Nashville CARES expands counseling program
Nashville CARES is a Nashville non-profit that has worked to extinguish HIV/AIDS in Middle Tennessee since 1985. According to the organization, in the last year alone it has offered services to more than 60,000 Middle Tennesseans infected and affected by HIV/AIDS, including HIV prevention education to over 40,000 youth and adults, 17,000 free confidential HIV tests, and support services to 2,850 men, women, and children living with the disease.
One of the organization’s least-known offerings is counseling services for those living with, affected by, or at high-risk for HIV infection. Clients like Luis often discover this service when they come for free HIV testing. Luis said, “[I] learned that Nashville CARES provided counseling for the infected and affected by HIV. Counseling helped me identify my high-risk behaviors…and then gave me the tools I needed to make different decisions in the future. I now have enough self-confidence to know why I do what I do and not to do it again.”
According to Brandon L. Brown, Director of Emotional Health & Wellness for Nashville CARES, counseling is an important tool in curbing the epidemic in Middle Tennessee. “How a person thinks and/or feels about him/herself plays a significant role in how that person behaves in and with the world around them—particularly in decision making,” Brown explained. “We believe that if people are given an opportunity to understand their behaviors and relationships through the lens of their thoughts and emotions, they will be better equipped to make healthier, less-risky decisions, including the use of the HIV prevention methods.”
For that reason, CARES has expanded its counseling program to include all those in the LGBT community, whether or not they are living with or are at high risk for HIV. Men who have sex with men remain a key target demographic, however, because the stigmas associated with being LGBT in the south, added to other stressors, lead to behaviors that put them at highest risk. “One of the easiest ways to make that escape in our culture is through sex and drugs," said Brown, "both temporary pleasures that provide little fulfillment and can often create new problems. Our program is here to help in changing what’s not working in someone’s life so that they can get closer to living the kind of life that’s truly satisfying.”
Brown said the expansion is grounded in the understanding that behavioral health can play an important role in the prevention of HIV, not just in its treatment, and this involves dealing with both the stigmas of LGBT life as well as other stressors faced by members of the community. Thus, the expanded counseling program of CARES includes individual, couples, and family counseling, as well as psychiatric medication consultation and referrals to other mental health professionals. Services to non-HIV clients are funded by the agency and new grant resources; CARES promotional materials currently state that, “Counseling services are currently free of charge…”
Luis, the CARES client, testified to the value of this service. “First off, Nashville CARES was a soft place to land because I was headed toward the wall at a thousand miles an hour. It’s also a place where I could reveal myself, as raw as it was, without judgment…. I learned that I am okay, I am normal. I learned that I am not alone, it’s just part of the human experience, not just the gay-man’s experience. That helped me out tremendously. She also gave me things to do to challenge myself to strengthen that.”
Services are available at the Nashville CARES offices, located at 633 Thompson Lane in Nashville. If you are unable to come to the office due to health or transportation problems, a counselor may be able to meet you closer to your home. Appointments are generally available between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Please call 1-800-845-4266 and ask to speak with a wellness advocate to schedule your assessment appointment.