When I offered to write a blog about the PATH Program, I was excited to tout the benefits to people living with HIV. While those benefits are many (healthy living; effectively facing the challenges of daily living; positive feelings, thoughts, and actions; daily routines to stay healthy), the best way to give you a sense of the program is through the tools and skills it provides. This is an interactive approach. We want each client to leave feeling better able to enact health-promoting behaviors.

Through five sessions with a trained counselor, each client learns and practices a set of core skills. Then, there is the opportunity to have additional sessions, applying the core skills to various life areas: sex; substance use; health care and self care; adherence to medical appointments and medications; disclosure of HIV status; and handling stigma. The life areas of focus will depend on the individual. Depending on how many life areas someone chooses, the number of additional sessions can range from two to 21. At the conclusion of the program, each client will create a personal plan to maintain any behavior changes made during participation.

PATH thermometerEach month, I will introduce a core skill. This month, I would like to present the Feeling Thermometer.

Recall the first time you heard about HIV, or when you remember being aware of HIV. Once you have that memory established in your mind, notice any discomfort. Depending on the details of personal experience with HIV, level of discomfort will vary from person to person; however, some discomfort will come up for everyone. HIV can be a difficult topic of discussion.

Physical sensations go along with having feelings of discomfort. If you think about it for a minute, this is something that might be familiar to you already. When you feel uncomfortable, your body is also having some reaction. You might have a funny feeling in the pit of your stomach. You might be sweaty. You might feel shaky. You might feel hot or cold. Your muscles might tense.

A tool to help gauge how uncomfortable you are is the Feeling Thermometer:

On the Feeling Thermometer a reading of 100, the top of the scale, means extreme discomfort. A reading of zero, on the bottom of the scale, means no discomfort.

If you are at a 25 on the Feeling Thermometer, you might have very few physical symptoms and it might be hard to notice them, even though they are there. If you are near 100 on the scale, you might have different physical symptoms and they might be more intense. Whenever you are uncomfortable, your body is sending also reacting and message. If you tune in, you can hear what your body is saying to you.

Take a moment and think about a situation that caused discomfort in the 75-100 range on the Feeling Thermometer, something that made you feel very or extremely uncomfortable. Think about the physical sensations that went along with your discomfort in this situation. You might not be able to recall all of them, but you can likely recall some of them. How was your body reacting when you were uncomfortable in that situation?

Getting in the habit of identifying your Feeling Thermometer reading and the corresponding physical symptoms is important and helpful for two reasons:

  • Understanding and knowing ahead of time which situations make you uncomfortable allows you to plan how you would like to handle those situations (e.g., paying attention to your thoughts as you enter a situation, or doing some deep breathing to relax);
  • Your Feeling Thermometer helps you connect your level of discomfort to the way you think and act.

I encourage you to use the Feeling Thermometer to acquaint yourself better with how physical discomfort sends messages to you.

Next month: The Feel-Think-Do Grid

In good health,
Darren McCall, Prevention Program Manager at ASA