Adjusting to disfigurement: processes involved in dealing with being visibly different

Clin Psychol Rev. 2001 Jul;21(5):663-82. doi: 10.1016/s0272-7358(00)00056-8.


This paper reviews current psychological understandings of the process of adjustment to acquired and congenital disfiguring conditions, such as burns, dermatological diseases, and cleft palate. It is primarily aimed at researchers and clinicians interested in understanding and ameliorating the psychosocial impact of such disfigurements. The literature was accessed using psychological, medical, and nursing databases. The research indicates that the experience of disfigurement is multifaceted, involving individual and societal factors. The adjustment process involves the way that disfigured people interpret their disfigurement, their self, and their encounters with others. These interpretations are likely to be influenced by the interaction between various underlying cognitive self-schemas and the social context. Efficacious interventions provide disfigured people with practical strategies to deal with social encounters and/or tackle underlying cognitive processes. However, many of the studies examined were methodologically limited or uninformed by psychological theory. Future research is needed to gain a better appreciation of the experience of living with a disfigurement and to inform the development of effective clinical interventions. In particular, there is a need for studies using longitudinal and qualitative methologies, as this would foster greater understanding of the psychological and emotional processes involved in adjusting to disfiguring conditions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Body Image*
  • Cognition
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Craniofacial Abnormalities / psychology*
  • Cultural Characteristics
  • Facial Injuries / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Social Behavior
  • Social Support