for antidepressant medication. Finally, perhaps there are online support options for the hard of hearing community. It sounds like your personal and professional worlds have gotten smaller - I believe your solutions will come by broadening them again. Good luck.

-David



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