Posttraumatic Stress Symptomatology and Appearance Distress Following Burn Injury: An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis

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Objectives: Although many traumatic incidents result in changes to appearance, little research has examined the experience of individuals distressed by such changes in connection with psychological processes involved in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This study aimed to examine how PTSD and appearance concern associated with burn injury are experienced when both difficulties co-occur. Method: The qualitative method of interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) was used to provide a framework for building nuanced accounts of individual experience. In-depth analysis was conducted with interview data obtained from 8 women, who were purposively selected on the basis of being distressed in relation to burn scarring, and having symptoms of PTSD. Results: Participants described how changes in appearance were experienced as maintaining a sense of threat through social stigma, and acting as a trigger for re-experiencing the traumatic incident that had caused the burn injury. As such, appearance concern and PTSD symptomatology appeared intertwined within the participants’ accounts of their postburn injury recovery. Conclusions: This is the first study to consider some of the processes through which PTSD and appearance concern might be mutually maintained. The results suggest that psychosocial interventions need to be tailored to simultaneously address processes related to concerns about change in appearance and also with traumatic re-experiencing.

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