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Debriefing is a process of:

  1. receiving an explanation,
  2. receiving information and situation-based reminders of context,
  3. reporting of measures of performance, and/or opportunities to further investigate the results of a study, investigation, or assessment of performance after participation in an immersive activity is complete.

Debriefings are most effective when conducted interactively between the participants of the immersive activity and the assessment or observation personnel.[1] Self-facilitated After Action Reviews (AAR) or debriefings are common in small unit and crew activities, and in a training context are shown to improve Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities (KSAs) significantly when conducted formally using pre-defined measures of performance derived from front-end analysis. Debriefing organization can be based on linear or non-linear (or a combination of both) organization of markers used for recall. Typically the structure will use: Temporal, Spatial, Objective, and/or Performance derived markers to bring focus to a specific activity.

Military debriefing[edit]

Debriefing onboard USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76).

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 classified. Another purpose of the military debriefing is to assess the individual and return him or her to regular duties as soon as possible.[2]

Experiential learning debriefing[edit]

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.

"Emotional Decompression" is one style of psychological debriefing proposed by David Kinchin in his 2007 book by that name.

Experiential learning debriefing is the basis for debriefing in Medical Simulation, used widely within healthcare.[3]

Crisis intervention[edit]

Trauma-exposed individuals often receive treatment called psychological debriefing in an effort to prevent PTSD, which consists of interviews that are meant to allow individuals to directly confront the event and share their feelings with the counselor and to help structure their memories of the event.[4] However, several meta-analyses find that psychological debriefing is unhelpful and is potentially harmful.[4][5][6] This is true for both single-session debriefing and multiple session interventions.[7] As of 2017 The American Psychological Association assessed psychological debriefing as No Research Support/Treatment is Potentially Harmful.[8]

Psychological research[edit]

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 psychologically or physically 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.[9][10]


  1. ^ Blanchard, James W. "CADS Validation Statistical Report (Rev. 4)". US Navy. 
  2. ^ Event-oriented debriefing following military operations: What every leader should know Retrieved December 8, 2008.
  3. ^ Fanning, R.M., & Gaba, D.M. (2007). The role of debriefing in simulation-based learning. Simulation in Healthcare, 2(2), 115-125. DOI:
  4. ^ a b Gartlehner, Gerald; Forneris, Catherine A.; Brownley, Kimberly A.; Gaynes, Bradley N.; Sonis, Jeffrey; Coker-Schwimmer, Emmanuel; Jonas, Daniel E.; Greenblatt, Amy; Wilkins, Tania M.; Woodell, Carol L.; Lohr, Kathleen N. (2013). Interventions for the Prevention of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in Adults After Exposure to Psychological Trauma. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (US). PMID 23658936. 
  5. ^ Feldner MT, Monson CM, Friedman MJ (2007). "A critical analysis of approaches to targeted PTSD prevention: current status and theoretically derived future directions". Behav Modif. 31 (1): 80–116. doi:10.1177/0145445506295057. PMID 17179532. 
  6. ^ Rose, S; Bisson, J; Churchill, R; Wessely, S (2002). "Psychological debriefing for preventing post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)". The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (2): CD000560. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD000560. PMID 12076399. 
  7. ^ Roberts, NP; Kitchiner, NJ; Kenardy, J; Bisson, J (8 July 2009). "Multiple session early psychological interventions for the prevention of post-traumatic stress disorder". The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (3): CD006869. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD006869.pub2. PMID 19588408. 
  8. ^ "Psychological Debriefing for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder". Society of Clinical Psychology: Division 12 of The American Psychological Association. Retrieved 9 September 2017. 
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ Psychological Debriefing, from the British Psychological Society Retrieved December 8, 2008.

Further reading[edit]

  • 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.
  • Kinchin, David, (2007) Psychological debriefing and emotional decompression. London:Jessica Kingsley Publishers