Debriefing is a process of receiving an explanation of a study or investigation after participation is complete.
Debriefings originated in the military. This type of debriefing is used to receive information from a pilot or soldier after a mission, and to instruct the individual as to what information can be released to the public and what information is restricted. Another purpose of the military debriefing is to assess the individual and return him or her to regular duties as soon as possible.
Experiential learning debriefing
Ernesto Yturralde, experiential trainer and researcher, explains: "In the field of experiential learning methodology, the debriefing is a semi-structured process by which the facilitator, once a certain activity is accomplished, makes a series of progressive questions in this session, with an adequate sequence that let the participants reflect what happened, giving important insights with the aim of that project towards the future, linking the challenge with the actions and the future."
Debriefing sessions can be made directly without the use of "props" or with them as support tools, achieving highly productive sessions. The skill levels of professional facilitators and their visions for each process, will be essential to capitalize on the experiences of experiential workshops, in moments of inspiration, teachable moments that become Debriefing sessions, into commitments for action.
Debriefings are used by grief counselors and disaster workers as part of an emergency intervention to help people who have recently experienced major loss or suffering. These cases include hurricanes, earthquakes, school shootings, and other situations that involve fear, injury, extreme discomfort, property damage, or loss of friends and loved ones. The goal of the debriefing is to reduce the likelihood of post traumatic stress disorder, or other psychological problems. Crisis intervention debriefing is also known as Critical Incident Stress Debriefing.
This type of intervention is well intended and routine in many countries, but the evidence for its effectiveness is questionable. Indeed, much evidence indicates that these debriefings are not only ineffective, but harmful.  In March 2007, crisis debriefing was placed on a list of treatments that have the potential to cause harm in clients in the APS journal, Perspectives on Psychological Science.
Critical Incident Stress Debriefing is usually a one-session group therapy event offered to individuals who have experienced some form of trauma. The 7 steps of the program are the introduction, the facts, thoughts and impressions, emotional reactions, normalization, planning for the future, and disengagement. The therapy is usually given 1-3 days after the traumatic event. Using common sense this therapy seems as if it would be beneficial and worthwhile, however psychological research has shown otherwise.
Litz, Gray, Bryant, and Adler did a meta-analysis study in 2002 examining randomized controlled trials of CISD versus no treatment conditions, finding that this form of treatment has no effect, or sometimes even a slight negative effect for post traumatic stress symptoms. These findings have been demonstrated in many other studies, suggesting that CISD may be harmful due to potentially preventing the natural grief process and therefore hindering recovery. These findings are troubling considering this program is so often implemented in schools in Canada as well as the U.S. following traumatic events. The programs have been implemented in schools even with a lack of research assessing the effectiveness of these programs for children, as most of the research has focused on adults.
It would be worthwhile to find the specific problem areas in the session, because some form of debriefing could potentially be helpful for grief and preventing post traumatic stress disorder. Some alternative suggestions for psychological support after traumatic events have been suggested by Wei, Szumilas, & Kutcher in their article "Effectiveness on Mental Health of Psychological Debriefing for Crisis Intervention in Schools". Their suggestions are to promote a sense of safety, calmness, self, connectedness, and hope, rather than encouraging children to relive and discuss these traumatic events.
A debriefing or psychological debriefing is a one-time, semi-structured conversation with an individual who has just experienced a stressful or traumatic event. In most cases, the purpose of debriefing is to reduce any possibility of psychological harm by informing people about their experience or allowing them to talk about it.
In psychological research, a debriefing is a short interview that takes place between researchers and research participants immediately following their participation in a psychology experiment. The debriefing is an important ethical consideration to make sure that participants are fully informed about, and not harmed in any way by, their experience in an experiment. Along with informed consent, the debriefing is considered to be a fundamental ethical precaution in research involving human beings. It is especially important in social psychology experiments that use deception. Debriefing is typically not used in surveys, observational studies, or other forms of research that involve no deception and minimal risk to participants.
Methodological advantages of a debriefing include the ability of researchers to check the effectiveness of a manipulation, or to identify participants who were able to guess the hypothesis or spot a deception. If the data have been compromised in this way, then those participants should be excluded from the analysis. Many psychologists feel that these benefits justify a postexperimental followup even in the absence of deception or stressful procedures.
- Event-oriented debriefing following military operations: What every leader should know Retrieved December 8, 2008.
- Bisson, McFarlane, & Rose (2006) Psychological Debriefing
- ABC of psychological medicine: Trauma - Mayou and Farmer 325 (7361): 426 - BMJ
- Lilienfeld, S. O. (2007). Psychological treatments that cause harm. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2, 53-70.
- Inc.com - Leadership: Armed With Data
- Aronson, E., Wilson, T. D., Brewer, M. B. (1998). Experimentation in social psychology. In D. T. Gilbert, S. T. Fiske, & G. Lindzey (Eds.), The handbook of social psychology. New York, NY: McGraw Hill.
- Psychological Debriefing, from the British Psychological Society Retrieved December 8, 2008.
- American Psychological Association. (2011). Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. (6th ed.) Washington, DC: American Psychological Society
- Berscheid, E., Abrahams, D., & Aronson, V. (1967). Effectiveness of debriefing following deception experiments. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 6, 371-380.