The term debriefing is an industry-used term. In our industry while useful it is often misunderstood when talking about application at ground floor or grassroots level.

When discussing the term de-briefing we @de-escalate.com have separated the term debriefing into different areas. I will discuss one of these here. For understanding the term itself, most people comprehend that James Bond goes off on a mission, returns and is debriefed; this in itself is an understandable perception of the term. In terms of risk assessment and planning if we can predict an issue whenever an incident occurs we should be de-briefing so that we can plan for the future and reduce the risk of future concerns.

However this general understanding of the term misses one vital component of the concept. When an individual has experienced an incident there is a residual emotional effect from the adrenaline dump. Can we effectively have the discussion around:

  • how the plan needs to change?
  • what we did wrong?
  • what we did right?
  • what did we learn?
  • what do we gain?
  • what do we lose?
  • does the plan need to change at all or was the incident a result of inconsistency or human error?

We @D8 believe this is not the correct time to be having those sort of discussions. You are in a heightened state and the person you mention this to, whom you need to be supportive for you, can often respond with one of the following phrases:

  • Oh that happened to me once - proceeds to tell you their story!
  • Well you don’t want to be doing that when he is there now do you!
  • Well that was stupid wasn't it - it’s your own fault!
  • You did not follow the plan!
  • You do not want to be putting the shopping away he is in the room!
  • Pending a disciplinary hearing you suspended!

For anyone who has experience of this moment you know that these phrases (above),- DO NOT HELP.

Following a highly stressful situation it is important that the individual has the ability to offload prior to the very valuable review and planning discussion of what went wrong, what went right etc. You often hear the phrase “it happened for no apparent reason!” This is usually a defensive statement made by a staff member who feels as though they are being judged on their actions. A staff member will, in my experience, be more able to constructively discuss their own actions if, prior to the discussion, they had offloading time to resolve their the emotional connection to the incident that they were involved in.

Offloading is an entire course itself and as such has many elements I am not covering here. It is an instrumental / integral part of everything that we @D8 do. We spend our time teaching staff to Develop Positive Relationships with Individuals in Distress. A fundamental part of the process is assisting the carer to find ways to offload the emotion that goes with any relationship and it is especially relevant to this job. If I can reduce my stress through offloading I am better placed to be able to consolidate my relationship even in times of distress.

Offloading is therefore part of debriefing; if you are not making a clear distinction between the two elements staff will always be attempting to learn from the incident with the future planning process. In terms of order and sequence we must first offload prior to having rational discussion about the event and actions. Doing the learning process first (or without any offloading) will be detrimental to the success of the process, the relationships and ultimately the quality of care you deliver.

I cannot stress enough how important this is to the process.

Author Des Cooke