Mindfulness-based stress reduction for people living with HIV/AIDS: preliminary review of intervention trial methodologies and findings

Health Psychol Rev. 2015;9(2):224-43. doi: 10.1080/17437199.2014.895928. Epub 2014 Mar 21.


In the context of successful antiretroviral therapy (ART) for the management of HIV infection, the harmful effects of stress remain a significant threat. Stress may increase viral replication, suppress immune response, and impede adherence to ART. Stressful living conditions of poverty, facing a chronic life-threatening illness and stigma all exacerbate chronic stress in HIV-affected populations. Stress-reduction interventions are urgently needed for the comprehensive care of people living with HIV. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is one approach that has shown promise as an intervention for patients facing other medical conditions for reducing disease progression, psychological distress and maladaptive behaviours. In this systematic review, we identified 11 studies that have examined MBSR as an intervention for HIV-positive populations. Of the studies, six were randomised designs, one was a quasi-experimental design, and the remaining four were pre- and post-test designs. The preliminary outcomes support MBSR to decrease emotional distress with mixed evidence for impact on disease progression. Effect sizes were generally small to moderate in magnitude. The early findings from this emerging literature must be considered preliminary and support moving forward with more rigorous controlled trials, evaluated with objective assessments in longer-term follow-ups to determine the efficacy of MBSR for people living with HIV.

Keywords: HIV/AIDS; methodology; mindfulness; mindfulness-based stress reduction; stress.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • HIV Infections / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Mindfulness / methods*
  • Stress, Psychological / therapy*
  • Treatment Outcome