Learning as you go: building effective support groups for men living with HIV Open Access

Hooyman, Christine Anna (Spring 2019)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/tq57ns04w?locale=en



Social support is a critical component of treatment and care for people living with HIV. The Infectious Diseases Clinic at Emory University Hospital Midtown recently formed support groups for men living with HIV. This study seeks to explore how these support groups can better meet the needs of men living with HIV at the clinic.  


This qualitative study consisted of 13 in-depth interviews with eight patients and five clinic staff, and covered topics including preferences for group format and demographics, perceived facilitators and barriers to participation and recommendations for improvement.  Study participants were purposively sampled to represent key demographics at the clinic and included staff currently facilitating the men’s support groups. Data were analyzed using thematic analysis to highlight themes within the data, working with MAXQDA 2018.2 software.


Study participants identified four primary elements important for a support group: [1] an ability to relate to participants; [2] a sense of community; [3] a space where they could cope, and [4] a forum to openly exchange ideas, information and learn. Patients expressed preference for a support group format that allowed for patient-driven topic identification. Study participants determined six overarching facilitators and barriers to participating in a support group, which included personal readiness, food, transportation, scheduling, topics, and group members. Participants discussed how demographics affect group dynamics, with patients identifying socio-economic diversity as the most important characteristic to consider over ethnicity, age and sexual identity. However, participants opposed segmenting support groups on demographics beyond gender. Participants also established additional issues to assess when forming support groups, including dealing and coping with HIV, self-acceptance of HIV status, stigma and existing additional support sources for group members. 


Study participants overwhelmingly agree that support groups at the clinic are a vital resource for men living with HIV. Providing avenues for patient ownership and iteratively collecting feedback from participants are important for the support group’s success. Support groups provide critical spaces for men to receive empathy, exchange practical information and deal with HIV, contributing not only to their emotional wellbeing, but working towards sustaining a healthy life. 

Table of Contents


Figure 1: The HIV Care Continuum

Literature Review



Study Site

Population and Sample

Table 1: Study inclusion criteria

Table 2: Staff demographics

Table 3: Patient demographics



Table 4: Overview of in-depth interview guides

Ethical considerations

Data analysis


Individual conceptualization of the role and purpose of a support group

Feedback on clinic-specific support group format

Support group facilitators and barriers

Viewpoints on support group demographics

Key concerns to consider when forming men’s support groups

Dealing with HIV

Coping with HIV

Then and now – learning and accepting one’s status


Support sources



Quality improvement recommendations

Table 5: Quality improvement recommendations for the clinic’s support group

Best practices to continue at the clinic

Table 6: Best practices at clinic to note for continued implementation

Strengths and limitations of study

Implications for public health practice

Table 7: Future issues to explore with additional research



Appendix I – In-depth interview guides

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