Balancing everyday life and personal wellness can be challenging for all women. When living with a lifelong illness like HIV, it can be even more of a struggle.
We offer hope, encouragement and support for any women with HIV in our community at our Women’s Wellness Wednesdays at EPIC (Empath Partners in Care), a member of Empath Health. This newly-formed support group provides a welcoming environment to come learn, share and support each other.
EPIC counselor Tammy Morath, LMHC specializes in LGBTQ work, does individual counseling with clients and facilitates the women’s support group. In this Q&A, she discusses the unique challenges women with HIV face, her passion helping the community and the ways women can take care of themselves and achieve wellness.
Q&A: EPIC Counselor Tammy Morath
1. What’s your background?
I was born and raised in Florida. I’ve worked with kids on the autism spectrum and kids with behavioral challenges of all ages. I got licensed in mental health to be able to provide a more well-rounded approach. Later, I did counseling with children and families, became a LGBTQ specialist and opened my private practice helping individuals, couples and families going through relationship and life challenges.
In my practice, I did work around intimacy, HIV and transgender issues. Last December, I started as a counselor at EPIC. I wanted to work for a place that has a really good reputation and that’s doing good for the community. Here, I can reach a larger amount of people and help in a broader way. It gives me a chance to save the world.
2. What has it been like working at EPIC?
It has been a great experience. We have constant training and I’m always learning and collaborating with other staff. I love the clients.
3. How does EPIC help clients?
I think we do a really good job at serving our clients’ needs. Many of them have nothing, and they’re so appreciative to come here to get hooked up with food and hygiene items, our pharmacy and all the other services they need. Some of our clients are challenging because they’re not quite ready to change and there’s a transient nature, so we don’t always see them flourish because they fall out of care. I wish I could fix all of their problems, that’s the mom in me. I just hope I plant seeds for something positive.
4. When should people with HIV seek support?
Ideally, as soon you are diagnosed. There still are so many stigmas attached to HIV, especially for women dealing with this lifelong disease. People need time to process and learn how to navigate it. It’s a personal journey and we’ll be there to walk with them when they’re ready.
5. How do you support clients?
With individual counseling, it’s quite humbling to listen to their (clients’) stories. They need someone to listen and they want to learn how to get better with themselves. There’s no judgement about who they are. It’s all about helping them identify what they want and how to get there. It’s an awesome experience.
Some ladies wanted their own groups, which we just started at the end of May. We have some pretty spectacular women and they’ve created a sisterhood. We’re open to anybody who identifies as a lady. Transgender women of color are one of the fastest growing populations with HIV.
6. What unique challenges do women with HIV experience?
I see that women tend to lose their self-worth. They feel like they’re dirty and that nobody wants to be with them now that they have this disease. Some are dealing with partners who are verbally and mentally abusive. HIV is a lifelong disease but it doesn’t define you. For those who are a child-bearing age, there’s hope that they may still have a baby if they take precautions.
7. How do you like to facilitate your group?
They drive it. I ask them how they want the group to go and I serve as moderator. I don’t know what they go through on a daily basis, so I let them choose the topics that are important to them. I give them education and tools to support their mental health, self-care and other daily living needs. As women, we tend to take care of everybody else but don’t stop to take care of ourselves. The ladies help support and provide empowerment to each other.
8. What do you hope to achieve in your group?
To help women feel empowered to affect change in their life and the community they live in. To help them realize that this is one piece of who they are and they can still do good in the world. To help them recognize that they are still beautiful, fabulous and fierce.
9. What other things can be done for wellness?
Practice mindfulness, self-affirmation, yoga and meditation. Build a network of support. Enjoy the outdoors or other activities that don’t have to cost money.
10. What’s most meaningful about your work?
The people. They all bring something unique and it’s always a learning experience for me. Their stories can be sad and motivating. If I can make one person smile and feel like life’s going to be good, than that’s good for me. It’s very rewarding to give back.
11. What lessons have you learned?
The human drive to overcome adversity. The resiliency of people to still see the good and come out with such a positive outlook.
Our Women’s Wellness Wednesdays group runs every Wednesday from 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at our EPIC ASAP campus at 3050 1st Ave. S. in St. Petersburg. For more information and to join, call Tammy Morath at (727) 328-3258.