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What is stress debriefing therapy?

Stress debriefing therapy generally consists of group discussions or educational sessions that are conducted one to three days after a traumatic event. However, what goes on in these sessions can vary widely from one program to the next. Stress debriefing therapy is generally used to ‘treat’ PTSD, or more troubling, some have started to use it as a way of confronting a teen’s problem behavior, almost like a spin on the classic intervention.

How does stress debriefing therapy work?

The methods for stress debriefing therapy can vary widely from one clinician to the next, and can resemble something akin to an AA meeting in one clinic while having more in common with an Army drill-sergeant camp in another. It usually involves group sessions with people who are experiencing (or have experienced) similar types of adversity. It may involve openly but calmly talking about a fear or a stressful experience, or it might involve others screaming at you to stop being such a selfish wimp after you talk about your experience. Some therapists may have patients read or listen to similar traumas experienced by other people. The methods used under the label of “stress debriefing therapy” can be quite diverse, and you should find out specifically what will occur during sessions beforehand, so that there are no surprises. But the underlying idea is that patients should be forced to confront their experiences or fears.

The potential dangers of stress debriefing therapy

Stress debriefing programs, from our standpoint, seem too closely associated with ‘tough-love’ style practitioners who believe in principles that aren’t supported by science. Since these sessions are often confrontational in nature, this makes stress debriefing one of the most dangerous and controversial methods in the field of psychology. There is evidence emerging that sessions of stress debriefing may actually make PTSD symptoms worse. (Begley, 6-23-2007) As psychologist Susan Pinker states, “evidence shows that prompting people to relive a recent trauma by talking about it or by visualizing the event may actually provoke posttraumatic stress disorder, not prevent it.” (Psychology Today, 2010)

The drawbacks of stress debriefing therapy

  • We DO NOT recommend stress debriefing therapy IN ANY FORM for children or teens. If you would like to experiment with this controversial method, you’re welcome to do so. But children should not be exposed to this potentially dangerous and scientifically unsubstantiated form of therapy, especially when there are more beneficial options out there.


  • Antagonistic therapies in general have a long and bleak track record, with history showing them to be far more harmful than helpful.


  • There is no good research supporting the effectiveness of stress debriefing therapy, and many of its methods directly contradict ‘scientific plausibility,’ meaning they fly in the face of most trauma research.


The benefits of stress debriefing therapy

This method may be helpful for a particular type of person or personality style who responds well to an in-your-face approach.


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