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Debriefing is a report of a mission or project or the information so obtained. It is a structured process following an exercise or event that reviews the actions taken.[1] As a technical term, it implies a specific and active intervention process that has developed with more formal meanings such as operational debriefing. It is classified into different types, which include military, experiential, and psychological debriefing, among others.[1]


The popular meaning of debriefing is that "of telling about what has happened" with a sense of reviewing or going over an experience or actions in order to achieve order and meaning concerning what was reported.[1] It is a structured process that also evaluates the contributions of various participants in the determination of success or failure of the operation.[1] The processes may involve receiving an explanation; receiving information and situation-based reminders of context; and, 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.[citation needed]

Best practices[edit]

Debriefings are most effective when conducted interactively between the participants of the immersive activity and the assessment or observation personnel.[2] 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.

Types of debriefings[edit]

Military debriefing[edit]

Debriefing on board 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.[3]

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." It is analogous to "providing feedback" as it constitutes a vital component of any simulation intervention or any educational intervention, involving a process of explanation, analysis, and synthesis, with an active facilitator-participant interface.[4]

"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.[5]

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.[6] However, several meta-analyses find that psychological debriefing is unhelpful and is potentially harmful.[6][7][8] This is true for both single-session debriefing and multiple session interventions.[9][needs update] As of 2017 The American Psychological Association assessed psychological debriefing as No Research Support/Treatment is Potentially Harmful.[10]

Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD) is a crisis intervention program that is used to provide initial psychosocial relief to rescue workers. It is generally conducted in a group session and held between 24 and 72 hours of the disaster. Each debriefing session follows seven phases: (1) introduction to set rules; (2) fact phase to establish what happened; (3) cognition phase to discuss thoughts about what happened; (4) reaction phase to discuss emotions associated with what happened; (5) symptoms phase to learn the signs and symptoms of distress; (6) educational phase to learn about post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and coping strategies; and (7) re-entry phase to discuss any other issues and to provide any additional services (Carlier et al., 1998). The goal of this type of debriefing is to stop the individuals from developing PTSD. Although this debriefing is widely used, there is uncertainty how it effects an individual.

Researchers Mayou, Ehlers and Hobbs (2000), were interested in evaluating the 3-year results of a randomized controlled trial of debriefing for consecutive subjects admitted to the hospital following a traffic accident. The patients were assessed in the hospital using the Impact of Event Scale (IES), Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI) and a questionnaire, and were then reassessed at 3 years and 3 months. The intervention used was psychological debriefing. The results showed that the intervention group had significantly worse psychiatric symptoms, travel anxiety, physical problems, and financial problems.

In another study conducted by Carlier et al., (1998), they looked at the symptomatology in police officers that had been debriefed and not debriefed following a civilian plane crash. The results showed that the two groups did not differ in pre-event or post event distress. Furthermore, those who had undergone debriefing had significantly more disaster-related hyper arousal symptoms.

Overall, these results showed that caution should be used when using CISD. Studies have shown that it is ineffective and has adverse long-term effects, and is not an appropriate treatment for trauma victims.

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.[11] 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.[12][13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Raphael, Beverly; Wilson, John (2003). Psychological Debriefing: Theory, Practice and Evidence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 1. ISBN 978-0521647007.
  2. ^ Blanchard, James W. "CADS Validation Statistical Report (Rev. 4)". US Navy. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  3. ^ Event-oriented debriefing following military operations: What every leader should know Retrieved December 8, 2008.
  4. ^ Neuman, Mark; Martinez, Elizabeth (2011). Quality of Anesthesia Care, An Issue of Anesthesiology Clinics. Philadelphia, PA: W.B. Saunders Company. p. 17. ISBN 9781455704194.
  5. ^ Fanning, R.M., & Gaba, D.M. (2007). The role of debriefing in simulation-based learning. Simulation in Healthcare, 2(2), 115-125. DOI:
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ 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. CiteSeerX doi:10.1177/0145445506295057. PMID 17179532.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ Roberts, NP; Kitchiner, NJ; Kenardy, J; Bisson, J (8 July 2009). "Multiple session early psychological interventions for the prevention of post-traumatic stress disorder" (PDF). The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (3): CD006869. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD006869.pub2. PMID 19588408.
  10. ^ "Psychological Debriefing for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder". Society of Clinical Psychology: Division 12 of The American Psychological Association. Retrieved 9 September 2017.
  11. ^ Code of Ethics and Conduct, 3.4, 20 from the British Psychological Society Retrieved March 7, 2018.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ 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
  • Pavlov, O., K. Saeed, and L. Robinson. (2015) “Improving Instructional Simulation with Structural Debriefing.” Simulation & Gaming: An International Journal. v. 46 (3-4): 383-403.