Jane K. McNaught, Ph.D.
Fellow, American Board of Forensic Examiners
Obtaining the assistance of a forensic psychologist can be an effective means of evaluating the emotional injury associated with severe burns. Psychological testing quantifies the impact of the injury. Such an evaluation also assesses pre-existing emotional difficulties and previous life stressors in the burn victim’s life. Finally, psychological testing can be a vehicle to provide the jury with demonstrative evidence about the impact of the trauma to the burn victim.
Depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are the most common psychological responses to severe burn injuries. Those who develop PTSD as a result of such injuries become highly susceptible to long term depression and anxiety. In addition to burns being sudden, unexpected life-threatening experiences, burn injuries also involve extremely painful and intrusive medical procedures. The procedures alone can be traumatic. Disfigurement can exacerbate symptoms of PTSD because of the likelihood of flashbacks about the injury. Greater disfigurement also has a greater impact on the victim’s day-to day-interaction with others.