People who work in AIDS service organizations (ASOs) are at increased risk for stress from several factors, including heavy caseload, fear of contamination, poor working conditions and stress associated with delivering a life-threatening diagnosis. “Recommended guidelines exist to help medical practitioners prepare for and communicate bad news, yet many individuals have still expressed stress,” said Zachary Y. Kerr, M.P.H., M.A., of the Department of Epidemiology, Gillings School of Global Public Health at The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. “In addition, at many ASOs, an HIV test counselor is usually a volunteer or staff person who holds other responsibilities. These individuals, although trained to HIV test counsel, may not have the advantage of a related educational background or hold a higher degree in clinical psychology/ therapy as those in previous samples exploring burnout.”
Kerr led a study examining the coping strategies that ASO employees used to manage the stress associated with HIV test results. The 42 participants were all ASO employees with at least six months of experience. Kerr found that the result of the HIV test was just one stressor among many that the ASO employees faced on a daily basis. “Stressors, such as incorrectly anticipating HIV test results, helping clients interpret HIV test results, and dealing with one’s own emotions were common,” he said. “Other stressors, such as difﬁcult clients and self-doubt, could occur before HIV test results were given.”
The participants cited various coping strategies including respite, maintaining a healthy perspective, and social support. “The HIV test counselors relied on coworkers to provide social support that helped to minimize stress.” Kerr added, “They also noted structural support from ASOs, such as having open communication with supervisors. HIV test counselors need opportunities to formally speak with co-workers and supervisors as a form of decompressing.” Kerr believes that ASOs should provide an open environment between staff and administration to reduce the feelings of anxiety during the testing process. “In addition, we recommend having established guidelines that supervisors can utilize to help HIV test counselors during an HIV test counseling session.” He added, “Increasing an HIV test counselor’s feeling of competence in their work can help to reduce potential burnout.”
Kerr, Zachary Y., Erika L. Grafsky, Katye Miller, and Randi Love. “Stressors and Coping Strategies for HIV-Test Counselors Giving Rapid HIV-Test Results: An Exploratory Qualitative Study.” AIDS Patient Care and STDs 25.8 (2011): 483-91. Print.
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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