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AIDS Counselor Job Description, Career as an AIDS Counselor, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: Varies—see profile

Salary: Median—$34,820 per year

Employment Outlook: Varies—see profile

Definition and Nature of the Work

AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) is a disorder of the immune system caused by infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). There is no cure for AIDS. Although research is ongoing, there is no vaccine that can protect people from infection. HIV is transmitted via contaminated blood or blood products. There are a variety of ways to become infected. The two most frequent ways are by having unprotected sexual intercourse with an infected person or by sharing contaminated needles during intravenous (IV) drug use. A baby can be infected by an infected mother during birth. Medical personnel and law enforcement officials can be infected by the contaminated blood of patients or criminals.

AIDS counselors provide information about AIDS and instruction for AIDS prevention to the public and in the workplace. AIDS counselors help individuals determine their risk of acquiring and transmitting HIV. Some AIDS counselors talk to people who are about to have an AIDS test. They help patients understand the meaning of the test results. Others support and assist those diagnosed with AIDS, leading individual and family counseling sessions. Still others lead support groups for those who have lost friends and family to the disease, and for those who feel they are at risk.

An AIDS counselor provides support and assistance to a man suffering from AIDS. (© Martha Tabor/Working Images Photographs. Reproduced by permission.)

One of the responsibilities of an AIDS counselor is to provide practical advice to people with AIDS on how to cope with their daily lives and the problems they may encounter. This may include finding housing, medical services, and legal advisers.

Volunteers play an important part in assisting organizations that counsel people with AIDS. They may become "buddies," visiting AIDS patients in their homes and assisting with household tasks. Others work for telephone hotlines and provide information about AIDS testing. Many are involved in administrative tasks that help these organizations operate.

Education and Training Requirements

There is no formal training to become a volunteer AIDS counselor. Experience is often more important than education. The best way to gain experience is to become a volunteer with an organization that cares for people with AIDS. Most organizations provide initial training for volunteers, and many provide follow-up sessions. Paid positions are usually filled by people with master's degrees in the field of mental health or social work. These people often have counseling experience in substance abuse.

Getting the Job

Organizations that work with people who have AIDS rely on volunteers. The best way to get a job in this field is to apply directly to these organizations as a volunteer. Your school placement office may be able to give you information about paid positions. You can also apply to hospitals and hospices in areas where there are large numbers of AIDS patients.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Experienced AIDS counselors with master's degrees can advance to administrative positions. Some may become AIDS educators who write, organize, and deliver information to the public. Others become training specialists and design training programs for volunteers and professionals. Within organizations counselors may become project coordinators, project directors, or regional directors.

The number of new AIDS cases each year has leveled off in the past decade. Advances in drug regimens for AIDS patients allow AIDS patients to live longer. Therefore, the cumulative number of persons living with AIDS has been increasing each year. Thus, the demand for volunteer AIDS counselors remains high, but paid positions will depend on private and government funding. Job opportunities will be most plentiful for those with master's degrees and experience in a related field.

Working Conditions

AIDS counselors in paid positions usually work a forty-hour week. Some work in hospitals and mental health clinics. Those who work in hospices work in pleasant surroundings. Many volunteers and counselors also visit AIDS patients in their homes, which may be in poor inner-city areas.

People suffering from AIDS are under severe emotional and physical stress, which often affects their interaction with AIDS counselors. Therefore, AIDS counselors must be able to work with people who are very ill and severely depressed due to the effects of the disease.

Where to Go for More Information

American Psychological Association
Office on AIDS
750 First St. NE
Washington, DC 20002-4242
(202) 336-6052

American Public Health Association
800 I St. NW
Washington, DC 20001-3710
(202) 777-APHA

Earnings and Benefits

Many AIDS counselors are volunteers and do not receive a salary. For those in paid positions, salaries are similar to those of other social workers. In 2004 the median salary of social workers was $34,820 per year. Salaries are generally higher for private practitioners, administrators, and researchers. Benefits for those working for hospitals and public health departments generally include paid vacations and holidays, health insurance, and retirement plans.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesHealth & Medicine