Psychological Debriefing after Traumatic Incident: Harmful or Helpful?

English: wreck survivors Español: supervivient...
English: wreck survivors Español: supervivientes de naufragios (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Elizabeth Hall
Psychological debriefing after traumatic incidents currently holds widespread use according to Kenardy (2000) but may not actually help people to avoid serious psychological damage resulting from the experienced trauma.  He goes on to define psychological debriefing as a set course of action that include educational and counselling benefits to victims in an attempt to ward off further psychological impairment and help with recovery for victims.  Halgin (2009) examines two opposing sides to this debate highlighting the facts, strengths and weaknesses on both sides.  In this article we will examine the evidence, opinions, strengths, and weaknesses of both pro and con studies regarding psychological debriefing, compare the findings to contemporary research, and determine the most credible argument presented about psychological debriefing. 
Facts and Opinions Opposing Sides
Halgin (2009) examines an article by Cotton and Devilly, which opposes psychological debriefing and concludes that the process does more harm than good for the victims of a traumatic event.  Facts in the article include alternative reasoning for companies to provide these services free of charge after a traumatic incident occurs.  This includes covering their responsibility to care for the psychological impact on their staff and client base if such events were to occur.  From the victim standpoint receiving these services indicates concern for their well-being which at least gives appearance of a caring employment environment even if no actual psychological turmoil is preventable at this juncture.  It seems that these two different types of treatment systems, critical incident stress debriefing (CISD), and critical incident stress management (CISM) serve two purposes so it remains unclear as to why they are confused. Opinions on the negative effects of psychological debriefing include the importance of the actual terminology of the process and individual techniques which seems overemphasized along with whether all people utilizing psychological debriefing techniques, properly trained or not, should count when determining the effectiveness of the technique (Halgin, 2009). 
One fact in the article supporting psychological debriefing as an effective tool for reducing morbidity of psychological trauma following exposure to a traumatic incident by Mitchell (Halgin, 2009) is that the author of the article also worked on the development of the tools and processes involved in psychological debriefing.   Thereby this researcher holds a position of expertise in utilizing these methods to reduce morbidity of psychological disorder in those experiencing traumatic events.  Mitchell proves with the knowledge of eight other sources claiming that the Assault Staff Action Programs were another brand of CISM program as intended by Flannery.  Opinions in this article include calling Cotton and Devilly biased and their article confusing. 
Pro Psychological Debriefing Strengths and Weaknesses
Strengths in the argument for psychological debriefing include that the process is not intended to happen until much later than three days as implied by Cotton and Devilly.  Mitchell also does a good job of explaining the differences between CISD and CISM processes highlighting the reason for the confusion and attempts to rectify any confusion about the terminology.  The process of CISM provides a service that might help identify those victims who may need further help by trained psychological staff when administered properly.  Weaknesses include that the victim must relive the process of the trauma to determine the extent of the psychological damage which in itself could trigger more damage if administered too soon or improperly. 
Con Psychological Debriefing Strengths and Weaknesses
Cotton and Devilly have on their side that Mitchell did once have the terminology confused as they applied the term CISD to both the larger set of processes and the single set of processes performed within the larger set.  More research on the subject is warranted as they suggest to determine what benefits the process of CISM and CISD respectively do provide and to whom they truthfully provide them to, employer or employee?    Weaknesses in the argument include a lack of specific data or statistical representation when discussing

Most Compelling and Credible Author
Contemporary Research Finding

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