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July 16, 2014 – Last Friday, University of California – San Francisco (UCSF) researchers released study results that add to the growing body of literature surrounding healing from trauma as an essential component of HIV care for women. An expressive therapy group intervention originally developed by San Francisco’s Medea Project for incarcerated women has shown highly promising effects on the health and well-being of women living with HIV.
Although significant medical advances have been made in HIV treatment, health outcomes are startlingly poor for US women with HIV, in part due to high rates of stigma, depression, trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder. Even for women who are connected to HIV care and treatment, violence and trauma are a profound barrier to safe, healthy lives. “Over 90 percent of our patients are on effective antiretroviral therapy — far higher than the national rates — but far too many are dying from suicide, addiction, and violence,” says Dr. Edward Machtinger, professor of medicine and director of UCSF’s Women’s HIV Program, in a recent statement. “Depression, addiction, and especially trauma are very common and often devastating for women living with HIV, but are not being effectively addressed by most clinics.”
The UCSF study showed reduced social isolation, and improved emotional well-being, self efficacy, and mental health, for women with HIV through expressive therapy grounded in performance, storytelling, and peer-based support. Notably, 50% of study participants reported leaving or avoiding “harmful or unsupportive relationships” – a key finding considering that women living with HIV are twice as likely to be survivors of intimate partner violence than the general population of US women, according to a 2012 UCSF study.
Positive Women’s Network – USA (PWN-USA), the nation’s premier voice of women living with HIV and a partner of UCSF’s Women’s HIV Program, celebrates the success of Medea Project’s disclosure intervention for women living with HIV. These study results add proof to what HIV advocates have noted for years, and clinical studies have begun to document: that addressing and healing effects of trauma may be key to improving health for women with HIV.
“President Obama’s Interagency Working Group on HIV, Violence Against Women and Girls and Gender-Related Health Disparities demonstrates a commitment to addressing this issue to improve the health and lives of women with HIV in the US,” says Naina Khanna, executive director of PWN-USA. “We applaud this research and hope these and similar findings on trauma-informed interventions will inform and transform models of care for women with HIV.”
Read more about this study and trauma-informed care from women living with HIV:
Jailhouse Theater Program Helps Women Disclose HIV Status (San Francisco Chronicle)
An Expressive Therapy Group Disclosure Intervention for Women Living With HIV Improves Social Support, Self-efficacy, and the Safety and Quality of Relationships: A Qualitative Analysis (Journal of the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care – Full text of study)
“Expressive Therapy” Intervention Assists Women Living with HIV (UCSF statement)