Peer Support

What is Peer Support?

“Peer Support is an individual- and group-level intervention strategy that can be implemented with patients who are either ART-experienced or ART-naïve. Patients who are HIV-positive, taking ART medicines and adherent to their treatment are trained to serve as “peers”. Peers provide medication-related social support through group meetings and weekly individual telephone calls. Group meetings are led by peers, who are supervised by agency/clinic program staff. The group meetings are designed to give patients an opportunity to engage face-to-face with their assigned peer, meet other peers and patients who are taking ART medications and share experiences with the group. Whereas, the weekly individual peer phone calls provide more in-depth personal attention and feedback to answer any questions the patient may have felt uncomfortable asking during group meetings. Group discussions focus on identifying barriers to ART adherence and problem-solving strategies to overcome barriers. Group meetings may also focus on life issues that may affect adherence, including disclosure, romantic relationships, substance use, and mental health issues. Based on issues identified by group members, peers may work with program staff to schedule speakers (e.g., nutritionist) to present during group sessions.” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

LIVING POSITIVE Celebrates Fourth Anniversary

May 11, 2015 marked the fourth anniversary of Living Positive, a peer-led support group for men living with HIV/AIDS. The group is a collaboration between The Research Institute and The AIDS Foundation of Western MA (AFWM). Living Positive was established as a result of a need identified in our community during a conversation between myself and Dr. Claudia Martorell, owner and director of The Research Institute and one of the region’s leading infectious disease specialists. One of her newly diagnosed HIV-positive patients was reaching out for peer support. Since no such group existed in the area, I offered to form and co-facilitate the group. I then reached out to inspirational friend and trusted support Mark Zatyrka to help as a co-facilitator. Mark and I, who are both HIV-positive, have traveled very different journeys in living positive and are united through sharing our personal stories and experiences of living positive.

Navy Pier, Chicago
Navy Pier, Chicago

Living Positive participants are able to share our stories and find support in a way they we not be able to do anywhere else. In addition, the group occasionally invites experts to help educate participants about our disease and healthy aging with HIV while becoming more socially connected and integrated. Facilitators are more than happy to meet with any interested individuals one-on-one to answer any questions they make have or to help them feel more comfortable with the idea of attending a support group. We assure everyone that confidentiality is held to the highest standard.

Living Positive meets the second Wednesday of every month, 6-7:30pm at The Research Institute. For more information, email AFWM.

Here is what a few participants say about Living Positive:

“I have attended every group since day one. I look forward every month to getting together with guys in this physically and emotionally safe environment to share my thoughts and concerns while gaining the support of my peers. These guys truly understand like no one else could. Here, I truly know that I am not alone.”

“Attending group showed me that I’m not the only one having difficulty living with my diagnosis, and that things are not as bad as they seem. It’s also a great place to get info on the different resources out there for me.”

“I attend to know more about HIV and how to live long. How to stay healthy in mind and body. Also to be myself and to meet HIV-positive guys like me.”

“Having a support group is important because it gives me the opportunity to meet people who are also positive. That way we can get together and offer each other support. At the support group everybody could feel comfortable to express themselves. And for everybody to know that no one is alone with this journey.”

Living Openly with HIV/AIDS