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Good Counsel eases the pain of HIV diagnosis
Irish Examiner 28/02/2007

By Conor Kane

It takes a certain type of person to be a counsellor who can provide both a listening ear and a wealth of information to somebody who's just been told they've got HIV. But such counsellors are an invaluable resource for people with HIV, and are often among the first spoken to by patients after they get the news of their diagnosis.

According to Irene Kidd-Murphy, a counsellor who has been helping in this field fro several years and has heard many stories and wenessed much anguish, it is important to give clients the space and time they need. "The pain they're feeling is just huge, but I just know that by the end of each session, if they're given the space to really say what they feel, no matter how difficult it is to hear, it's sohelpful to them, that I can go with them. Even if they do go out upset, I still feel it's a very valuable thing we're offering them, this space where you can let out the pain."

The hours and days after getting such shocking news can be a confusing time for somebody with HIV and, in many cases, it is difficult to take in the information about the condition when it is presented at the clinic. Patients can be referred to counsellors such as Irene by the hospitals, while others ring a helpline or end up wandering into a counselling centre after some time spent isolated and worried. It's crucial, then, that they know exactly what's going on.

"One of the main difficulties is language," she says. "Most of the people would speak English, but it's a case of how clear they are. Some expressions we would use might not translate well to them. I find that I need to be very, very careful how I express myself to them.

What Next? What happens after HIV diagnosis.
A HIV diagnosis is usually carried out at one of the specialist clinics in some acute hospitals around the country. Unfortunately, it takes three months before a HIV test can have a positive result. As there may not be any strong symptoms during this time, this time lag could have implications for a patient's partner if safe sex isn't practiced.

Many people do not experience any symptoms when first infected with HIV, while others can have signs which could also be associated with the flu, and these usually disappear within four weeks. It may be years before somebody with HIV experiences more severe symptoms, such as lack of energy, weight loss, fevers, yeast infections, rashes, skin lesions, pelvic inflammatory disease, and short-term memory loss.

HIV clinics in Ireland have consultant doctors and liaison nurses who will provide as much assistance as possible to a newly diagnosed patient. This ranges from practical measures in the way of medication and treatment, to the provision of information on the virus, what the patient can expect and what other support services are made available.

Referrals can then be made to local centres which can offer further support facilities. Examples include the Dublin AIDS Alliance, which provides a wide range of services, as well as preventative and education awareness campaigns, to sufferers: and the Sexual Health Centre in Cork. This was originally set up in 1987 for HIV and AIDS patients but has since been expanded to cover all areas of sexual health. However, at the Cork centre's core remains a wide range of services for those with HIV, such as a support group where patients can talk openly about their feelings; peer-to-peer training in providing support; counselling; residential weekends which promote further awareness and peer support; and a telephone helpline.

Many of the country's third-level institutions, through their students' unions, also have HIV support services, while there are groups nationwide which offer help and guidance to families of HIV and AIDS patients. One of the busiest HIV clinics is the GUIDE Clinic in St James's Hospital, Dublin, where counsellors, liaison nurses, a dietician, health advisors and pharmacists are all available to patients to offer information and advice. Such expertise can be invaluable to somebody who has just had a diagnosis and is confused about what to do next.