The impact and experience of debriefing for clinical staff following traumatic events in clinical settings: A systematic review

Zoe Scott, Sara O'Curry, Kiki Mastroyannopoulou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Health care professionals are more frequently exposed to potentially traumatic events than individuals in other professions. Repeated trauma exposure can significantly impact both physical and mental health. In clinical settings, the term “debriefing” refers to a group meeting during which clinical events and decision-making are reviewed and discussed to improve clinical practice. The present review investigated the use of debriefing for clinical staff in clinical settings following exposure to direct and vicarious trauma. We examined whether the use of posttrauma debriefing impacts symptoms of distress and explored how clinical staff experience debriefing; we also investigated the factors that influence this experience. A systematic search of five electronic databases was conducted between August 31 and September 2, 2019. Included articles (N = 13) described the use of debriefing in clinical settings with clinical staff following a traumatic event. We assessed methodological quality and performed a narrative synthesis. Four studies found some evidence of the benefits of debriefing for reducing psychological sequelae to traumatic events. Seven studies commented on factors that clinical staff perceived to be important for the debriefing to feel helpful, including the being given the opportunity for reflection, gaining a shared experience, and having the right peer facilitator. Some evidence suggests that debriefing with staff working in clinical settings can reduce posttraumatic distress symptoms, and subjective evidence suggests that clinical staff members perceive debriefing to be useful. Due to the limited literature, no firm conclusions could be drawn, and further methodologically sound research is required.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)278-287
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Traumatic Stress
Issue number1
Early online date20 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2022

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