Attitudes of family therapists toward AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), persons with AIDS, and homosexuals



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Texas Tech University


Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) has in only a few years become the nation's major public health threat, and one which impacts on families in a multitude of ways. This disease has been associated most closely with homosexuals and intravenous drug users in this country, groups which have already experienced a great deal of stigmatization. Public attitudes toward persons with AIDS (PWAs) have often been negative and judgmental.

This study assessed current attitudes of family therapists toward PWAs. It is believed that family therapists are one group of professionals who will have responsibility for treating PWAs and their families.

Survey data collected from a random sample of clinical members of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy are presented. Specifically, the study addressed the following hypotheses: 1) There is a significant relationship between therapists' attitudes toward PWAs and knowledge regarding AIDS; 2) there is a significant relationship between therapists' attitudes toward PWAs, level of knowledge regarding AIDS, and level of contact with both homosexuals and PWAs; 3) there is a significant relationship between therapists' attitudes toward PWAs and therapists' theoretical orientation.

Results indicated that the first two hypotheses were supported. Therapists who had a higher degree of knowledge regarding AIDS expressed less phobic attitudes toward PWAs. Additionally, therapists who had a greater amount of contact with homosexuals and PWAs in therapeutic and personal relationships expressed less phobic attitudes toward PWAs. The third hypothesis was not supported, as no significant differences in attitudes were found between therapists of differing theoretical orientation.

These results have important implications for training/educational programs and institutions which seek to prepare family therapists to work with this population. Knowledge is a critical component in enhancing the quality of care provided to PWAs and their families. However, increased knowledge must not be regarded as an encompassing solution. Contact with the target population and a comfort level in dealing with PWAs are also crucial in effective treatment.

The field of family therapy faces a difficult task in treating PWAs and their families. These findings may enhance the ability of training and educational programs to respond in a humane and therapeutic manner to this crisis.