The debriefing "controversy" and crisis intervention: a review of lexical and substantive issues

Int J Emerg Ment Health. Fall 2000;2(4):211-25.


Despite a long and rich history as a specialty within applied mental health, crisis intervention has, within recent years, been the target of criticism. Singled out for specific criticism has been the intervention referred to as "debriefing." Some authors have not only challenged its effectiveness but have raised the specter that it may cause significant harm. While superficially such arguments appear to have merit, closer scrutiny reveals an antiquated interpretation of even the most fundamental of terms and concepts inextricably intertwined with research based upon applications contrary to the most recent principles, prescriptions, and protocols regarding clinical use. A review of research based upon more extant formulations reveals many crisis intervention practices, including the Critical Incident Stress Debriefing model of "debriefing" and the Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) model of crisis intervention to be highly clinically effective, indeed. This paper will review the terms and concepts which serve as the foundation of the field of crisis intervention, while subsequently reviewing key research investigations addressing its efficacy. It may be that outcome research directed toward assessing the effectiveness of crisis intervention can prosper from following trails blazed by psychotherapy researchers. The parallels seem striking. It may be that outcome research in crisis intervention (and "debriefing") needs to now focus upon "who" does crisis intervention, to "whom," and in "what specific situations," so as to maximize outcome associated with this clinically effective tool [International Journal of Emergency Mental Health, 2000, 2(4), 211-225].

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Crisis Intervention*
  • Emergency Services, Psychiatric*
  • Health Services Research
  • Humans
  • Treatment Outcome