Print this page    •   Back to Web version of article

Peer Counseling Perspectives
Healthy Relationships: Prevention for Positives

By Mary Lynn Hemphill, L.M.S.W.

November/December 2004

Mary Lynn Hemphill, L.M.S.W.
Prevention for positives -- an increasingly common term in the HIV/AIDS world. At first glance, it's something of an oxymoron, because if prevention means stopping an undesirable event from occurring (in this instance, HIV infection) and someone already has HIV, then what is being stopped?

The answer is, prevention for positives refers to tools that people with HIV use to keep from spreading the virus to anyone else. Despite the fact that 96% of Americans living with HIV do not infect another person over the course of a year, new cases of HIV in the United States have remained steady at around 40,000 for several years. For that infection rate to decrease, everyone needs to know more about how to apply skills for prevention of HIV in their lives.

AIDS Survival Project has always included education about safer sex, safer using and disclosure issues in THRIVE! Weekend and peer counseling sessions, but we are very excited to add an initiative dedicated solely to these topics. Healthy Relationships is a carefully structured, well-researched educational forum that will be a part of our new Prevention Division.

Healthy Relationships is a program that was originally researched and developed by Seth Kalichman, Ph.D., when he was with the Medical College of Wisconsin in conjunction with AIDS Survival Project. Dr. Kalichman found that six months after completion of the program, participants were more likely to have protected intercourse, less likely to have unprotected intercourse and to have fewer sexual contacts when compared to similar participants in a health maintenance control group.

Healthy Relationships works by addressing issues that create significant stress in the lives of HIV-positive people, specifically, how to handle disclosure of HIV status with family, friends, sex or needle-sharing partners and how to incorporate safer sexual behaviors. Through a structured series of closed group sessions, participants learn problem-solving and decision-making skills that can be used in managing disclosure and negotiating sexual encounters. Each group is composed of a limited number of HIV-positive people selected to create the most culturally appropriate mix. Two facilitators run each group: one facilitator is female, one is male; one is a licensed mental health professional, the other is an HIV-positive peer.

Healthy Relationships is more specifically focused than a regular support group where disclosure, relationship issues and safer sex may be among many topics that arise. In a Healthy Relationships group, people learn concrete skills through observation of and discussion with others, as well as by watching and discussing film clips. Using role-play, modeling and personal feedback reports, participants gain experience in mastering behaviors that reduce stress related to disclosure and the construction of healthy relationships.

This new workshop series is in keeping with the Denver Principles as set out by AIDS activists in 1983 which underlie ASP's values. The Denver Principles recommended (among other things) that people with AIDS "be involved at every level of decision-making," "be included in all AIDS forums with equal credibility as other participants" and "substitute low-risk sexual behaviors for those which could endanger themselves and their partners." People living with HIV have been instrumental in the Healthy Relationships development and are active in the group process, as well as the administration of the workshops.

The Denver Principles also state that people with AIDS have a right "to as full and satisfying sexual and emotional lives as anyone else." In keeping with this philosophy of the earliest AIDS activists, Healthy Relationships is a venue that provides tools for meeting the challenges of living with HIV/AIDS.

Participation in Healthy Relationships at ASP will be open to HIV-positive people following a screening that will be used to create the most appropriate groups. As with all services at the agency, there will be no charge to participate.

This article was provided by AIDS Survival Project. It is a part of the publication Survival News. You can find this article online by typing this address into your Web browser:

General Disclaimer: is designed for educational purposes only and is not engaged in rendering medical advice or professional services. The information provided through should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or a disease. It is not a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you may have a health problem, consult your health care provider.