Impact of Illness and the Family Systems Theory

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Chronic illness has a significant impact on the functioning of the individual within the family and community. For individuals living with HIV, the impact of this illness is further exacerbated by the stigma and discrimination associated with the virus. Rosa, a 61 year old woman in Zimbabwe exemplifies the impact of illness on the caregivers and support system. The family systems theory offers a critical lens to understand a family as a “system” with basic units that are interdependent. Understating a family as a system is critical in examining the relationships within a family. According to Dore (2008), practice informed by family systems pays attention to the functioning for the system as a whole, as well as the functioning of the interlocking subsystems. This theoretical background informs the social worker’s assessment of Rosa and her family as they cope with the emotional, physical and medical aspects of HIV/AIDS. Rosa’s Support System Rosa’s support system is diverse. Her connections stem from family, work, church and other relationships in the community (see Diagram 1). At the core of this system is Brian, Rosa’s husband, who is also living with HIV. Rosa and Brian have five adult children (four daughters and one son). The two eldest daughters are married and live with their husbands and children; another daughter is abroad; the son, John and the youngest daughter, Joyce live with the parents in their family home. Joyce also has a 20-month old son, and she is currently a university student in Psychology at the University of Zimbabwe. In addition to Rosa’s core family, the extended families from both Rosa and Brian’s family are also a strong component of family life in Zimbabwe. Rosa’s siblings, cousins and aunts are aware... ... middle of paper ... ... C. (1997). Women living with HIV/AIDS: the dual challenge of being a patient and caregiver. Health & Social Work, 22(1), 53-62. Kimemia, V. M. (2006). Caregiver Burden and Coping Responses for Females who are the Primary Caregiver for a Family Member Living with HIV/AIDS in Kenya (Doctoral dissertation, University of Central Florida Orlando, Florida). Kipp, W., Matukala Nkosi, T., Laing, L., & Jhangri, G. S. (2006). Care burden and self-reported health status of informal women caregivers of HIV/AIDS patients in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. AIDS care, 18(7), 694-697. Norsigian, J. (2011). Our Bodies, Ourselves. Touchstone. Simon, C.E., Pryce, J.G., Roff, L., & Klemmack, D. (2005). Secondary traumatic stress and oncology social work: Protecting compassion from fatigue and compromising the worker's worldview. Journal of Psychosocial Oncology, 23(4), 1-14.
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