Single session psychological debriefing does not prevent post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and may contribute to PTSD.
Why is psychological debriefing important?
Psychological debriefing is a treatment intended to reduce the psychological effects that occur after exposure to trauma. It involves promoting emotional processing by “encouraging recollection/ ventilation/ reworking of the traumatic event”. Debriefing is intended to reduce psychological stress following a traumatic incident and prevent the development of PTSD. The estimated lifetime prevalence of PTSD is 5% in men and 10% in females.
Does psychological debriefing work?
This review found no significant differences between the group receiving debriefing and controls in diagnosis and severity of depression, or diagnosis of anxiety. At 3 months follow up there were no differences between groups for diagnosis of PTSD however, at 13 months follow up those receiving debriefing were more than twice as likely to have been diagnosed with PTSD as controls.
Equity: can we expect the same results in the disadvantaged?
Single session psychological debriefing caused more harm than benefit and those who received this intervention were more likely to develop PTSD. There is no reason to expect different results among disadvantaged populations.
All interventions provided single session psychological debriefing that took place within one day to one month of the traumatic event.
Population and Setting
Most studies involved people attending hospitals and trauma clinics following trauma. One study recruited from police stations and medical services, one involved deployed soldiers on a peacekeeping mission, and three studies involved obstetric patients. One study involved parents or relatives of trauma victims.
All studies were conducted in high income countries including the United Kingdom, Ireland, Netherlands , Australia, and USA.
Summary of Findings [SOF] Tables: Psychological debriefing for preventing post traumatic stress disorder
Patient or population: Persons aged 16 and older exposed to a traumatic event in the previous 4 weeks
Settings: Hospitals and trauma clinics in high-income countries
Intervention: Psychological debriefing
Comparison: Control, educational intervention, or immediate debriefing vs. delayed debriefing
Anticipated absolute effects per year
No of Participants
Quality of the evidence
Risk without psychological debriefing (Control)
Risk difference with psychological debriefing (95% CI)
7 per 100
1 more per 100 (from 2 fewer to 5 more)
OR 1.17 (0.70-1.98)
9 per 100
1 fewer per 100 (6 fewer to 12 more)
OR 0.93 (0.35-2.46)
4 per 100
5 more per 100 (from 1 to 14 more)
OR 2.51 (1.24, 5.09)
Adverse Events: At 13 months follow up, PTSD diagnoses were higher in the intervention than control group.
About quality of evidence (GRADE)
Comments on this summary? Please contact Jennifer Petkovic.