*It is important to note that the focus of the trauma debriefing protocol is on a psycho-educational, culturally sensitive, and supportive approach, and involves limiting the levels of emotional re-experiencing.

Goals of a Trauma Debriefing:

The basic goals of trauma debriefing are to: mitigate the psychological and emotional impact of the incident, and to facilitate the recovery processes for individuals experiencing distress from the incident in a supportive environment.

In order to achieve these goals, psychological support should involve psycho-educational information about possible reactions individuals might have, what they can do to help themselves, and how to access support and assistance. It is important to explore people’s own resilience as a part of this process.

In terms of timing, a debriefing usually takes place within the 72 hours following an event. This time frame will provide individuals with some distance from the event, and allow them time to utilize their own inherent coping skills.

There has been considerable controversy related to psychological debriefing interventions, and the empirical literature has raised a number of concerns related to different Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD) protocols developed. One of the main concerns is that the emotional re-experiencing component of the CISD may increase the risk of re-traumatization for some individuals, as well as interfere with people’s natural recovery process. Therefore, unless it is possible to pre-screen individuals prior to a group CISD, and identify and exclude those individuals at greater risk for developing PTSD (e.g., personality factors, PTSD history, etc.), it is wiser to reduce the potential for harm by eliminating the re-experiencing component as much as possible.

These and other concerns have been raised by multicultural participants (i.e. members of minorities, or indigenous peoples) and have resulted in individuals hesitating, or avoiding to attend debriefings. If there is a need to re-count the activities that occurred during an event, members have the option of doing so within an environment understanding and accepting of their cultural requirements.

Each specific situation may trigger the preparation of a specific, culturally appropriate debriefing protocol, addressing the unique requirements of the incident.

Sample of  a Trauma Debriefing Protocol

1) Introductions of attendees

2) Review the limits of confidentiality, and request that attendees maintain group confidentiality. Review spiritual and/or religious needs, and considering use of an opening prayer.

3) Overview of meeting: inform group that there will be a brief review of what occurred, information about possible reactions individuals might have to traumatic events, provide support as to what they can do to help themselves, and indicate that there will not be a detailed discussion of what occurred.

4) Ask participants to describe their role before, during, and after the event (voluntary)

5) Review typical reactions to traumatic incidents both physiologically and psychologically (e.g., normalize – normal people who are having normal reactions to abnormal events)

6) Discuss various coping strategies and how to access support from family and the community, and how to access further individual help.

7) Conclude by reiterating the utility in re-engaging in normal activities and daily routines, maintaining a balance of work and non-work activities, as well as engaging in stress-reducing activities (e.g., exercise, relaxation, socialize, humour). Also, remind attendees to consult with a therapist/counsellor/psychologist when in doubt regarding their fitness, as their health status may change over time.

Any written materials related to the coping strategies that were discussed, should be available to the group as the session concludes.