Life Lessons from Women with HIV: Mutuality, Self-Awareness, and Self-Efficacy

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Abstract

Women with HIV in the United States cope with multiple traumas that influence adherence to antiretroviral therapy (ART) and well-being. Narrative themes from three life turning points and a projective story task were compared for two groups of women with HIV (HIV well-managed vs. HIV not well-managed, matched on demographics and narrative word count) to understand predictors of successful outcomes. The well-managed group (n = 10) was virally suppressed and reported ≥95% ART adherence; the not well-managed group (n = 10) had detectable viral load and reported <95% ART adherence. Women were predominantly African American with low socioeconomic status and averaged 46.51 years. A three-stage coding process (with coders blind to group status in stages 1 and 2) involved (1) line by line thematic analyses that generated 155 subthemes reflecting six content areas (interpersonal relationships; culture and community; sense of self; relationship to past, present, and future experiences; self-care; and motivators for change); (2) absence/presence of the 155 subthemes was compared for the two groups; the frequency of 37 subthemes was found to significantly differ; and (3) the 37 differentiating subthemes were conceptually integrated, revealing that the well-managed group's narratives more frequently reflected (a) mutuality (growth-fostering relationships involving reciprocal care and empathy); (b) self-awareness (recognition of personal strengths and weaknesses and multiple factors contributing to life choices and trajectories); and (c) self-efficacy (active coping, self-advocacy, and utilizing resources). Implications for treatment and interconnections among themes are discussed, emphasizing the factors that enable women to care for themselves and others.

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