Qualitative interviews with mentor mothers living with HIV: potential impacts of role and coping strategies

SOURCE: Journal of the International AIDS Society
OUTPUT TYPE: Journal Article
PUBLICATION YEAR: 2012
TITLE AUTHOR(S): L.Dhlamini, L.Knight, H.Van Rooyen, A.Van Heerden, M.J.Rotheram-Borus
KEYWORDS: COPING MECHANISM, COUNSELLING SERVICES, HIV/AIDS, HIV/AIDS PREVALENCE, WOMEN
DEPARTMENT: Social Aspects of Public Health (SAPH)
Print: HSRC Library: shelf number 7356

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Abstract

In South Africa where HIV prevalence is high, mentor mother programmes have been used to promote the health and wellbeing of women enrolled in government programmes preventing vertical transmission. The Masihambisane Project trained mentors to be educators and facilitators as "expert patients" in self-help groups. While this and other similar interventions demonstrate positive outcomes for mothers and their children, the long-term repercussions for mentors delivering the intervention are seldom considered. This article explores the personal impact of being a mentor, the potentially traumatizing effects of repeatedly sharing their experiences of living with HIV and the coping strategies they adopt. Towards the end of the Masihambisane intervention, 10 semi-structured qualitative interviews were conducted with locally recruited mentors living with HIV and were thematically analysed. Mentors found the repeated telling of their stories a painful reminder of adverse personal experiences. In some cases, retelling caused a physical reaction. Mentors relied on coping strategies like taking breaks, writing their experiences down and debriefing sessions. Despite the difficulties associated with their role, some mentors found being advisors and the group sessions therapeutic and empowering. These findings indicate that the inclusion of peer mentors comes with certain responsibilities. While the mentors were resilient and some found the experience therapeutic and empowering found creative ways to cope with secondary trauma, the negative implications cannot be ignored. To effectively deliver a mentor-driven intervention to mothers enrolled in a programme to prevent vertical transmission, the possibilities of secondary trauma should be considered and mentors provided with ongoing counselling, training on coping skills and regular debriefing sessions.