Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Mark A. Hector

Committee Members

Cheryl Travis, Suzanne Molnar, William A. Poppen


The goal of the present study was to understand the meaning of friendship to young adults who survived severe childhood burn injuries as generated through their descriptions of their experience. This was accomplished through a phenomenological exploration of the subjective experience of friendship as described by ten young adults who survived severe pediatric burn injuries. In-depth, non-directive interviews were conducted, transcribed verbatim, and analyzed using a phenomenological research methodology. Interpretive analysis revealed the following five interrelated themes of the experience of friendship: (a) How Society Looks At Me, (b) How I Deal With It, (c) They Understand or They Don't Understand, (d) Making Friends, and (e) Friends. These themes were contextualized within the frame of two experiential grounds: (a) Who I Am and (b) Changes Over Time. The Ground of Who I Am reflected the participants’ sense of personal identity and permeated every aspect of the friendship experience they described. It included the participants’ statements about themselves as different or not different from the people around them and their rich descriptions of personal journeys through growth and change toward integration of their scars into their identities. The ground of Changes Over Time represented the temporal context in which the experience of friendship has occurred for these participants and became apparent through their many references to change.

The first theme, How Society Looks At Me, reflected the participants’ awareness of others within their social worlds and how others, particularly strangers, reacted to their scars. They described both curious and cruel reactions people had to their visible scars as they lived their daily lives and the inevitability of these reactions. The second theme, How I Deal With It, encompassed the participants’ descriptions of the effects the reactions of others had on their emotional well-being and self-concepts and the various ways they coped with these effects. The third theme, They Understand or They Don’t Understand, conveyed the participants’ desires for people to understand their lives as burn survivors and as persons with visible disfigurements. They hoped to help people understand the idea that “my scars are me, but they are not all of me.” The fourth theme, Making Friends, captured key elements the participants identified regarding the process of making friends, including meeting new people, fitting into groups, and aspects of their experiences that made this process easier and more difficult. The fifth theme, Friends, reflected participants’ descriptions of the specific characteristics of their close friendships that were integral to making the overall experience of friendship positive and meaningful in their lives.

Files over 3MB may be slow to open. For best results, right-click and select "save as..."

Included in

Education Commons