There is really no one-size-fits-all handbook to follow when it comes to coping with a positive HIV diagnosis, but luckily, there is a tried, true, and tested remedy that has been proven to consistently help people recover from life-changing events such as finding out they are HIV-positive; support from others.
A little bit of love and support can go a long way, but finding it can sometimes be the hard part; that’s where The Pride Center in Wilton Manors comes in.
The Pride Center has provided CHOICES (Choosing Healthy Options and Improving Communication Effectiveness). -- a small group program set up to assist HIV-positive participants by reducing stress and building coping skills -- for 11 years in both English and Spanish. CHOICES aims to accept, console, educate, and most importantly, learn to deal with their HIV diagnosis.
“Sometimes fear might prevent men from coming to the group,” said Magno Morales, CHOICES Coordinator. “This fear would prevent them from learning coping skills that will improve their lives.”
The CHOICES program curriculum is a local adaptation of the nationally researched Healthy Relationships, an effective evidence-based intervention for HIV prevention. In the decade-plus the Pride Center has offered the CHOICES program they have helped thousands of members of the LGBT community deal with the news of their diagnosis, first and foremost, then, as the program moves on, they help attendees take the next steps to bringing back normalcy to their lives through structure and awareness.
“Living with HIV can make dating, sex, and relationships stressful,” Pride Center COO Kristofer Fegenbush told SFGN. “Participants learn to cope with these challenges in the free five-week CHOICES course. Meeting in small groups, the men discuss building healthy relationships, how to negotiate safer sex and make better decisions, and ways to tell family, friends and sex partners that they’re thriving [while living] with HIV. It’s also a great way to meet HIV-plus friends.”
The CHOICES program runs eight-cycles throughout the year, mostly at night. The Pride Center told SFGN they try to schedule at least one cycle of the teaching sessions during the afternoons for those who work nights. According to event coordinators, the skills learned in these meetings are priceless for those feeling overwhelmed by their HIV test results.
“CHOICES helps clients reduce their stress while living with HIV by teaching them how to implement different coping skills,” Pride Center Prevention with Positives Manager Shanna Ratliff told SFGN.
As the CHOICES program spreads its wings it helps with more than just the initial coping skills.
“Participants who are dealing with substance abuse, financial problems, or other forms of stress can learn healthy ways to cope,” Morales said. “We have been successful and enjoyed longevity with CHOICES because we believe that the program works,” states Ratliff. Morales reminds the clients that these skills can be used in every area of their lives.