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The emotional wellbeing of lay HIV counselling and testing counsellors

Maretha Visser
Princess Mabota


The HIV testing, treatment and care programme of the South African public  healthcare system depends on HIV counselling and testing (HCT) that is primarily delivered by lay counsellors. Lay counsellors are expected to educate clients about HIV/AIDS, advocate behaviour change, convey test results and support those infected and affected to cope with the emotional and social challenges associated with HIV/AIDS. This research focuses on the emotional wellbeing of lay HCT counsellors because this influences the quality of services they provide. A mixed methods approach was used. The emotional wellbeing, level of burnout, depression and coping style of 50 lay HCT counsellors working at the City of Tshwane clinics were assessed. Additionally, five focus group discussions were conducted. The results showed that HCT counsellors reported average emotional wellbeing, high levels of emotional exhaustion and depression. They had a sense of personal accomplishment and positive coping skills. The results revealed that they may have difficulty dealing with clients’ emotional distress without adequate training and supervision. This creates a dilemma for service delivery. In the light of the important role they play in service delivery, the role of the lay HCT counsellor needs to be reconsidered. HCT should develop as a profession with specific training and  supervision to develop their emotional competencies to conduct effective counselling sessions.

Keywords: burnout, depression, emotional wellbeing, lay counsellors, mixed  methods