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Debriefing is the process of support in the form of allowing emotional expression under controlled circumstances, rendered to people suffering from acute stress after a traumatic incident.

There are two types of trauma: 'manmade' and 'natural traumas' (Acts of God) Because there is usually some warning, people are often to some extent prepared for natural traumas like floods, earthquakes and fires, but are not prepared for manmade traumas like accidents, rape and hijackings which are usually quite unexpected.

Traumatic events are extraordinary not because they occur rarely, but because they overwhelm the normal coping mechanisms and affect people long after the event has come to an end.

Myths surrounding Trauma

  • A traumatic event will not have a lasting effect on the survivor
  • A trauma victim should be left on his own; or told to take a few days leave in order to sort himself out
  • Time heals all wounds
  • It is better to avoid talking about the experience to the victim

Debriefing is not therapy in the true sense of the word.  As frightening new experiences may be confusing or totally overwhelming, responses are often repressed into the unconscious and they are not properly dealt with. Debriefing prevents this 'quick dumping' into the 'miscellaneous' file of the unconscious. Therapy on the other hand is a longer deeper process of healing undertaken when a trauma victim experiences persisting symptoms.

Goals of Debriefing

  • Emotional support
  • Containing of emotions
  • Providing information
  • Normalising reactions
  • Assistance with re-evaluation of view of self and the rest of the world
  • Support in search for meaning in the experience
  • Help with the integration process
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