Unity Project

NOTE: This study was a part of the Healthy Living Project (HLP). HLP is one of the CDC’s Best-Evidence Interventions. Full curricula are available online.

Unity logo

The Unity Project was one site of the NIMH multi-site collaborative Healthy Living Project. The goal of this five-year study was to design, implement, and evaluate a one-on-one cognitive-behavioral intervention for people living with HIV. In 2 years, the San Francisco site enrolled close to 300 HIV+ men, women, and substance users age 18 years or older.

The project was conducted in four locations: San Francisco (University of California at San Francisco), Los Angeles (University of California at Los Angeles), Milwaukee (Medical College of Wisconsin) and New York (Columbia University). The Unity Project is funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

As a result of medical treatment advances, greater numbers of Americans are living with HIV infection and will be able to live in good health for longer periods of time. This project examines social, psychological, situational, and contextual factors that influence and mediate patterns of continued high-risk sexual and drug injection behavior among HIV+ people, including affective factors such as affective states, coping patterns, and psychological distress; self regulatory factors such as substance use; and contextual and relationship factors such as serostatus disclosure, relationship status, and economic and “survival” sex patterns.


Using our successful “Casting a Wide Net” recruitment strategy, combining social marketing with outreach, we exceeded our target sample number including women and people of color (historically under served communities in HIV behavioral intervention trials).


Enrolled participants are randomly assigned (by chance) to either engage in the 15 one-on-one meetings immediately or a modified version later in the study. Thus, all participants are given the opportunity to develop coping and communication skills as well as to explore concerns related to their health and well being. The meetings are divided into three sets, or Modules, which include five meetings each, followed by a three-month break. The overall goal of the meetings is to give the participant a greater sense of control over many aspects of his/her life.In Module 1, the focus is on developing and/or maintaining skills for coping with stress and difficult life situations. In these sessions, the participant works with the facilitator to identify and address stressful aspects in his/her life.

In Module 2, the coping skills developed in Module 1 are applied to the participant’s intimate relationships. In these sessions, the focus is improving sexual communication and safety.

In Module 3, the participant builds upon these skills and learns to apply them to their healthcare. These sessions involve discussions of relationships with doctors and other providers, feelings about treatment, and the effect of healthcare on his/her life.

Research findings

Please see the list of journal articles based on the Healthy Living Project.


In San Francisco, Dr Margaret Chesney and Dr Steve Morin of the Department of Medicine serve as the Principle Investigators. Meet the Unity staff.

Last modified: October 22, 2012