Is Psychological Debriefing a Harmful Intervention for Survivors of Trauma?


Psychological Debriefing (PD) is a strategic intervention for survivors of a traumatic event, which aims at helping them to face their fears and avoid the development of post-traumatic stress disorders (PSTD) by informing them or making them recount their traumatic experience (Devilly & Cotton, 2003; Mitchell, 2004). Therefore, the proponent of this strategic intervention argues that PD can be an effective intervention approach that enables the survivors of traumatic events to avoid long-term negative outcomes of their experience if applied properly by following the proposed procedures and practices (Mitchell, 2004). However, the effectiveness of PD in preventing the development of PTSD and other long-term post-traumatic consequences attracts considerable levels of controversy from different scholars whose aim is to show the importance of the harm involved in using PD on traumatized survivors (Devilly & Cotton, 2003).

This research paper critically analyzes the issue, ‘Is Psychological Debriefing a Harmful Intervention for Survivors of Trauma?’ as presented by two factions of researchers to support or oppose the issue. First, the paper provides a summary of the arguments given by the two sides before looking at the main arguments that attempt to show the validity or lack of accuracy in the arguments presented. Therefore, in the following discussions, it is notable that both factions present strong arguments, which are supported by factual and statistical data to drive home their respective viewpoints. However, some instances of biasness are equally notable particularly when the authors use their theoretical background and advantage to support their viewpoint.

A Summary of the Issue

Two researchers, Grant Devilly and Peter Cotton represent the YES faction in discussing the issue by arguing that some aspects of Psychological Debriefing such as the critical incident stress debriefing (CISD) and the critical incident stress management (CISM) are inadequately defined and therefore, they may have or they are harmful and ineffective in responding to the needs of traumatized survivors. While reviewing several research studies on the same issue, the authors posit that psychological debriefing may provoke unexpected negative consequences in the victims besides showing no positive outcome on traumatized individuals (Devilly & Cotton, 2003). As a result, the authors provide alternative strategic approaches used to manage or prevent the development of PTSD, particularly at the workplace.

On the other hand, Jeffrey Mitchell, a member of the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation (CISF) represents the NO faction by providing counter-arguments to those raised by Devilly and Cotton. Here, the author posits that Devilly and cotton might have misrepresented crucial information particularly by referring to CISD and CISM as the same thing (Mitchell, 2004). As a result, Mitchell argues that the difference in the two intervention methods is inherent in the applicability of the intervention strategies on traumatized individuals. For instance, CISD can only be applied in seven steps on a small group of survivors while CISM involves a multi-component, wide-ranging, and systematic intervention approach that can be used on a larger group of survivors. Furthermore, Mitchell argues that Devilly ad Cotton base their arguments on research studies, which represent the outcome of poorly applied CISD practices, and therefore, the studies are inappropriate in terms of determining the efficacy of the psychological debriefing (Mitchell, 2004).

Analysis of the Issue

Devilly and Cotton, who represent the YES faction, demonstrate a clear understanding of the literature behind psychological debriefing and its components. In their opening remarks, the researchers agree that PD is popular in the workplace and other organizations whereby it is used to provide psychological help to traumatized workers. However, the researchers are quick to note that despite PD having good intentions, improper implementation of the procedures and inadequate reference to research studies may lead to undesirable outcomes on traumatized individuals (Devilly & Cotton, 2003, p. 62). In addition, the authors review the most recent research studies on psychological debriefing and its components and as a result, they bring out a strong case to support their argument.

Additionally, all the major concepts and terminologies in Devilly and cotton’s case are presented and defined. For example, the authors spend some time defining the term psychological debriefing besides providing the intended purpose of the intervention approach at an organizational level. Therefore, the authors show that they have a strong understanding of the concepts that define psychological debriefing and that they do not present concepts vaguely to run across different arguments. In other words, the authors’ arguments are logically presented to minimize confusion. For instance, to show the basis of their argument that CISD and CISM are indistinguishable in terms of their intended practices, the authors review several studies on the two components of PD, and in so doing, they provide a strong and logical argument, which leads them to the conclusion that the two concepts are equivalent or inadequately defined (Devilly & Cotton, 2003, p. 65).

Furthermore, the authors provide evidence to support their argument by referring to the most recent research studies, expert consensus reviews, and meta-analyses. Therefore, it is notable that their arguments are not based on general points but rather base them on informed scientific studies and statistical findings. However, the authors fail to provide points that are contrary to their arguments. In addition, the authors underemphasize the notable contrary statements and limitations provided in their primary reference sources. Therefore, the credibility of their arguments and evidence is questionable because of their biased review of research studies.

Overall, the conclusions provided by the authors are drawn from their arguments and the research studies reviewed. Therefore, the article presented by Devilly and Cotton lays a strong foundation for additional studies on the same issue to ascertain the basis of their arguments. However, taken as it is, the case presented by the two authors can provide positive implications in terms of informing the use of PD in helping trauma victims because it acts as a wake-up call to all debriefers to review their strategies and procedures while using the components of PD.

Conversely, Mitchell who is an opponent of the issue topic uses the influence of being a member of the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation (CISF) to present a contrary case to the one presented by Devilly and Cotton. Therefore, Mitchell shows a clear understanding of the literature behind CISD and CISM by providing counter-arguments against the conclusive arguments of Devilly and Cotton. For instance, in the opening remarks, the author refers to the same research studies used by Devilly and Cotton to show the pitfalls in the two authors’ conclusions, which states that CISD and CISM are equivalent (Mitchell, 2004).

However, the author fails to provide and define various concepts underlying psychological debriefing but instead, the author concentrates on the points provided by the first authors to present a confusing case. As a result, the author uses vaguely defined concepts and under-supported arguments to criticize the first case. On the other hand, considering that the two cases are presented in favor or against the effectiveness of the current applications of PD, the second case lacks vigor because there is a clear lack of statistical evidence to support the strong arguments made.

Nonetheless, Mitchell’s critique emphasizes the facts, which oppose the case made by Devilly and Cotton by making specific reference to previous research studies mentioned in the first case. In so doing, the author achieves to highlights the pitfalls and some general arguments presented by the two authors. Unfortunately, Mitchell’s case lacks a coherent conclusion that follows from the main arguments, and therefore, other researchers can’t see the practical implications of the case presented. Overall, Mitchell’s case is an equally strong case aimed at criticizing the work presented by Devilly and Cotton, which may pass as a strong and professional scientific review. Therefore, the pitfalls identified by Mitchell can serve as guidelines for future studies aimed at improving the case presented by Devilly and Cotton.


This research paper presents an in-depth critical analysis of the issue, ‘Is Psychological Debriefing a Harmful Intervention for Survivors of Trauma?’ as discussed by different authors to support or oppose it. Therefore, from the discussions above, it is notable that Devilly and Cotton present a strong case by showing that improper application and inadequate reference to research studies when using PD to help traumatized individuals may produce negative consequences on the subjects. On the other hand, Mitchell who argues against the case presented by the first case is quick to note several pitfalls in the arguments provided by Devilly and Cotton. As a result, future studies should focus on conducting a research study that uses a reliable sample size of traumatized victims to collect primary data, which provides important insights into the effectiveness of using psychological debriefing on trauma victims. In so doing, different experts can reach a consensus that can give a clear direction on the future of psychological debriefing.

Reference list

Devilly, G.J. & Cotton, P. (2003). Psychological debriefing and the workplace: Defining a concept, controversies and guidelines for intervention. Australian Psychologist, 38 (2), 144-150.

Mitchell, J.T. (2004). A response to the Devilly and Cotton article, “Psychological Debriefing and the Workplace.” Australian Psychologist, 39 (1), 24-28.

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"Is Psychological Debriefing a Harmful Intervention for Survivors of Trauma?" PsychologyWriting, 1 Feb. 2022,


PsychologyWriting. (2022) 'Is Psychological Debriefing a Harmful Intervention for Survivors of Trauma'. 1 February.


PsychologyWriting. 2022. "Is Psychological Debriefing a Harmful Intervention for Survivors of Trauma?" February 1, 2022.

1. PsychologyWriting. "Is Psychological Debriefing a Harmful Intervention for Survivors of Trauma?" February 1, 2022.


PsychologyWriting. "Is Psychological Debriefing a Harmful Intervention for Survivors of Trauma?" February 1, 2022.