Psychological Debriefing

As physical first-aid is used to help physical injuries, psychological first-aid is used to help mental injuries to those who have been exposed to a traumatic event.

Psychological debriefing is a tactic in critical incident stress management (CISM), which is designed to reduce or prevent the development of PTSD, an anxiety disorder that affects individuals who have been exposed to traumatic events such as war, car accidents, abuse, acts of violence or terrorism.  

Critical incident stress affects a large majority of all persons exposed to a traumatic event.  No one is immune to critical incident stress, regardless of age or past experiences.


  • Is administered to  individuals, families, work groups or large groups 
  • Sessions last one to several hours depending on the situation
  • Sessions are normally withheld for roughly the first 24 to 72 hours
  • Is normally held the first week


  • The introduction phase allows administrating individuals to introduce themselves and explain the purpose and rules regarding the session.
  • The fact phase reveals core facts concerning the incident. During this phase, the group also aims to clear up any misconceptions or rumors.
  • The thought phase gives the group a chance to divulge emotions that were experienced during the incident.
  • The reaction phase allows the group a chance to review individual reactions to the disturbing event.
  • The symptom phase gives members an opportunity to examine psychological or physical effects of witnessing the incident.
  • The teaching phase seeks to educate the group on common anxiety disorders and ways to handle them.
  • The re-entry phase allows members to backtrack and address issues that require elaboration.

During the thought and reaction phases, members may come to discover that their individual emotions and reactions in response to the collectively experienced event were not uncommon. In this way, their experiences will be normalized.


  • Provide a private location for the debriefing session.
  • Instruct individuals to turn off cell phones and put all electronics away during the session.
  • Instruct individuals to not leave during the session.
  • Do not allow individuals to enter the session once the debriefing  started.
  • Groups should be limited to 10 individuals.  If necessary, divide individuals into smaller groups. 
  • If possible, divide groups into "level of exposure".  Those with brief exposure should be grouped together and those nearest the incident grouped together.  
  • Individuals should be encourage to participate but not forced to talked during the debriefing session.