People living with HIV today can lead healthy, productive lives through antiretroviral therapy (ART) to manage physical symptoms of HIV/AIDS. In addition, HIV-positive individuals may also seek mental health services to manage the social and emotional symptoms that often accompany an HIV diagnosis. Listed below are a few of the common reasons for seeking mental health services:
Adjusting to Life with HIV/AIDS
When individuals first receive a positive diagnosis of HIV, they may experience a variety of emotions, such as denial, anger, and/or sadness. During this time, HIV-positive individuals may seek services from a mental health provider to help with grieving the loss of their HIV-negative status and/or learning how to transition into a life with HIV/AIDS.
Coping with Stigma
Unfortunately, individuals living with HIV/AIDS live in a society that stigmatizes medical illnesses, specifically communicable illnesses such as HIV/AIDS. As such, HIV-positive individuals may encounter people who react negatively toward them due to their HIV status. For these individuals, seeking mental health services helps by providing them with the support and tools needed to combat societal stigma.
Forming and Maintaining Interpersonal Relationships
After an individual learns that she or he is HIV-positive, they must decide if and when to disclose this status and to whom. During this time, HIV-positive individuals may experience distance and loss in their current relationships. Seeking mental health services may provide one with tools on how to cope with the loss of friends and/or family, learning how to seek out new interpersonal relationships, and finding ways to maintain and enhance their relationships with others.
Current recommendations to enhance the well-being of individuals living with HIV/AIDS are to engage in a supportive social network, participate in HIV-specific support groups, continue regular check-ups with a primary care physician, and maintain a healthy lifestyle (e.g., healthy diet, regular exercise, consistent sleep schedule).
The staff at Sankofa Psychological Services provide clients living with HIV/AIDS a non-judgmental, supportive environment where HIV-positive clients can feel welcome without fear of being stigmatized, shamed, or negatively judged.
Some clients may fear that disclosing their HIV positive status to a mental health provider will result in the therapist breaking confidentiality and informing third parties about the client’s HIV status. However, abiding by the AIDS Confidentiality Act set by the state of Illinois and by the Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct set by the American Psychological Association, psychologists are prohibited from disclosing a client’s HIV status. Thus, any client seeking services at Sankofa who chooses to disclose his or her status can be assured that this information will remain confidential.
Although we are able to provide competent care to clients wishing to discuss their HIV status and its impact in their everyday lives, we also understand that clients living with HIV/AIDS may be seeking mental health services for other reasons. Therapists at Sankofa will never direct the focus of therapy or assume that HIV/AIDS is the sole or primary reason for seeking services. We respect every client’s autonomy and allow the client to set the agenda for each and every session.
Our holistic focus means that we cater to both your physical and mental health needs. Whether you choose to engage in individual, couples, or group counseling to discuss intra- or interpersonal issues that may or may not be related to your HIV status, Sankofa can match you with the best therapist to meet your needs.