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Considering Gender When Exploring HIV-Trauma Therapy Interventions

January 21, 2016

Living with HIV can be traumatic on multiple levels. For each person it can be extremely different and the treatments must be adapted to each situation and case.

I am increasingly interested in the intersection of mental health and HIV/AIDS. Mental health is something that is not focused on enough when it comes to the complete care of people living with HIV. The differences between men and women are stark and they must be considered when determining the best treatment for trauma and stress. Whether you are newly diagnosed or you have been living with HIV for some time the trauma that you carry with you needs to be explored.

What can you do beyond simply going to a support group?

Availability of support groups can be especially challenging if you live in a geographical location where little to not support is available. So what can you do if you are in that situation? I have found that you must know what you want to get out of therapy in order for it to be successful. Do your research and determine what options are available to you. There is nothing more exciting than when a new client comes to me having done some researcher.


In a study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, researchers evaluated the benefits of using writing to process trauma as well as the differences that gender played in processing their trauma.

The study concluded that symptoms of PTSD occur at very high rates in people with HIV and are associated with poor disease management and accelerated disease progression. Researchers wanted to evaluate the benefit of using an intervention which utilized a writing component. To complete the study, the researchers had men and women living with HIV split up into randomized groups. One group consisted of four 30-minute writing sessions in either treatment (trauma writing), the other an attention control (daily events writing) condition.

The researchers evaluated outcomes at the start of the study and then at intervals of 1-, 6- and 12-month follow-up. Overall the results were not that remarkable, however, there were significant variants with each gender. Researchers found that gender by treatment group interactions were significant in that women in the trauma-writing group had significantly reduced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, depression and HIV-related symptoms compared with their controls within the study. The men however did not experience any significant benefit from participation in the trauma-writing group. Quite unexpectedly, men in the trauma-event-writing control group had significantly greater reductions in depression then men in the trauma-writing group.

In summary, the researchers were able to successfully show that brief (4-session) guided written emotional disclosure intervention resulted in significant and meaningful reductions in PTSD, depression and physical symptoms for women with HIV, but not for men.

Final Thoughts

Whether it be medications or mental health treatment we now understand that a "one-size, fits all" approach cannot and must not be used. Men and women have different strengths and weaknesses, moreover when clinicians, drug companies or the scientific community fail to recognize this fact, a huge opportunity is missed beyond that women are not second-class citizens who have to accept the "scraps" from the table of studies that focus on men.

Information for this article obtained from:
G Ironson, C O'Cleirigh, J Leserman, R Stuetzle, J Fordiani, M Fletcher, N Schneiderman. Gender-specific effects of an augmented written emotional disclosure intervention on posttraumatic, depressive and HIV-disease-related outcomes: A randomized, controlled trial. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol 81(2), Apr 2013, 284-298.

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My HIV Journey

Aaron Laxton

Aaron Laxton

I am simply a guy who on June 6, 2011, received the news that over 33 million people have received: I am HIV positive. I decided in that split moment to record the journey that I was embarking on so that I might help others as they receive that news.

I am not a doctor and I do not endorse any agenda other than simply living a healthy life. I am an activist and advocate and simply want to make the world a better place. I hold a degree in sociology and psychology. I am a product of the Missouri Foster System and this is one of my main passions, second only to the work I do with HIV/AIDS outreach and prevention.

I embrace a sex-positive model. People are going to have sex; it is a natural part of who we are. However we need to make sure that it is safe. I can be found on weekends throughout St. Louis, Missouri, passing out condoms and safe-sex kits.

I am now an M.S.W. student at Saint Louis University's College of Public Health and Social Justice and the School of Social Work.

Whether in St. Louis, D.C. or around the nation, I always jump at the chance to help change not only policies to better serve those that need help but to also change the landscape of the society that we live in.

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See Also
Stress Management and HIV
What Hard Times and Stress Do for Your HIV Health
Coping With Stress, Anxiety, Depression & HIV
Guide to Conquering the Fear, Shame and Anxiety of HIV
Trauma: Frozen Moments, Frozen Lives
More on Coping With Stress and Anxiety
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