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Healing The Invisible Scars: Support for the Psychological Trauma of Burn Injuries

Burn injuries are one of the most painful injuries to live through, with medical treatment being equally, if not more painful, traumatizing and intrusive than the initial burn injury. In our practice we have had the opportunity to work with many burn victims, and each story is filled with courage, as well as pain and suffering.  I would not wish a burn injury on my worst enemy. They can be traumatizing to the nth degree and can impact the development of a child cognitively, emotionally, psychologically and socially.  Incomplete achievement of development tasks can occur after trauma, even for the siblings of the burn victim. Burn accidents can leave lasting scars beyond those visible to the eye.

According to the American Burn Association there are one million burn injuries in the United States each year and an estimated  45,000 hospitalizations. About half of those hospitalizations are admitted to the 125 specialized burn treatment centers and the other half to the nation’s 5,000 hospitals. It’s estimated that one third of these injuries are children.     

For severe burns most patience will be admitted to specialized burn centers. Burn centers are part of a hospital that have a dedicated team and area within the hospital to care for those burn injuries. To be admitted to a burn center, certain criteria must be met. In another post we discussed burn types. The criteria for burn centers include the largest, deepest and most severe burn cases.

If you’re in or have been through a burn center, you may have experience skin grafting, physical therapy, and pain management – a few of the main treatments used on burn victims.  In addition to the physical burden of your injuries, you have likely been through a very traumatic incident as well. There can be two psychological components to recovery and it’s important to distinguish between the two: grief and trauma. A traumatic experience poses a threat to our basic security and can effective your ability to cope with everyday challenges as well as how you relate to others.  Some symptoms of trauma may not surface for years after the event.

A traumatic event is defined by the DSMIV as an event in which the person witness or was confronted with an event that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury to self or others and that the event was responded to with intense fear, helplessness, or horror. There are many symptoms associated with post traumatic stress and they differ between adults and children. For a complete explanation of all symptoms check out a very informative article from  the Phoenix society.

Depending on the severity of the burn and the resulting injury, some individuals will experience loss as well. Grief over this loss is a natural part of the healing process and it’s normal to go through various stages of grief. Sadness, anxiety, longing for what was lost and anger are all feelings symptomatic of grief. For most of us, it will help talking about our loss. There are many organizations offering support groups and counseling from those who have “been there” and there are even groups for the caregivers of burn victims.

After your burn injury, there is a long road of healing ahead.  If another party is at fault, it is important to remember that your healing doesn’t end at a defined point.  The physical and mental trauma associated with burns can be long-lasting, and include multiple grafts, scar-treatment, and the psychological help we discussed above.  You may be legally entitled to compensation for all of this.  Everyone reacts to traumatic injuries in different ways- remember: there is no right or wrong way.  There is only your way.

The extreme physical and emotional pain and suffering endured by burn victims is widely recognized. If you or a loved one has been the victim of a burn injury, contact a personal injury attorney. If  another party may be responsible for your injuries you should seek guidance from a personal injury attorney experienced in burn injuries.


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