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Individualized Web-Based Attention Training with Evidence-Based Counseling: Exploratory Study to Address HIV Treatment Adherence and Psychological Distress (Preprint)

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The prevalence of mood, trauma, and stressor-related disorders is disproportionately higher among people living with HIV than among individuals without the virus. Poor adherence to HIV treatment and heightened psychological distress have been linked to symptoms associated with these disorders.


The objective of this exploratory pilot study was to develop and implement an intervention that combined individualized web-based attention training with evidence-based counseling to promote HIV treatment adherence and reduce psychological distress among people living with HIV. The study targeted African American and Latino young men who have sex with men, two population groups in the US that continue to experience disparities in HIV treatment outcomes.


Study participants with elevated symptoms of depression and suboptimal adherence to antiretroviral therapy were recruited primarily through referrals from Los Angeles health and social service providers as well as postings on social media. Participants enrolled in the 4-week intervention received weekly counseling for adherence and daily access to web-based attention training via their personal mobile devices or computers.


Of the 14 participants who began the intervention, 12 (86%) completed all sessions and study procedures. Using a pretest-posttest design, findings indicate significant improvements in adherence, depressive symptoms, and attention processing. Overall, the proportion of participants reporting low adherence to antiretroviral therapy declined from 42% at baseline to 25% at intervention completion (P=.02, phi=0.68). Mean depressive symptoms measured by the 9 item Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) showed a substantial reduction of 36% (P=.002, Cohen d=1.2). In addition, participants' attentional processing speeds for all types of stimuli pairings presented during attention training improved significantly (P=.01 and P=.02) and were accompanied by large effect sizes ranging from 0.78 to 1.0.


Our findings support the feasibility of web-based attention training combined with counseling to improve antiretroviral therapy adherence among patients with psychological distress. Future research should include a larger sample, a control group, and longer-term follow-up.

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