CLEMSON — A Clemson University professor is developing a research program to better understand community reintegration and how health-care professionals, including recreational therapists, can better assist injured military service members return to their homes and communities and lead active lifestyles.
“Although community reintegration is an important outcome of recreational therapy services, little is known about the reintegration process of injured service members,” says Brent Hawkins, a recreational therapist and assistant professor in Clemson’s parks, recreation and tourism management department.
In a study published by Hawkins and colleagues in the Therapeutic Recreation Journal, the researchers examined the effects of participation in recreation and sports on injured service members. They found that participation resulted in improved social support, improved perception of disability, promoted continued participation in recreation and sport, and improved overall health and wellbeing.
He said that general self-efficacy, the belief that one has the abilities to overcome challenges and social support, seems to have the most impact on reintegration.
“Since the beginning of the global war on terrorism in 2001, the Department of Defense reports over 55,000 military service members have been injured as a result of their military service,” he said. “However, it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of service members are dealing with post-traumatic symptoms, brain injury and other emotional injuries related to their service.”
Hawkins is actively serving injured service members and evaluating the effectiveness of an existing recreational therapy program and using data that the program collected over the years.
“Recreational therapists provide recreational, sport and leisure-based activities and interventions to improve functional skills, promote community reintegration and increase the quality of life of service members in a variety of settings, including rehabilitation facilities, transitional units and community-based programs,” said Hawkins.
According to Hawkins’ ongoing research, service members who experienced influential rehabilitation experiences, participated in adapted sports and recreation, wounded warrior support and vocational and educational support programs had higher general self-efficacy and more social support. These experiences acted as facilitators of community reintegration.
His research shows that service members who did not participate in such programs and experienced inadequate rehabilitation experiences demonstrated lower self-efficacy and social support, therefore hindering their community reintegration.
Hawkins also examines the reintegration experiences of injured female service members given that previous studies in this area have focused on predominantly male samples. This research will help inform rehabilitation and other support programs provide services that meet the unique needs of female service members.
“Given the prevalence of harassment, assault and different social roles associated with females in the military, their reintegration experiences are likely much different than males,” he said.