AIDS and HIV are words that can still provoke feelings of fear and anxiety in many people today — and this in spite of the fact that this viral infection is no longer the killer it once was. With the advent of sophisticated drugs used in combination therapy, HIV has become a largely manageable condition, something that can be successfully lived with.
Where HIV was once shrouded in mystery, and even called ‘God’s vengeance’, today we know that HIV is a viral infection that may be acquired through a few well-established routes.
We know that HIV transmission can occur through sexual contact, blood-to-blood contact, such as sharing hypodermic needles, and passed from mother to baby during pregnancy, the birthing process or through infected breast milk.
HIV simply cannot be transmitted through activities such as hugging or most kissing, nor can it be acquired from toilet seats, shared eating utensils, glasses, cups or plates etc. because of this there is no real need to be anxious about these particular areas. In fact, HIV is such a fragile virus – or, to be exact, a ‘retrovirus’ – that the virus can survive for only a brief period of time when outside of the body.
Though HIV infection has been with us for more than 30 years, many people still remain uninformed about it and how it may be acquired. Because of this, HIV-AIDS continues to cause much irrational fear and anxiety — and prejudice. This kind of irrational fear can often be quite easily cleared through education, a basic understanding of the means by which HIV is transmitted, and knowledge of how it can be prevented.
Prejudice, though, in any shape or form, can be more difficult to counter. Only when we are aware of the reason for our prejudices and are prepared to see prejudice for what it really is can it be vanquished.
But apart from the fear and anxiousness that can come from basic ignorance and blind prejudice, there is also another form of fear that can develop regarding HIV-AIDS and this is what has come to be known as ‘AIDS Phobia’.
People who have this disorder – and there is an overlooked and sizable demographic – remain extremely worried and often paranoid about contracting the infection despite being educated about HIV, being reassured by doctors and health advisors, and even having taken blood tests which prove that they are not infected and so have no reason to be fearful or remain anxious. Such people are what has been referred to as ‘the worried well’. For these individuals, HIV-AIDS phobia is an extreme form of anxiety disorder.
Over the past several years, working both in private practice and as a consultant psychotherapist for one of the largest HIV and sexual health organizations in Europe, I have worked with a number of different people who were experiencing this particular problem and have seen how truly incapacitating it can be. It is an anxiety disorder that completely side-steps rationality and logic, so that no matter how often the person is assured and re-assured that they have not contracted HIV-AIDS, and so have no reason to worry, they persist in their belief that they may indeed be infected.
Based on experience, I believe the word ‘phobia’ is, in fact, inappropriate here, because it sounds like something that can be quite easily treated with simplistic measures such as a couple of NLP or EFT techniques, simple desensitization, or a few counseling sessions. ‘Phobia’ suggests that it is nothing more serious than a fear of spiders or elevators or having to stand up and talk in front of other people. This in no way minimizes the real difficulties experienced by people who have these common phobias, but these things are true phobias and so can very often be cleared in just a couple of brief sessions using the right kind of therapeutic techniques.
Though AIDS Phobia can be successfully treated, it appears to be very different in nature to ordinary phobias, and so usually resists such treatment.
In my experience, AIDS Phobia is less of a simple phobia than it is a mental health issue closely aligned to obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD.
Because of this, I prefer to call AIDS phobia ‘HIV Anxiety Disorder’, or HIV AD.
People experiencing HIV AD share many of the same symptoms as those diagnosed with OCD. These include fear about safety and security, thinking or feeling that objects are dirty or contaminated, worrying about health and hygiene, and intrusive, disturbing thoughts about aggression or sex.
Underlying issues connected with sex, sexual orientation, the fear of illness, abandonment, or of death very often pre-exist the appearance of HIV Anxiety Disorder.
Often the person presenting with HIV AD has experienced a strict upbringing in which sex was very much a taboo subject, or in which certain forms of sexual expression were frowned upon, or have undergone premature sexualization experiences, and so powerful feelings of guilt have been subconsciously associated with the sexual urge and these have then become internalized.
For others, sickness, death of a significant other, or the sense of being abandoned or rejected at some stage in their development, has left them with an underlying sense of real fear. Very often fear and guilt combine, and when these powerful emotions come together the ground is fertile for HIV Anxiety Disorder.
Treatment involves going to the cause of the fear and resolving both this and any guilt that may be driving the disorder. This means uncovering those earlier, initial sensitizing events that laid the groundwork and in all probability preceded the actual HIV AD symptoms, and then re-processing the subconscious mind’s interpretation of such events so that it can clear the anxiety. This is most effectively accomplished through the use of hypnosis and hypnotherapy strategies, which allows direct access to the subconscious mind. When this is achieved, then the person can be taught cognitive strategies that enable him or her to examine irrational thoughts and better process them in the future, thereby better managing or lessening the anxiety.
Like OCD, HIV Anxiety Disorder or AIDS Phobia can take longer to treat than other simple phobias, and progress is not necessarily linear, but the good news is that it can be successfully treated.
If you or someone you care about is experiencing excessive anxiety or an irrational fear of HIV-AIDS then do not despair, help is available. Contact a competent and well-trained hypno-psychotherapist who has experience in this area and free yourself from this unnecessary anxiety.
DISCLAIMER: This article is provided for general information purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical or psychological advice of your own doctor or health care professional.