Mental states of adolescents exposed to war in Uganda: finding appropriate methods of rehabilitation

Background: Reintegration after war brings with
it enormous challenges. One such challenge is to
find appropriate methods of rehabilitation during
the reintegration process. This article describes
the rehabilitation, using traditional therapy, of formerly
abducted adolescents exposed to war events
who have experienced psychological distress.
Methodology: In a cross-sectional design, 294
adolescents aged 12 to19 at three rehabilitation
centres participated in the study. Two checklists
specifically designed for the study were administered
to the adolescents and social workers: the
War Experiences Checklist and Psychological
State Checklist. The War Experiences Checklist includes
54 different war events broadly categorised
under nine themes: separation, role in combat,
deprivations, rituals in captivity, injury and being
a victim of violence, witness to traumatic war
events, laying landmines and staging ambushes,
participation in violence, and sexual abuse. The
Psychological State Checklist consists of 22 items.
Structured interviews were used with centre coordinators
and traditional leaders to elicit information
on strategies of rehabilitation and traditional
therapies of rehabilitation respectively. Descriptive
statistics were used to analyse data from the
checklists while data from the interviews were triangulated
and subjected to thematic examination
in a multistage analyses.
Results: Adolescents were exposed to disquieting
war events and participated in dreadful
atro cities. Consequently, many were psychologically
distressed with unhealthy mental states that
needed cleansing according to the native Acholi
traditional practices of reconciliation and reintegration.
Four rituals used in the rehabilitation
and reintegration are critically examined in this
Conclusion: Although mired in controversy over
legitimacy, scope, and disagreement over procedures,
the traditional structures for reconciliation
and reintegration, such as the cleansing rituals, are
still widely recognised and can play an important
role in the process of reintegration at the local

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