Why We Need to Debrief

May 15, 2015
Kendra Stea
A security officer at his post.

As you may recall from an earlier post, my brother is a sheriff’s deputy. I happened to see him this weekend and I was gently reminded once again of how much I love him and respect him for the job he does. There’s nothing easy about being in law enforcement—especially not these days.

As I was thinking about him and all the other law enforcement officers I know, and as I reflected on the increased inquiries to CPI from the law enforcement and corrections fields, I tried hard to put my finger on solutions.
I feel torn about the current state of affairs in these industries. Not all corrections facilities are awful for individuals with mental health issues. Not all police officers find themselves at the center of an investigation related to the abuse of their power.

I can only imagine how tired they all are.
That made me think of the other high-risk environments we do business in. Forensic psychiatry, for example. In-patient units and emergency departments, for example. The list is long, really. There are community-based services serving high-risk individuals, or residential services for severely aggressive individuals.

I used to work in residential treatment for at-risk youth. I know how tired you sometimes feel. And that was after a day when no one tried to kill me or kill someone else in front of me.
But you know what—debriefing makes you not feel so tired.
Yes, there is a call for a higher level of training. It’s not enough to educate people about mental illness, but to pair that with better de-escalation strategies to use with individuals whose ability to communicate is compromised clinically.
It’s not enough to simply talk about “rational detachment” or the “integrated experience,” but to apply that to daily practice and create a concrete plan for HOW you will detach and HOW you will remind yourself that your behaviors and attitudes will affect the behaviors and attitudes of others around you.
When I’m working with our healthcare or mental health care customers, they often build in “huddles” to each shift. This might be at the front end of the shift as a way to get their finger on the pulse of what’s currently going on within the facility, but they also put huddles at the end of a shift—a quick check to say, “How was the shift? What worked well? What wasn’t so good? How will you detach?”
I know that law enforcement does a tactical discussion at the beginning of each shift. I know that at times critical incident stress debriefing is offered following an extreme event. I know you can easily get a referral to an EAP type of service. But let’s be honest—who seeks that out? Not many.
What if at the end of each shift—in every high-risk job—we took a moment to breathe. What if we took a minute to say, “What went well? What was scary? Where did we ‘get lucky,’ and what else might we want to try differently in the future?”
What if we took a minute to talk about how we felt about the difficult situations we see and manage throughout our day? I know there are situations that I still relive or see in my dreams at night. I recall conversations that left me feeling really cynical about our world. I see it in my brother.
I also know that in those facilities where I worked where we debriefed quick at the end of a shift, it made a difference. It not only gave me a chance to sort out my emotions, but it gave me a minute to also say thank you to my colleagues. It gave me the opportunity to reflect and to re-orient myself.
So anyway, I guess this has been a long way to say “Thank you.” I hope more of your organizations call us—we can offer not only great training to support what you do, but we can offer a model to debrief at the end of your shift. It will give you responses based from a clinical perspective for behaviors that are clinically driven.

Written in honor of National Police Week and all those who care and serve in our communities.

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