How Can I Become an HIV/AIDS Counselor?

| Staff Writers

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As a valuable health professional responsible for providing essential counseling services to clients and families who are affected by the disease, an HIV/AIDS counselor specializes in providing advice and medical information to help prevent the spread of HIV.

During their workday, HIV/AIDS counselors educate individuals on how to reduce the risk of contracting the virus, administer appropriate medical testing, and provide counseling after positive test results to help clients cope with the presence of HIV/AIDS. Due to the fact that these counselors need to possess accurate knowledge about the disease, know the best methods for preventing infection, and understand the available support services, the following are the rather extensive steps required to legally practice as an HIV/AIDS counselor.

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HIV/AIDS Counselor Post-Secondary Education Requirements

While some entry-level counseling positions may be available to graduates with a bachelor’s degree in a health-related area, most HIV/AIDS counselors are required to possess a master’s degree from an accredited graduate school. Although there are no programs strictly devoted to HIV/AIDS counseling at this time, these specialized counselors typically pursue a master’s degree in Nursing, Psychology, Social Work, Community or Mental Health Counseling, or Marriage and Family Therapy. Whichever degree option you pursue, it is most important that you engage in coursework that covers disease prevention, disease management, epidemiology, biostatistics, health promotion, counseling theories, and pharmacology.

Licensure and Certification Options for Becoming an HIV/AIDS Counselor

In addition to earning an accredited graduate degree, aspiring HIV/AIDS counselors are strongly encouraged to participate in federal or state government training courses. For instance, the American Red Cross offers a short-term course for HIV/AIDS Prevention Education that leads to full certification as a licensed HIV/AIDS service provider. Within the program, you will receive in-depth training on how to conduct the HIV test, how to perform counseling services specifically for clients suffering the disease, and how to teach methods of infection prevention. Similarly, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has established certification for individuals who wish to work at HIV rapid test centers, which entails training on scientific facts about HIV, the role of treatment and prevention, counseling procedures, professional ethics, and hands-on practice.

Furthermore, many HIV/AIDS counselors decide to pursue licensure as a mental health counselor or community counselor through the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) for more advanced credentials. Along with a master’s degree, licensure typically requires between 2,000 and 4,000 hours of post-degree supervised clinical experience and a passing score on a state-recognized examination within the specialty area. Once you fulfill all licensing requirements, you will gain the distinction as a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and be able to provide HIV/AIDS or other counseling services.

If you have strong interpersonal skills and a drive to working with clients who are struggling with the stressful situation of being diagnosed with HIV or AIDS, it is an advantageous time to get started on becoming an HIV/AIDS counselor. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field of health education and disease prevention is projected grow must faster than the occupational national average at a rapid rate of 37 percent from 2010 to 2020. Using this step-by-step guide on how to become a successful HIV/AIDS counselor, you can get on the in-demand and rewarding career path of providing invaluable counseling services to help clients cope with the disease.

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