Counselling & HIV/AIDS
According to the Health Protection Agency, an estimated 86,500 people in the UK are currently living with HIV, 28,000 of them in London. The number of people diagnosed with HIV acquired in the UK has doubled in the last 10 years. HIV/AIDS is often thought of as a “gay issue” but the reality is HIV/AIDS can affect anybody. Counselling around these issues will often take place in a sexual health clinic, but some people may not feel ready or comfortable in that setting, so finding the right counsellor will be important.
Who could benefit from counselling?
Having counselling around the issue of HIV/AIDS can be beneficial for all sorts of people:
- if you think you are at risk of infection and you are apprehensive about getting tested
- if you have been tested and are awaiting the results
- if you have been tested and are dealing with the consequences of either a negative or positive result
- if you are the partner of someone who is HIV positive, or has put themselves at risk
- if you are a HIV positive woman who is pregnant or wants to have children
- if you are the child of one or both parents who is HIV positive, or a parent has died from an AIDS related illness
- if you are a young person who is becoming sexually active and wants to reduce the risk of infection
What’s the point of it?
Counselling in this context can help you in various ways, but the two key issues are prevention and support. If you are HIV negative, it can help you identify and reduce your risk of infection; if you are HIV positive, it can help educate you about prevention of transmission. Supporting people who have been directly affected by a positive diagnosis as well as those who are being indirectly affected by it is very important. Feelings of shock, anxiety, fear, shame, guilt, anger and frustration may arise and the counsellor is there to help you work through these feelings. If you wish, there may be opportunities for the counsellor to talk together with both you and your partner or family members about a diagnosis.
How can it be useful?
As with all other types of counselling, it will be a completely confidential space, where you will be listened to, supported and encouraged to make your own informed decisions about your future. If the counselling occurs before you have been tested, the counsellor can help prepare you for it and explore with you the repercussions of a negative or positive result on your life. The counsellor can also help reduce anxieties about the result if you have already been tested. A counsellor can help you make informed decisions about whether to get tested and if you have been diagnosed as HIV positive, counselling can help you deal with your status and help you to lead a fulfilling life. It can also be helpful to think about how and when it will be best for you to disclose your status. But as stigma and discrimination still surround this issue, you may find it useful to spend the time working through your fears of rejection from family, friends and colleagues.
Finding the right counsellor
However, none of this will work if you don’t find the right counsellor for you. How will you be able to talk openly and honestly about your sexual practices where you may put yourself at risk of infection, if you don’t feel comfortable with your counsellor? Listen out for any underlying discriminatory beliefs, or any indication that you are being blamed for your status or for putting yourself at risk. Remember, the counselling sessions are your time, so you don’t have to continue working with someone you don’t feel at ease with. Also, watch out for the “over-compensating” therapist, one who accentuates the positives without allowing room for the problems relating to your HIV status to be engaged with effectively in the therapy.
Being diagnosed as HIV positive is no longer the death sentence it used to be. Certainly, living with HIV/AIDS can seem very complex and problematic, but it can also be an affirmative experience. Staying well does not only mean physically, but mentally and emotionally too. You may feel isolated at times, but it is important to remember that you are not alone; there is always someone you can talk to about your fears and anxieties. Your status doesn’t have to rule your life – with help you can gain strength to deal with the initial emotional difficulties of a diagnosis and continue to live and enjoy life to the full.
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