Injuries sustained during military conflict can have a significant impact on appearance (for example, scarring or limb loss). Research with the civilian population indicates that an appearance that is different from ‘the norm’ and considered to be disfiguring by the affected person or others, can present significant psychological and social challenges. Whilst some people manage well, others struggle and report problems including anxiety, depression, social withdrawal, and difficulties around employment and intimate relationships. However, there has been a dearth of research into the specific experiences and support needs of people who have sustained appearance-altering injuries as a result of military conflict, and the experiences and needs of their families.
The UNITS team at the Centre for Appearance Research at the University of the West of England, Bristol, conducted a three-year programme of research which included interviews with veterans and serving personnel with altered appearances as a result of military conflict, family members and health professionals, and a survey that compared the experiences and psychosocial adjustment of military veterans and civilians with appearance-altering injuries.
The findings from these studies highlighted psychosocial difficulties experienced by veterans and serving personnel with appearance-altering injuries, and their families, limited availability of evidence-based appearance-specific support to meet their particular needs, and a desire from those working with these groups for training and resources to help them meet these needs.
The UNITS team concluded that Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) would be an appropriate therapeutic approach in this context and adapted existing resources and created prototypes of new materials that could meet the specific support needs and preferences of serving personnel and veterans with appearance-altering injuries. They also created resources to raise awareness amongst relevant professionals and organisations of the experiences and support needs of this group. The effectiveness of these prototype resources now needs to be evaluated, and further research is needed to develop support materials for families.