A nurse who works on a burn trauma unit asks if imagery can help with the itching problem in healing burn injury, as many patients, especially children, complicate their recovery and do a lot of damage with scratching.. BR,
I work with children and adults healing from burn trauma at a local children’s hospital burn center. Do you think imagery and relaxation could help with the "itch" problem in healing burn injury? The children do a great deal of damage scratching and complicate their recovery.

Dear Christopher,

Yes, because an "itch" is a perception, refocusing perception somewhere else with a powerfully immersive, multi-sensory technique like guided imagery can definitely mitigate the itch, at least for a while, by creating competing stimuli that override the itch stimulus. Most adults and practically all kids (who tend to be especially good at this to begin with), can thus develop for themselves a skill that gets stronger and stronger with repeated use.

So any "escape" imagery with powerfully evocative words and music, will do well at seducing attentional focus away from the itch. In addition, it''s a self-mastery skill that will help for pain, anxiety and other issues related to healing, not to mention for life in general.

In addition, if you coached your patients to see the itch as a sensation that comes from the healing action of the tissue, and use the itch as a cue (a meditation bell, so to speak) to dive into the imaginal world and sense all the levels of healing going on - maybe in addition envisioning some sort of protective fence around the healing spots - that too would displace perception to some extent, and increase patience with the process too, because of the positive connection of the itch with making progress and healing.

Some will do this in a very imaginative, fantastical way; others will prefer to see pictures of how the skin cells actually regroup, and will want to stick with that. Either kind of content is effective.

We have a wonderful new CD set by Dr. Carol Ginandes, called Rapid Recovery from Injury that would be perfect for adults and older kids to use for this. Also, Jeanne Achterberg has some nice burn-healing images in her first book, Imagery and Healing, that mostly use the biophysical, cellular content. In addition, Ellen Curran''s new book, Guided Imagery for Healing Children and Teens, has some nice wound healing imagery that feeds more on the natural, imaginal skills of kids. And Betty Mehling’s Magic Island for kids 5-12, and Dr. Rox’s MindWorks imagery for the little ones, would be very helpful in distracting and empowering the children. These are all terrific resources.

Many of our Health Journeys tapes will work as well, because they are evocative, immersive, and easily shift attentional focus. General Wellness, Relaxation & Wellness, Healthful Sleep, Relieve Stress- these too can serve as good, distracting escape material, while at the same time helping with physical or psychological healing.

Thanks for the question. And good luck with this. I hope you pursue it. Imagery could add so much to your burn patients’ comfort and sense of efficacy.