Psychological Post-trauma Debriefing May Backfire in Adults, Not Be Useful for Children

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

There is no evidence to support psychological debriefing in schools after traumatic events such as violence, suicides and accidental death, researchers have found.
The finding appears in a commentary in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Recent systematic reviews indicate psychological debriefing of adults does not prevent posttraumatic stress disorder, and it may even increase the risk of this disorder. While there is little research on the effectiveness and safety of these interventions in schools, "the evidence clearly points to the ineffectiveness of these interventions in preventing posttraumatic stress disorder or any other psychiatric disorder in adults," write Magdalena Szumilas, of the Sun Life Financial Chair in Adolescent Mental Health Team at Dalhousie University, and coauthors.

Two programs that show promise of effectiveness are based on the empirically supported principles of engendering feelings of safety, calmness, sense of self- and community efficacy, connectedness and hope. Providing psychological first aid immediately after an incident and providing cognitive behavioral support for students with persistent distress weeks after a school trauma has ended may be helpful.

The researchers, however, urge that psychological debriefing not be performed after traumatic incidents in schools and that more research is needed to assess psychological and mental health interventions prior to implementation in schools.

Kim Barnhardt
613-520-7116 x2224

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Review Date: 
September 21, 2010