Debriefing after an incident

Podcast 029: Debriefing after an incident

Critical incident debrief

Critical Incident Debrief

In this episode of the Ultimate Youth Worker Podcast ‘Online Youth Work’ Aaron chats with us about how to conduct a critical incident debrief. We look at two models and unpack how individuals and teams can best use the debriefing process to look after themselves and reflect on the best ways forward.


As youth workers we find ourselves working with young people when they are at the best and when they are in their darkest places. When they are at their best we feel a sense of pride and live on the mountaintop. When they are in their darkest place we can see them in the depths of pain and the heights of anger. In their darkest place young people can be prone to making rash decisions. Sometimes, this can lead to young people lashing out, running away or in extreme cases they may harm themselves.

When a young person lashes out or injures themselves as youth workers we find ourselves in the midst of critical incidents. We deal with the circumstances as best we can. We keep as many people safe as we can. We provide first aid to those who need it. We call on emergency services such as the police or ambulance officers as the need arises. After all is said and done we find ourselves in front of the computer. Writing up an incident report.

What could have been hours of our lives, probably on our own, whittled down to a few pages in the hands of bureaucrats. For most of us that is about where it finishes. If you are lucky you may get to chat it over with your Team Leader or Manager who may even recommend that you use an Employee Assistance Program. Unfortunately, many EAP’s do not understand the work that youth workers are involved in and the sessions end up being less than useless. What we really need in this situation is a proper critical incident debrief.

At Ultimate Youth Worker we work with many organisations to implement a strong Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) framework. We use and train others to use two different yet important models within a wider (CISM), the After Action Review and the Critical Incident Stress Debrief.

After Action Review

An After Action Review (AAR) is a process used by teams to recognise and understand the lessons learned from successes and failures, with the goal of improving future performance. It is an opportunity for a team to reflect on an incident, activity, event or task so that they can do even better the next time. AARs should be carried out with an open spirit and without blame. The Army use the phrase “leave your rank at the door” to remove blocks to involvement whilst optimising learning through the process. One member of the group facilitates, capturing results on a flip chart or in a document.

After Action Review is a form of group reflection where participants review four things:

  • what was intended
  • what actually happened
  • why it happened and
  • what was learned.

Critical Incident Stress Debrief

Critical Incident Stress Debrief is narrowly defined in scope and intent as part of a more comprehensive CISM. CISD is strategically focused on the detailed disclosure of facts, thoughts, and emotional reactions and sensory material linked to a particular traumatic event (or “incident”). It is often seen in the literature as psychological first aid and is generally carried out within 48 hours after an incident. This is not counselling or psychotherapy (however that may be part of a fully developed CISM).

The steps to a Critical Incident Stress Debrief include:

  1. Assess (audit) the impact of the critical incident on support personnel and survivors
  2. Identify immediate issues surrounding problems involving “safety” and “security”
  3. Use defusing to allow for the ventilation of thoughts, emotions, and experiences associated with the event and provide “validation” of possible reactions
  4. Predict events and reactions to come in the aftermath of the event
  5. Conduct a “Systematic Review of the Critical Incident” and its impact emotionally, cognitively, and physically on survivors. Look for maladaptive behaviours or responses to the crisis or trauma
  6. Bring “closure” to the incident “anchor” or “ground” support personnel and survivors to community resources to initiate or start the rebuilding process (help identify possible positive experiences from the event)
  7. Debriefing assists in the “re-entry” process back into the community or workplace. Debriefing can be done in large or small groups or one-to-one depending on the situation. Debriefing is not a critique but a systematic review of the events leading to, during, and after the crisis.

Today’s resources

Here are links to some articles and training that have bearing on todays podcast.

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Aaron Garth

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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