World AIDS Day 1st December. Are you sufficiently clued up? A counsellor’s perspective…

World AIDS Day is coming around again!

Are you up to date regarding your knowledge of HIV and ahead of the game when

it comes to keeping yourself safe?

As a psychologist and HIV counsellor since 1991, I am constantly surprised by how much misinformation is still out there regarding HIV and risk behaviour.

In my counselling I still come across the following myths:

1. Serial monogamy is safe. 

Many people seem to believe that as long as you are only having sex with one person at atime that you are safe.This is certainly not the case. Before you embark on a new sexual relationship it is thus recommended that both you and your new partner go for an HIV test before you become sexually intimate.

2. You can go for an HIV test on Monday if you had risky sex on Saturday night.

You need to think about the window period when considering an HIV test, which for an

antibody test is three months. You can’t be assured of a totally reliable result unless you wait for three months

after your last sexual experience.  

3. You can tell intuitively if someone is HIV positive.

Most of us know that they only way to tell if someone is HIV positive is if they have been for an HIV test three months after their last sexual experience. However, in my counselling I often meet couples who stop using condoms after a while when they feel they can trust each other. It is important to realise that anyone can have HIV if they have had a previous relationship. Always insist that you know the HIV status of your partner!

4. If I test negative I will know that my partner is HIV negative.

Do you realise that that it is possible to have an unprotected sexual relationship with someone who is HIV positive for some time without becoming HIV positive yourself? 

A a few years ago a married couple came in for counselling and testing. They had two children and had been together for four years. When I tested them, the husband was HIV positive and his wife was negative. It turned out that he had been HIV positive before they got together and she had not sero-converted in all the time they had been together!  For this reason it is important to test yourself three months after the end of a relationship. If you are in an ongoing relationship and are not using protection, then you will always be in a window period for any HIV test that you take. 


If you would like more information on HIV/AIDS  or if you would like to have some counselling and/or an HIV test, phone The Western Cape AIDS Training, Information and Counselling Centre on 021 7635320   (Plumstead, Cape Town) 

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You’ve taken the plunge to visit a psychologist – what can you expect?

A first visit to a psychologist can be a daunting experience! Whether you have had experience of therapy in the past or have never been to a psychologist before, taking that initial step can be stressful and anxiety provoking.

The idea of talking about your innermost thoughts and feelings to a perfect stranger is not a pleasant prospect for many people.

So what will you experience in your first session?

A calm, supportive environment where you will be encouraged to talk about yourself and the issues and problems that may be troubling you. Professional psychologists are trained to listen carefully and attentively and be non-judgemental.

Sessions with a psychologist usually last for an hour to an hour and a half and confidentiality is assured.

Of course every client will experience their counselling or psychotherapy in a different way as all clients and all psychologists are unique individuals.

What has stood out for you in your own experience of counselling and psychotherapy?



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How do you go about choosing a psychologist who is right for you?

Finding the right psychologist can be a daunting prospect! How does one go about making such a decision?

Research on psychotherapy outcome has consistently found that the quality of the relationship between the psychologist and their client is the single most important factor predicting whether or not therapy is successful.

It is therefore essential that you choose a psychologist with whom you can relate.

Another factor to consider is the psychotherapeutic approach of a psychologist. Is he/she a psychoanalyst, cognitive-behavioural therapist, solutions-focused, emotion-focused, or eclectic? (There are over 500 approaches to psychotherapy being practised in the world today!)

It is important to ask a prospective psychologist whether they favour an interactive appoach (where they are very involved in the sessions) or a more “removed” style and whether they specialise in short versus longer term therapy.

You could also ask your intended psychologist about their particular registration as this will determine their scope of practice (the main categories of psychologists in South Africa include clinical, counselling, educational and industrial psychology, and new categories are forensic and neuropsychology) and their areas of specialization.

It is a good idea to ask a propective psychologist whether you could meet with them beforehand for a short 10 minute free introductory session to find out whether or not their is a mutual feeling that you could work together constructively.

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The psychology of making mistakes

When I popped into my local book shop a couple of days ago, one book immediately caught my eye. (The cover is very effective – see photo!).

The book: “Being Wrong”, by Kathryn Schultz.

I have got to the end of Chapter 1, and have been savouring every page – it is funny but also thought-provoking. For anyone who is interested in the psychology, philosophy and history of human error, and who also enjoys a good chuckle, I would recommend this book. Excerpts:

“Of all the things we are wrong about, the idea of error might well top the list” (pg 5), (the book) is built around stories of people screwing up, stories (about) illusions, magicians, comedians, drug trips, love affairs, misadventures on the high seas, bizarre neurological phenomena, medical catastrophes, legal fiascos, some possible consequences of marrying a prostitute, (and) the lamentable failure of the world to end (pg 17).
There is also mention of the disastrous impact of always needing to be right on our relationships and that “this applies equally to relationships among nations, communities, friends and relatives” (pg 9).
I am certainly looking forward to reading the rest of the book!

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Talking Points in Psychotherapy

A number of interesting ideas and dilemmas crop up continually in counselling and psychotherapy. I would like to share some of these with you and ask for your viewpoints.

For example, can marriages survive infidelity? What would you do if you found out your spouse was keeping secrets from you?

Do you believe that your marriage counsellor should insist that all secrets between the spouses be revealed in order for therapy to stand a chance of success?

What do you think?

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