How to Become an HIV Counselor

Updated on June 15, 2017
Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

A professional career coach, Marcy has helped hundreds refine their resumes, improve their interviewing skills, and advance their careers.

HIV Counselors Educate to Help Prevent the Spread of the Disease

The Red Ribbon is the symbol of HIV awareness.
The Red Ribbon is the symbol of HIV awareness. | Source

HIV Counselors Focus on Education and Prevention

Although some people mistakenly think HIV is old news, it is still very much a health condition requiring attention and understanding. As HIV awareness has grown in the medical field, new careers have been created to meet the needs of those who live with the condition or who need education about avoiding exposure.

A rewarding way to work in this field is through becoming an HIV counselor. These professionals work with those who are infected and their family members to help inform them of infection control and how to protect those who live with the person who has the virus.

They also work with high-risk populations and others as educators and to give advice about resources in the community. Finally, they provide information to the general public to raise awareness about the risks of becoming infected and how to avoid exposure and transmission.

HIV counselors need training in various areas, though, to do their jobs right.

National HIV and Counseling and Testing Event (in Lowell, MA)

Jobs for HIV Counselors

HIV counselors can be employed in a variety of types of organizations and settings. Some examples include:

Colleges and Universities: Institutions with large populations or with a high percentage of at-risk students will likely have HIV counselors available (or referral arrangements) through student health centers or other counseling offices.

AIDS Services Centers: Most large cities have AIDS resource services available (and some have several resource operations). Many are non-profit, but some are government funded. All are available to provide education about prevention, living with HIV and AIDS, referral services for health care and other social services support.

Public School Systems: Some public school systems may provide HIV counselors in communities where there are higher risks of exposure. Counselors in these settings might offer group education sessions as well as, or in lieu of one-on-one, ongoing support.

Medical Offices: Large clinic systems may have HIV counselors available (or persons who are trained in this area in addition to another position they may hold).

Drug Research Firms: Firms that do outsourced research work for pharmaceutical companies often test for HIV as part of the screening process. Persons who test positive are informed privately (this can be by a physician) and offered referral information about community resources (which can be by someone with a degree or training in HIV counseling).

HIV Intervention and Outreach Services: Many communities have outreach services to help educate and prevent the spread of HIV. These can include mobile vans that do on-site testing, visiting places where social encounters can lead to unprotected sex, and other programs that are uniquely designed to address needs in a specific community. HIV counselors are part of the teams providing these services.

Public Health Clinics: These facilities generally provide testing for HIV, and offer pretesting as well as post-testing counseling to those who use their services.

Third-World Countries: There are opportunities for humanitarian work to help educate at-risk populations in countries where HIV infection and AIDS occurs in epidemic numbers. These can be volunteer positions or paid assignments.

HIV Testing and Counseling

Requirements and Training for HIV Counselors

The training and requirements for doing HIV counseling in your community, state or country can vary with the specific job you might seek and the guidelines imposed by the government. To find out the requirements in your area, check with the types of services listed above (a good place to start is the local AIDS Services organization, if one is available).

Ask to speak to someone who either does counseling or who manages the operation; they will know what requirements exist for training and, in some cases, certification in HIV Counseling.

Many state health departments offer training programs (or will refer you to places that offer training that meets local requirements). Some medical schools offer training programs as well. The list of training options and criteria is too varied to include in one article.

An example of the type of education that might be needed can be found through the AIDS Health Project in San Francisco, which lists some information on basic training, advanced training and continuing education for those who wish to become HIV Counselors.

Your local government will have information on the number of hours or days of training needed for the levels of certification and opportunities to take online courses. The guidelines in each state (or country) change as new information is available, so it is best to check for current requirements in your area.

HIV Counseling through Desmond Tutu Foundation

What Makes a Good HIV Counselor?

HIV counselors address many sensitive topics when talking with clients, including sexual orientation, history of drug use, high-risk behaviors, trust, sexual activity, family and relationships issues and more.

A good HIV counselor should have most, if not all, of the following qualities and skills:

  • Compassion
  • Ability to communicate well
  • Frankness
  • Acceptance
  • Sensitivity to emotions
  • Desire to help others
  • Non-judgmental attitude
  • Flexibility
  • Desire to keep learning

These are just a few of the qualities you can bring to the career. Continuing education is important, since treatment options change almost every year, and resources can change in your community.

Video: When HIV Becomes AIDS


In addition to providing basic education and prevention information about HIV infection, counselors are often trained to help recognize when HIV may have advanced to AIDS.

This training helps counselors refer clients to appropriate medical care for declining immune systems or opportunistic infections. An opportunistic infection is one that attacks a compromised immune system; it is generally one that a healthy immune system might resist, whereas someone with a weakened immune system is more vulnerable.

The videos on this page show a few ways HIV counselors help individuals who are infected, are at risk of infection or who live with someone who is infected, as well as information on when HIV becomes AIDS.

What about you?

Would you be interested in becoming an HIV Counselor?

See results

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


Submit a Comment
  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile imageAUTHOR

    Marcy Goodfleisch 

    7 years ago from Planet Earth

    Many thanks, Amber! This career will only keep growing in coming years. Despite recent news reports, we are nowhere near a universal cure. I appreciate your comments here.

  • Amber Vyn profile image

    Amber Vyn 

    7 years ago

    Thorough and up to date! I really liked that you listed the important qualities for being an effective HIV counselor.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile imageAUTHOR

    Marcy Goodfleisch 

    7 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, blaxirican - thanks for your kind comments, and for pointing out some variations on the opportunities. I'm in Austin, too - I'm guessing we may know some of the same people here. The network of HIV service providers is pretty connected here!

  • blaxirican80 profile image


    7 years ago

    This is a great, very accurate article on the topic. I was a social worker in the field of HIV for 5 years in the Austin, Texas area. A lot of agencies lean toward a bachelor's or master's degree in the social sciences but there are often a lot of opportunities for volunteers, peer advocates, and student interns. As you said, it really varies by location. If a person is truly interested in working in this field, they should not let their credentials, or a lack of, stop them. The field is always in need of compassionate, caring individuals. Thanks so much for sharing information on this topic area!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile imageAUTHOR

    Marcy Goodfleisch 

    7 years ago from Planet Earth

    Thanks, Jared - it's a very important area of healthcare. HIV is by no means cured, but it can be managed.

  • profile image

    jared maronga 

    7 years ago

    I gree to the topcis and information on this career

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile imageAUTHOR

    Marcy Goodfleisch 

    8 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, Alocsin - it can vary with the requirements of where they work and the type of position, according to what I've seen. Some have degrees in social work, some are perhaps RNs, etc. Some do not have degrees, in some instances.

  • alocsin profile image

    Aurelio Locsin 

    8 years ago from Orange County, CA

    I used to do volunteer work for the HIV community way back in the dark ages but I was not a counselor because of no related degree. I was under the impression that HIV counselors needed some sort of counseling degree. Is that not true? Voting this Up and Useful.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile imageAUTHOR

    Marcy Goodfleisch 

    8 years ago from Planet Earth

    Kittyjj: I am impressed at the number of informative videos available about this sensitive subject. I truly appreciate your commments!

    Hi, Nettlemere - thank you for reading and commenting; I'm so glad you like the hub!

  • Nettlemere profile image


    8 years ago from Burnley, Lancashire, UK

    Excellent well written and informative article

  • kittyjj profile image

    Ann Leung 

    8 years ago from San Jose, California

    A great hub with tremendous valuable information. I love the videos. Voted up and useful.


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)