Appendix C Debriefing model

Phase 1 – Introduction

In this phase, the team members conducting the debriefing introduce themselves and describe the process. They present guidelines for the conduct of the debriefing and they motivate the participants to engage actively in the process. Participation in the discussion is voluntary and the team keeps the information discussed in the session confidential. A carefully presented introduction sets the tone of the session, anticipates problem areas and encourages active participation from the group members.

Phase 2 – Facts

This phase helps the participants to begin talking. Request only brief overviews of the facts and discourage excessive detail. It is easier for participants to speak of what happened before they describe how the event impacted them. Giving the group members an opportunity to contribute a small amount to the discussion is enormously important in lowering anxiety and letting the group know that they have control of the discussion. This phase, however, should not form the bulk of the debriefing as there are more important parts yet to come. The usual question used to start the fact phase is; ‘Can you give our team a brief overview or “thumbnail sketch” of what happened in the situation from your viewpoint? We are going to go around the room and give everybody an opportunity to speak if they wish. If you do not wish to say anything just remain silent or wave us off and we will go onto the next person.’

Phase 3 – Thoughts

The thought phase is a transition from the cognitive domain toward the affective domain. It is easier to speak of one’s thoughts than to focus immediately on the most painful aspects of the event. The typical question addressed in this phase is; ‘What was your first thought or your most prominent thought? Again, we will go around the room to give everybody a chance to speak if they wish. If you do not wish to contribute something, you may remain silent. This will be the last time we go around the group.’

Phase 4 – Reactions

The reaction phase is the heart of a debriefing. It focuses on the impact on the participants. Anger, frustration, sadness, loss, confusion and other emotions may emerge. The trigger question is; ‘What is the very worst thing about this event for you personally?’ The debriefing team listens carefully and gently encourages group members to add something if they wish. When the group runs out of issues or concerns that they wish to express the team moves the discussion into the next transition phase, the symptoms phase, which will lead the group from the affective domain toward the cognitive domain.

Phase 5 – Symptoms

In this phase, team members can ask questions such as; ‘How has this tragic experience shown up in your life?’ or ‘What cognitive, physical, emotional, or behavioural symptoms have you been dealing with since this event?’ The debriefing team listens carefully for common symptoms associated with exposure to traumatic events, stress or whatever the essence of the debriefing is about. The team will use the signs and symptoms of distress presented by the participants as a kicking off point for the teaching phase.

Phase 6 – Teaching

The team conducting the debriefing normalises the symptoms brought up by participants. They provide explanations of the participants’ reactions and provide stress management information. Other pertinent topics may be addressed during the teaching phase as required.

Phase 7 – Re-entry

The participants may ask questions or make final statements. The debriefing team summarises what has been discussed. Final explanations, information, action directives, guidance and thoughts are presented to the group. Handouts may be distributed.