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Psychological debriefing is a waste of time

  • S. Wessely (a1) and M. Deahl (a2)
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People who experience serious traumatic events may become distressed and are at risk of developing psychological illness. Because of the perceived need to ease the distress and to prevent chronicity, various forms of psychological therapy have been deployed. One such therapy is psychological debriefing. Some claim that it is helpful, others claim it may not do any good but at least it does no harm, but still others claim that it increases the risk of people developing long-term psychological symptoms following a traumatic event. Statutory agencies, charities and commercial organisations offer their services to victims following traumatic events. Fearing litigation, some companies require their employees to undergo debriefing following certain incidents. But is psychological debriefing the right treatment? Is it cost-effective? And what of the concerns that it may lead to long-term problems? Could litigation be joined because of exposure to psychological debriefing? We asked two experts who have published widely on the subject – Professor Simon Wessely and Professor Martin Deahl – to debate the proposition that psychological debriefing is a waste of time.

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References
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Bisson, J. I. Jenkins, P. L. Alexander, J. et al (1997) Randomised controlled trial of psychological debriefing for victims of acute burn trauma. British Journal of Psychiatry, 171, 7881.
Bryant, R. Sackville, T. Dang, S. et al (1999) Treating acute stress disorder: an evaluation of cognitive behavior therapy and supportive counselling technques. American Journal of Psychiatry, 156, 17801786.
Deahl, M. Srinivasan, M. Jones, N. et al (2000) Preventing psychological trauma in soldiers. The role of operational stress training and psychological debriefing. British Journal of Medical Psychology, 73, 7785.
Hobbs, M. Mayou, R. Harrison, B. et al (1996)A randomised controlled trial of psychological debriefing for victims of road traffic accidents. BMJ, 313, 14381439.
Mayou, R. Ehlers, A. & Hobbs, M. (2000) Psychological debriefing for road traffic accident victims: three year follow-up of a randomised controlled trial. British Journal of Psychiatry, 176, 589593.
Rose, S. Bisson, J. & Wessely, S. (2002) Psychological debriefing for preventing post-traumatic stress disorder. Cochrane Library issue 2,. Oxford: Update Software.
Wessely, S. Bisson, J. & Rose, S. (2000) A systematic review of brief psychological interventions ('debriefing') for the treatment of immediate trauma related symptoms and the prevention of posttraumatic stress disorder. In Depression, Anxiety and Neurosis Module of the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (eds M. Oakley-Browne, R. Churchill, D. Gill, et al). Oxford: Update Software.
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The British Journal of Psychiatry
  • ISSN: 0007-1250
  • EISSN: 1472-1465
  • URL: /core/journals/the-british-journal-of-psychiatry
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Psychological debriefing is a waste of time

  • S. Wessely (a1) and M. Deahl (a2)
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