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This article is concerned with debriefing after stressful events. For debrifing in the experimental context see Debriefing (experimental)

Psychological debriefing is a process of questioning to gain information from an individual.

Crisis intervention[]

Debriefings are used by grief counselors and disaster workers as part of an crisis 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 acute stress disorder, emotional trauma and 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.[1] Indeed, much evidence indicates that these debriefings are not only ineffective, but harmful. [2] 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.[3]

Psychological research[]

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.[4]

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.[5][6]

Military debriefing[]

File:USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) - Malabar 08 debrief - 081022-N-7730P-033.jpg

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 restricted. Another purpose of the military debriefing is to assess the individual and return him or her to regular duties as soon as possible.[7]

Use on civilians[]

See also[]


  1. Bisson, McFarlane, & Rose (2006) Psychological Debriefing
  2. ABC of psychological medicine: Trauma - Mayou and Farmer 325 (7361): 426 - BMJ
  3. Lilienfeld, S. O. (2007). Psychological treatments that cause harm. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2, 53-70.
  4. - Leadership: Armed With Data
  5. 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.
  6. Psychological Debriefing, from the British Psychological Society Retrieved December 8, 2008.
  7. Event-oriented debriefing following military operations: What every leader should know Retrieved December 8, 2008.
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