Journal article Open Access

A Randomized Trial of the Efficacy of Group Therapy in Changing Viral Load and Cd4 Counts in Individuals Living With Hiv Infection

Belanoff, Joseph K.; Sund, Brenda; Koopman, Cheryl; Blasey, Christine; Flamm, Jason; Schatzberg, Alan F.; Spiegel, David

Objective: This randomized pilot study evaluates whether seropositive patients who are randomly assigned to receive a supportive-expressive group therapy plus education intervention show greater improvements in increased immune function and decreased viral load compared to those randomly assigned to an education-only intervention. Method: Fifty-nine individuals who had been HIV-seropositive for at least 6 months prior to inclusion in the study and had been receiving standard pharmacologic treatment were entered in a prospective randomized trial of the effects of weekly supportive-expressive group therapy on changes in immune status. Participants were matched for AIDS status and sex and randomized to receive weekly sessions of group psychotherapy plus educational materials on HIV/AIDS, or to receive the educational materials alone. Participants were assessed before treatment and then 12 weeks later. Results: Individuals who were randomized to group therapy showed a statistically significant increase in CD4 count and decrease in HIV viral load. Among individuals randomized to the education only condition, no significant change occurred in CD4 count or viral load. Conclusions: These results provide preliminary data suggesting that HIV-seropositive individuals who receive supportive-expressive group psychotherapy may experience concomitant improvements in CD4 cell count and viral load. Further research with a larger sample should examine the possible underlying mechanisms of such benefits. *This research was funded by two NIMH grants, one to Alan F. Schatzberg, M.D. (MH47573-0751), the other to David Spiegel, M.D. (MN54930).

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