Learning to address multiple syndemics for people living with HIV through client perspectives on CBT

Nicholas S. Perry, Jocelyn E. Remmert, Christina Psaros, Megan Pinkston, Steven A. Safren

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Objective: The mental health burden among people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) is high and often involves multiple comorbid psychological and substance use-related psychosocial problems. These co-occurring problems, or syndemics, additively impair engagement in HIV disease management. Existing psychotherapies for mental health and HIV health have generally focused on a single psychosocial problem and little research exists to guide future psychotherapies that address multiple mental health issues. Method: To address this gap in understanding, we conducted qualitative interviews with multiply comorbid PLWHA (N = 30) who completed cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) for depression and medication adherence. Results: Themes emerged regarding participants’ perspectives on how overlapping substance use and mood disorders interacted to reduce the benefit of CBT. Substance use was a dominant theme compared to other syndemics, highlighting the need for integrated mental health and substance use interventions. Interviews also suggested modifications of which psychosocial concerns participants felt should be prioritized in treatment delivery. Finally, participants described content they would want in a psychotherapy intervention, including intimacy and sexual health. Conclusions: Future psychotherapeutic interventions for syndemic problems and HIV self-care will need to comprehensively address complex concerns, including issues salient to the overall well-being of PLWHA. This may improve client engagement and, ultimately, mental, and physical health outcomes. Clinical or methodological significance of this article: Although mental health comorbidity is common and often complex among clients living with HIV, little research exists to guide psychotherapy for such intricate mental health concerns. The current study used content analysis of in-depth qualitative interviews with clients living with HIV and multiple mental health comorbidities who had recently completed cognitive-behavioural therapy. Recommendations based on these findings suggest strategies for clinicians working with similar clients to consider and offers suggestions for future treatment development research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)492-502
Number of pages11
JournalPsychotherapy Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 4 2019


  • adherence
  • cognitive-behaviour therapy
  • culture and psychotherapy
  • integrative treatment models
  • outcome research

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology


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