AIDS: The Therapist's Journey
The potential for burnout in AIDS service providers is a serious reality. My experience is that burnout happens largely when people ignore their feelings. Thus I share in this chapter what it is like for me to do this work, in the hope that other therapists doing similar work will find it helpful to read about my struggles. The challenge remains how do we sustain ourselves and each other for this reality: AIDS will likely be with us for the rest of our professional lives.
It would not have been possible for me to live through all of this, without losing whatever "serenity" I had, if I had not been in my own active psychotherapy and supervision with a remarkable woman who has been my professional mentor for the past 15 years. In addition, for five years, in the early to mid 1980s, I attended a support group for health care professionals who were working in AIDS. We met regularly and provided ourselves with a "safe space" to ascertain what each needed in order to continue to do this draining, yet exhilarating work.
It has become increasingly clear to me from supervising therapists working in AIDS, and facilitating support groups for AIDS professionals, that the only way any of us are able to continue to expend the prodigious amounts of energy demanded by this work, is when we are able to feed and nurture our many needs as individuals. When I ask the professionals I work with what they do to "feed" themselves, they often look at me as if I were crazy. I have been told on more than one occasion, "I don't have time to do my work, have a life, and take care of my own needs as well." This is a poignant conflict. Similarly, a large part of my work with care-partners of people with AIDS is to encourage them to take time for themselves and to give themselves much-needed breaks from their routine. I am amazed at how resistant both colleagues and clients are to the notion of building in time for play and fun in the midst of the horror.
Disclosing the Therapist's HIV Status?
A Classic Case of Countertransference
Professional Challenges of Psychotherapy with People Living with HIV/AIDS
Other Articles by Michael Shernoff
© 1996 Michael Shernoff
Permission is granted to copy or reproduce this article either in full or in part, without prior written authorization of the author on the sole condition that the author is credited and notified of reproduction.
This article was provided by John Wiley & Sons. It is a part of the publication A Perilous Calling: The Hazards of Psychotherapy Practice.