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AIDS: Dr. Garner helps people with AIDS from a mental-health standpoint
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times
2012-05-02

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Though he has not been personally impacted by HIV/AIDS in terms of close friends or family, Dr. Grady L. Garner, Jr., has certainly been impacted directly—through the lives of those who he has treated as their psychotherapist during his post-doctoral clinic year at the Ruth M. Rothstein Core Center.

"I could see firsthand how devastating managing HIV/AIDS can be, in that it can take quite a toll on the body but also the spirit and soul," Garner said. "In ancient Africa, psychology was defined as the study of the soul and spirit. The souls and spirits of those affected by HIV/AIDS are precious indeed. Their bodies and spirits are under attack by a rather aggressive virus. I learned so much from my clients. I learned about their strength, their resilience, about their sweet, sweet souls."

Garner, 47, who lives in Chicago's Jefferson Park neighborhood, is an assistant professor, Clinical Psy.D. Program at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. His husband of three years is Dr. Kevin A. Osten, director, The Adler School's LGBT Mental Health and Inclusion Center and a licensed clinical psychologist. ( Garner will join Osten at Adler as an assistant professor starting in August. ) "Kevin's role is to illuminate LGBTQ issues of the most underserved and underrepresented in our community through education, research, community engagement and training," Garner said.

The two were married on a sunny day in May three years ago. "He is indeed the love of my life. We had a holy wedding with close friends and family here in Chicago, then, about [ two ] months later, we secured a civil union."

They have been together for 10 years—after meeting at a coffee shop.

"It was quite serendipitous really," how we met, Garner said. "I had expected to take a long break from dating, as I enjoyed my tea while grading papers from courses I was teaching at the University of Illinois at Chicago ( UIC ) . I've told this story many times, so I apologize in advance if sounds rehearsed. [ Still, ] it was one of the most important events in my life; and I'm happy to tell it again. The bell to the front door of Café Boost, currently the location of Hamburger Mary's in Andersonville rang, calling for attention. I looked up and laid eyes on the most beautiful soul of a man, with the most beautiful eyes and smile. The rest is history, as they say."

Both work in the field of psychology.

"We deeply respect and love each other," Garner said. "We also truly value communication, giving each other space to feel what we feel, when we feel it; then coming back together to talk about it. We take ownership for our shortcomings. The most important thing is that we have a lot of fun and laugh together. We also enjoy reading the Sunday morning newspaper together. We enjoy doing little projects around the house together, including caring for our gardens and lawn."

Professionally, though, Garner has seen plenty over the past 30 years in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

"I have truly been blessed to do what little I have done, relative to the many [ who ] have and continue to soldier on in this fight for equitable services, treatment, and care," Garner said. "I am quite saddened by the fact that some 30 years later, we have yet to come up with a cure. It is so troubling to see so many suffer. Most should know that African-Americans and, more specifically, African American women and men who have sex with men are disproportionately impacted by HIV/AIDS. This is truly disheartening.

"Although we have a long way to go, the HIV/AIDS world has come a long way since the early-1980s. The reality, however, is that the disease has been around since [ at least ] the late 1950s. … [ We ] have made many strides since 1981, including life-sustaining treatment, medication, and care. Locally, so many amazing people and institutions have engaged in the fight for HIV prevention and helping those with HIV/AIDS live longer, more vibrant lives. Among those institutions and the amazing people who staff them are the Illinois and Chicago Departments of Public Health, the AIDS Foundation Chicago, the Ruth M. Rothstein Core Center, Rush University Medical Center, the Howard Brown Health Center, the Center on Halsted, TPAN, the South Side Help Center and The South Suburban HIV/AIDS Regional Clinics to name a few.

"I see their efforts yielding promising outcomes, including increased testing and linkages to treatment and care, the development of new medications like Atripla, clinical vaccination and treatment trials including PrEP ( pre-exposure prophylaxis ) and microbicide interventions, and increasingly placing emphasis on mental health interventions ( before, during, and after transmission ) ; as well as innovative community-level interventions among the incarcerated, and other populations hardest hit by HIV/AIDS, especially among African Americans."

So, where will HIV/AIDS be in 10 years?

"I'd like to say that I will see the threat and deleterious effect of the HIV/AIDS epidemic as a barely visible image in my rearview mirror," Garner said. "Sadly, though, I'm not sure that I can say that with great confidence. I can say that I see all boats lifted by the rising tide of continued domestic and international collaborations to develop a vaccine, even better pharmacological and medical treatment, more targeted education, innovative behavior modifications, and changes in attitude and policy and the increased funding to support them. With these unified efforts, solutions are inevitable."

Garner is a member of AFC's Board of Directors.

"As a psychotherapist, my work centers on appreciating the whole person uniquely in the context of their biological, cultural, spiritual, and personal history," Garner said. "I am a firm believer that we are equipped with and develop strengths that help us effectively take on the challenges before us. In fact, I believe that many of our psychological reactions to life stressors are opportunities to learn more about and highlight those strengths that better prepare us for the next challenge. In addition, there are some of us with brain chemical configurations that may benefit from a combination of medication and psychotherapy. In cases like these, the goal is to reduce dependence on medication by adopting more effective management strategies."

Garner added: "I've dedicated a number of professional activities to understanding and treating LGBT mental health and well being through research, teaching, and psychotherapy. I've found that dealing with what social scientists refer to as micro-aggressions of power and privilege, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and especially transgender people are disproportionately burdened with psychological distress compared to our heterosexual contemporaries. Similarly, African-Americans, and particularly African-American LGBT people, have the additional burden of grappling with racism. Internal or intra-psychic development is a crucial element in forming a positive, healthy sense of self. Negative external messages that are, at times internalized, can horribly disrupt what would be an otherwise normative developmental process.

"The good news is that many, through personal strengths and support from loved ones, more effectively manage racism and heterosexism. We just need to be in a place where we are all less and less burdened by all forms of oppression."


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