Employee Debriefing Strategies 

March 26, 2013
Younger hand holding an older person hand

Please note: CPI is an international training organization with extensive expertise in various aspects of problematic workplace behavior, including the prevention, response, and follow-up to crisis events. As such, we are not in a position to offer legal, employment, medical, or clinical advice. None of the following information should be construed as legal, employment, medical, or clinical in nature. CPI’s debriefing model is not a replacement for other debriefing services, counseling, or medical intervention implemented by qualified professionals. As always, your organization’s policies and procedures should guide any follow-up actions before, during, and after a crisis. You should consult a professional advisor if you have questions about the use of this training program in your organization.

Debriefing employees after crisis events has been a sensitive, controversial, and widely debated practice for over a decade.

There are many valid and valuable debriefing definitions, techniques, and models. Some models are somewhat specific and prescriptive in defining post-crisis activities and time frames. It is important to differentiate CPI’s post-crisis debriefing model from other valid and valuable models. It is equally important to recognize the fact that CPI Instructor Certification does not in itself qualify Instructors with the specialized credentials to conduct clinical, medical, or other more specialized debriefings. Nor will completing CPI training qualify participants to do so.

This Topic Module explores the COPING ModelSM for debriefing after a crisis. The model outlines a process for reviewing and assessing the incident. It also prompts improvement and prevention strategies (or strategies to improve interventions and prevent crisis recurrences) which we call Postvention.

We see debriefing as an intervention that takes place as part of the Postvention process. Debriefing involves a structured review of the experience. The CPI COPING ModelSM provides this structure as we attempt to put the pieces together to form a factual account and a cohesive picture of the crisis event. Debriefing provides an opportunity to learn:

  1. What factors may have contributed to this crisis?
  2. What was done well?
  3. What could have been done better?
  4. What changes should be considered to help prevent future crisis events or to improve a future response? 

It is vital to refrain from making assumptions about people’s thoughts, feelings, reactions, or needs after a crisis event. Making assumptions may not help and could instead harm. Just as each person’s experiences with or involvement in a specific crisis are unique and personal, so are everyone’s reactions. Despite the fact that this type of early debriefing is not intended as a professional counseling session, some participants may find that expressing feelings and emotions is one way to regain a sense of control. Most of our reactions to a crisis are quite normal—it is often the crisis event that is abnormal.

Most people respond reasonably well both during and after a crisis. However, our decisions, actions, and reactions will not automatically be efficient and orderly. An individual’s own resources are often heavily concentrated on imminent physical and emotional safety and survival. Some may not immediately recall routines and details. External structure and systems may need to help guide next steps.

Using CPI’s COPING ModelSM is one way to begin re-establishing structure following a crisis event. This model is concrete, constructive, strength-based, and nonclinical in nature. It provides a concrete format for a structured and constructive review of a crisis event once everyone involved reaches Tension Reduction.

The CPI COPING ModelSM provides a simple, flexible, and adaptable template for summarizing currently verified facts about the incident while acknowledging various strengths that enable people’s coping mechanisms. It offers a supportive forum within which anyone involved may express some of the challenges they faced. It may introduce the opportunity to further explore potential difficulties that could affect employee job responsibilities following the crisis. It helps in identifying possible areas of growth and change in preventing similar crises in the future.

This post-crisis dialog can be strengthened by identifying follow-up resources. These could include information on how employees can access additional support through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), medical and other benefit plans, and community resources.

As with most CPI models, the CPI COPING ModelSM is highly flexible and adaptable. It can be further adapted in re-establishing communication and rapport with the individual(s) who may have lost control and caused the crisis.

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