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Primary Research Program and Current Research Projects

Primary Research Program

My primary research program encompasses several highly related topic areas within counselling and health psychology. Specifically, my focus is on counselling, positive psychological principles (e.g., hope, empowerment, inspiration), HIV/AIDS, and community-level research and intervention. Although these areas seem broad in scope, they are connected through a focus on reducing high-risk behaviours among people living with HIV/AIDS and people at risk for contracting HIV/AIDS. The focus is on psychosocial/educational interventions and prevention strategies, including responses from: (a) organizations employing professional counsellors (e.g., counselling centres, hospitals), (b) frontline community-based agencies (e.g., peer support counselling, community-based HIV agency initiatives such as shelter programs), and (c) the educational system (e.g., HIV/AIDS curriculum initiatives, peer group prevention programs). Below is a list of several of my current research projects. If you would like further information on these projects, or would like to potentially become involved in one of these projects, please come and see me (Education 5035), or send me an e-mail.

Subset of Current Research Projects

Examining K-12 HIV/AIDS Curricula in Atlantic Canada

The emphasis, mode(s) of delivery, and content area(s) of HIV school based prevention curricula often varies between, and even within, school districts. In addition, some research has suggested that teachers often move beyond standard curricula, potentially creating a two tier curricula system: (a) formal curricula developed by the provincial Departments of Education and (b) hidden curricula developed and implemented by the individual teacher. Thus, these differences in curricula and modes of curricula delivery have the potential to create different levels of HIV prevention curricula quality between, and within, the provinces and territories. Unfortunately, little research has been conducted to examine HIV prevention curricula in terms of what is actually being delivered to students in the K-12 system and what the effectiveness of this education is in terms of youth HIV prevention. The overarching goals of this study are to: (a) identify existing youth HIV prevention curricula and modes of delivery in Atlantic Canada, (b) evaluate the curricula and the modes of delivery, and (c) develop best practice recommendations based on study results.

Cannabis Use Among an HIV/AIDS Population: A Cross Sectional Survey Research Design Exploring Medication Adherence, High-Risk Behaviours, and Psychological Correlates

Little research has been conducted exploring the impacts of medical and non-medical cannabis use among people living with HIV or AIDS. Recent research (Woolridge, Barton, Samuel, Osorio, Dougherty, & Holdcroft, 2005) suggests that cannabis use is widespread among people living with HIV/AIDS, in part for symptom management. Most studies conducted (Braitstein, et al., 2001; Prentiss, Power, Balmas, Tzuang, & Israelski, 2004; Ware, Doyle, Woods, Lynch, & Clark , 2003; Ware, Rueda, Kilby, & Singer, 2003; Woolridge et al.) have focused on cannabis uses’ effects on symptoms among an HIV population. However, research suggests (Prentiss et al.) that few studies have attempted to characterize the amount of cannabis use among an HIV population and even fewer have focused on assessing cannabis use for medical benefits to address symptoms related to HIV or AIDS. In addition, very little research exists which explores other areas which could be related to cannabis use among an HIV population such as: medication adherence, high-risk behaviours (i.e., behaviours that could place the individual at risk such as suicidal ideation or behaviours which could place others at risk such as risky drug sharing activities or unsafe sexual practices), and additional psychological variables (i.e., depression, anxiety, empowerment, hopelessness, self efficacy).

The present study has several objectives: It will explore the impacts of cannabis use on symptoms typically associated with HIV (e.g., fatigue, nausea), but will also explore additional areas which could be related to cannabis use such as: medication adherence, high-risk behaviours (i.e., behaviours that could place the individual at risk such as suicidal ideation or behaviours which could place others at risk such as risky drug sharing activities or unsafe sexual practices), and specific psychological variables (i.e., depression, anxiety, empowerment, hopelessness, self efficacy) for people living with HIV/AIDS. We are also interested in exploring perceived benefits of cannabis use among an HIV/AIDS population, which may go beyond symptom management.

Social Identification and HIV/AIDS Community-Based Organizations

The primary purpose of the present study is to assess the level of social identification among people living with HIV or AIDS who are connected with AIDS New Brunswick or the AIDS Committee of Newfoundland (ACNL), two community-based HIV organizations. Tajfel (1978) defined social identification as “that part of an individual's self-concept which derives from… knowledge of… membership of a social group (or groups) together with the value and emotional significance attached to that membership” (p. 63). In this case, the social group is that of others living with HIV/AIDS who are connected with AIDS NB or the ACNL. Secondary purposes of the research will be to assess several key variables that are hypothesized to be related to social identification. These include: likelihood of staying involved with AIDS NB/ACNL (i.e., turnover intentions and commitment to the agency), level of hope and empowerment, and likelihood of engagement with high-risk behaviours (i.e., behaviours that could place the individual at risk such as suicidal ideation or behaviours which could place others at risk such as risky drug sharing activities or unsafe sexual practices).

Research (e.g., French, Power, & Mitchell, 2000; Harris, in press; Harris & Alderson, in press) suggests important benefits for people living with HIV/AIDS to become connected with HIV community-based agencies (e.g., reduction of isolation, educational opportunities). However, community-based HIV organizations often experience challenges in recruiting people living with HIV/AIDS to join the organizations, especially when people initially become diagnosed. The present research is an attempt to understand the impacts that social identification has on recruitment and retention of people living with HIV/AIDS at CB agencies. It is hoped that this information may enhance CB agencies ability to recruit and retain people living with HIV/AIDS at their organizations, which is hypothesized to also reduce high-risk behaviours (and thus could become an important component of high-risk behaviour prevention programs among people living with HIV/AIDS) and increase hope/empowerment.

School Counsellors’ Perceived Competencies in Dealing with Student/Client High-Risk Behaviours

The overarching purpose of this study is to examine guidance counsellors’, educational/school psychologists’, and in-training guidance counsellors’ perceived ability, comfort level, and training experiences to deal with high-risk behaviour situations. In addition, the purpose is also to explore what role(s) guidance counsellors and educational/school psychologists typically assume in dealing with student/client high-risk behaviours in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador . There will be an examination of the relationship between perceived comfort/ability level and which role(s) guidance counsellors and educational/school psychologists typically assume, including the decision to not become involved (i.e., bystander role).

The Healthy Minds Program: A Manualized Cognitive-Behavioural Group Psychotherapy Intervention for Inpatient Psychiatry Patients

This study explores the effectiveness of specific psychotherapy group interventions with an inpatient psychiatric population. The focus is on (a) alleviating symptoms of depression, anxiety, and aggression, (b) teaching cognitive-behavioural skills, (c) increasing group cohesiveness, and (d) helping clients gain insight into their problems. We are utilizing a manualized psychotherapy program with an inpatient psychiatric group, as little research has been conducted on manualized, cost effective interventions with inpatient psychiatric populations. This research project is a controlled treatment study with repeated measures on self-report questionnaires preceding the program and following the completion of the program. Examples of specific hypotheses include: (a) reductions in symptoms of depression and anxiety with group intervention compared to ordinary treatment and (b) increases in hope, self esteem, and locus of control with group intervention compared to ordinary treatment, which will also account for additional variance in symptoms of depression and anxiety. The group intervention is an open group format, which includes five modules covered over five days.



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