Intended for healthcare professionals


The current status of psychological debriefing

BMJ 2000; 321 doi: (Published 28 October 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;321:1032
  1. Justin Kenardy, associate professor in clinical psychology. (
  1. School of Psychology, University of Queensland, Brisbane Q 4072, Australia

    It may do more harm than good

    Papers p 1043

    Despite the widespread use of psychological debriefing, serious concerns have been raised about its effectiveness and potential to do harm. 1 2 Psychological debriefing is broadly defined as a set of procedures including counselling and the giving of information aimed at preventing psychological morbidity and aiding recovery after a traumatic event. In 1995 Raphael and colleagues emphasised that there was an urgent need for reliable evidence from randomised controlled trials on the impact and worth of debriefing.3 Unfortunately, the news has not been good for debriefing.

    Debriefing is generally applied within the first few days after a traumatic event, lasts one to three hours, and usually includes procedures that encourage and normalise emotional expression. Debriefing can also be more narrowly defined in terms of the procedures used, the information provided and the target population. One example …

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