A review of the literature on debriefing or non-directive counselling to prevent postpartum emotional distress

Midwifery. 2002 Mar;18(1):72-9. doi: 10.1054/midw.2001.0287.


Background: childbirth generates powerful emotions and may lead to the development of symptoms of depression, anxiety, and trauma in some women. Debriefing and non-directive counselling have been used as early interventions to reduce the prevalence of depression and post-traumatic stress.

Methods: a review of the literature was conducted to describe the current state of knowledge on the effectiveness of a single debriefing session or non-directive counselling session to reduce depression and trauma symptoms in women following birth.

Findings: a total of three studies reported in four papers examined the use of debriefing or non-directive counselling to prevent or reduce psychological morbidity following birth. The two largest RCTs indicate that a single debriefing session with the woman whilst in the postnatal ward is of no statistically significant value in reducing psychological morbidity and may even be harmful. In contrast, women reported that an opportunity to talk with someone about the birth was helpful in facilitating recovery.

Conclusion: there is insufficient evidence to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of debriefing following childbirth, primarily because it is unclear if a standardised debriefing intervention was used. Future research should clearly describe the intervention and test alternative interventions; measure a broader range of outcomes including trauma symptoms; use inclusion criteria that acknowledge the complex contributing factors to depression and trauma; and examine the value of including the woman's partner (or significant other) in the debriefing or counselling session(s). Future studies should investigate the timing or place of the intervention, the provision of more than one opportunity to discuss the birth, and target the intervention to women who are more likely to develop trauma symptoms or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Counseling / standards*
  • Crisis Intervention / methods*
  • Depression, Postpartum / prevention & control*
  • Depression, Postpartum / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Maternal Welfare*
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Postnatal Care / standards*
  • Pregnancy
  • Stress, Psychological / prevention & control
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology