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Gen Hosp Psychiatry. 1987 Mar;9(2):142-6.

Identification of psychologic impairment in patients with mild-moderate thermal injury: small burn, big problem.


Sixty-eight patients hospitalized at a tertiary care burn center for more than 1 week, aged 18-32 years, with a mild or moderate burn, adequate social and economic support, and the absence of preexisting psychopathology, substance abuse, or medical illness were studied. From this group 16 patients were identified who had been unable to resume social or occupational functioning even after several months and were impaired by psychologic symptoms related to the burn. Utilizing a psycho-social data base of 250 items, these "Small Burn, Big Problem" (SBBP) patients were compared to those who did not have this problem (control). There were no differences between the two groups with respect to age, sex, race, hospital length of stay, agent of injury, circumstances of the accident, extent of burn, or amount of disfigurement. The SBBP patients did develop significantly more sleep disturbances, which continued into the posthospitalization period. There were significant differences in the use of the defense mechanisms of regression and displacement, the extent of experiencing the injury as a narcisistic injury and in the indication of sexual dysfunction in the SBBP patients as compared to the control group. There were no differences in the amount of psychiatric treatment performed while the patients were in the hospital, although 68% of the SBBP group were referred for psychiatric treatment upon discharge as compared to 14% of the control group. Two case vignettes are presented to demonstrate some of the psychodynamics involved.

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