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HIV/AIDS workshops get favorable feedback

By Paul R. Pace, News staff

The NASW Chapter HIV/AIDS Partnership Initiative to strengthen HIV/AIDS prevention, care and treatment is receiving an enthusiastic response from attendees, according to those involved with the effort.

NASW and eligible chapters are conducting training and workshops to expand the knowledge and capacity of mental health services providers — particularly social workers — in addressing mental health and psychosocial issues of those with and affected by HIV and AIDS.

The initiative, which focuses on 12 major metropolitan areas and emerging communities with the highest HIV incidences, is supported by the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, or NHAS, through funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

NHAS aims to lower HIV infections rates and to give every person with HIV/AIDS unfettered access to high-quality, life-extending care that is free from stigma and discrimination.

In the first year of the initiative, workshops took place in collaboration with NASW chapters in Texas, Washington, D.C., Louisiana, Illinois, California, North Carolina, Florida, Maryland and Mississippi. More workshops were scheduled for different parts of California, Maryland, North Carolina and Texas at press time.

On Sept. 14, NASW’s North Carolina Chapter hosted the workshop “Providing Services in Complex Times: Working with Clients Living with HIV/AIDS and Co-Occurring Mental Health Disorders” for 55 social workers and social work students representing a variety of practice areas.

North Carolina is among the 10 U.S. states with the highest rates of new HIV/AIDS diagnoses and HIV-related deaths, according to a study by the Southern HIV/AIDS Strategy Initiative.

Valarie Arendt, director of member, marketing and communication at NASW’s North Carolina Chapter, said the response from workshop attendees was overwhelmingly favorable. An evaluation of the session contained positive feedback, including one attendee who said the training helped identify more appropriate resources for clients.

Arendt noted that the workshops are essential because even the most experienced HIV/AIDS provider needs a basic understanding of mental health disorders and diagnoses as well as up-to-date tools to assess a range of mental health issues and concerns.

“This initiative provides social workers with the resources to practice more effectively when working with clients with HIV/AIDS,” Arendt said. “This is essential in North Carolina because the rates of new HIV and AIDS diagnoses continue to increase.”

She added that the research shows those with HIV are more likely to experience a range of mental health concerns.

“Many of the social workers who attended this training work with homeless populations throughout North Carolina,” Arendt explained. “They are among the first practitioners to see the increasing numbers of individuals with HIV in North Carolina.”

In Miami, the same presentation was hosted on Sept. 14 and 15. Melissa Sellevaag, a member of the NASW HIV/AIDS Spectrum Project Advisory Committee, presented two workshops. She said the response from attendees was positive, and they told her information concerning HIV with co-occurring disorders was needed.

“Participants were not aware of the impact HIV has in south Florida and felt compelled to get involved in advocacy efforts to continue to learn more about complex issues facing persons living with HIV,” she said.

Sellevaag said she feels honored to participate in the trainings.

“To ensure that social workers have access to the most up-to-date information on best practices in working with persons with HIV is vital,” she said. “We need to make sure people continue to talk about this epidemic, continue to learn about best practices and fight stigma.”

Jeremy Goldbach is an assistant professor at the University Of Southern California School Of Social Work and is the initiative’s evaluator. He said the training effort includes an evaluation process with workshop participants to gauge how they are implementing what they have learned.

Preliminary data from workshop attendees at three months reveals that 67 percent responded that they discussed the training content with colleagues and 29 percent of them discussed new information with their clients.

“The findings indicate people really are taking what they learn back and applying it to their real life settings,” Goldbach said. “It is encouraging to know that we may be having a ripple effect, too. Nearly two-thirds of (attendees) shared what they learned with colleagues, who may then further share with their networks, and so on.”

For more information about the training project, visit the NASW HIV/AIDS Spectrum website at www.socialworkers.org/practice/hiv_aids/

From the November 2012 NASW News.

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