Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD) is a specific, small group, supportive crisis intervention process. It is just one of the many crisis intervention techniques which are included under the umbrella of a Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) program. These critical incidents are more recently described as Disruptive Events. The CISD process does not constitute any form of psychotherapy, and it should never be utilized as a substitute for psychotherapy. It is simply a supportive, crisis-focused discussion of a traumatic event (which is frequently called a “critical incident”). The Critical Incident Stress Debriefing was developed exclusively for small, homogeneous groups who have encountered a powerful traumatic event. It aims at reduction of distress and a restoration of group cohesion and unit performance. The goal of this type of debriefing is to prevent the individuals from developing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
At a fundamental level, debriefing is speaking about a critical event that just happened and provides a forum to process the thoughts, behaviors, and emotions that occur as a result of the event. It provides a structured method that assesses the contributions of participants to determine how the individuals managed the situation. The process may also involve planning for potential critical situations such as active shooter, terrorism, and work violence. Participants may involve an explanation of what may occur, education about the situation, a report on performance, and opportunities for more investigation about the event.
The process of CISD presents initial relief to rescue workers involved in the critical incident. Typically, it is conducted in a group within 24-72 hours of the disaster and involves the following steps:
- Introduction to set rules;
- Fact phase to establish what happened;
- Cognition phase to discuss thoughts about what happened;
- Reaction phase to discuss emotions associated with what happened;
- Symptoms phase to learn the signs and symptoms of distress;
- Educational phase to learn about PTSD and coping strategies; and
- Re-entry phase to discuss any other issues and to provide any additional services (Carlier, Voerman, Gersons, & Berthold 2000).
Carlier, I.V.E. & Voerman, A.E. & Gersons, Berthold. (2000). The influence of occupational debriefing on post-traumatic stress symptomatology in traumatized police officers. Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice. 73. 87-98.