Debriefing Psychology Methods and Alternatives

Survivors of a crisis such as a natural disaster or major car accident may consider themselves lucky to be alive, but even in the absence of physical injuries, psychological damage can occur during exposure to traumatic events, and this is where debriefing psychology comes into play. Debriefing psychology is concerned with attempting to lessen or prevent psychological damage in crisis victims by utilizing specialized debriefing methods; however, these methods have come under fire from critics.

Need for Debriefing Psychology

There is a prominent need for psychological methods that lessen the occurrence of anxiety disorders.

Posttraumatic stress disorder can arise in individuals of any age. Therefore, victims can range from abused children to elderly war veterans. The symptoms of the disorder are wide-ranging and usually debilitating. Victims may experience unpleasant flashbacks, reoccurring nightmares or a persistent feeling of edginess. In addition, posttraumatic stress disorder can lead to additional complications, including alcohol abuse, drug abuse, panic attacks and depression.


Debriefing sessions were originally developed to aid the military in information gathering. However, psychologists soon realized that debriefing might also be able to lessen anxiety symptoms in civilians. Following a traumatic event, a debriefing session might achieve the following:

  • It would allow victims to talk freely about their emotions and reactions.
  • It would clear up misconceptions regarding the incident.
  • It would provide victims with information concerning anxiety disorders.
  • It would identify victims who might require additional psychological support.


Individuals who have been exposed to debriefing psychology methods tend to report feeling better immediately afterward. However, the goal of the session is to provide long-term relief from anxiety disorders, not just a short-term remedy.

Some studies indicate that psychological debriefing has little impact on the eventual onset of posttraumatic stress disorder. In fact, some trauma victims may avoid or recover from anxiety issues without assistance from medical specialists or psychiatric professionals. Aspects of a victim’s personal life, including inherited psychology dispositions and social support from friends and family, may be the deciding factors in whether or not anxiety disorders develop after trauma. 


Although debriefing sessions face criticism, psychologists need not dispose of the entire system. Alternative methods of psychological aid tend to incorporate or build upon the general concepts of debriefing psychology. For example, the following list reviews common strategies in psychological first aid:

  • Introduce yourself and your intention to assist.
  • Return the affected to a social support network, such as family and friends, as soon as possible; do leave the affected in a lonesome situation.
  • Allow the affected to talk freely about feelings and experiences; however, do not force the individual to talk or retrace events if they are uncomfortable doing so.
  • If necessary, be an active listener by asking questions.
  • While you may have to report certain facts concerning the event, do not argue with the affected individual’s account of the incident.
  • Ensure the affected that their emotions and reactions are normal.
  • Alert the effected family if you think participation in a support group or a visit to a therapist may be necessary.

After the initial psychological aid is provided, an affected individual may progress to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT takes place in the following weeks and may involve a series of sessions.

While debriefing psychology continues to face scrutiny, psychologists search for ways to prevent and manage anxiety disorders that arise from traumatic events. If you must comfort someone following a horrific incident, keep the above strategies, all of which are firmly rooted in debriefing psychology, in mind.