IAF Methods

Debriefing a Traumatic Event

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20 - 30 any

A Focused Conversation for use with colleagues, friends and family to begin to process traumatic situations and respond to them productively. Often traumatic events become undiscussable and this enables persons to talk about them

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To talk about personal experiences of the trauma
To face reality and begin to deal with it productively
To move from shock to begin to come to terms with the situation


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Setting: Best if in an informal circle, where participants can see each other

Types of participants: any

Time needed: 20 - 30 min.

Ideal conditions: relaxed atmosphere

Pre-work required: Tailor the suggested questions to address the specific situation.

Type of Facilitator-Client Relationship: A great deal of trust on the part of the group.



This event has shaken all of us. Let's take a little time to reflect on what happened, so we can come to terms with it. I'm going to ask some questions that will help us gradually process what happened. I would like you to let everyone have their own answers  -- no  interrupting, arguing, or judging what anyone says.

Objective Questions

Imagine you were a video camera recording what you have seen and heard happening since the first events. What actions, words, phrases, objects, and scenes are recorded on your tape?

Let's get everything out - the first events, then everything that has happened since -- so we all have as full a picture as possible of what has happened to this point.

Reflective Questions

What were your first reactions?

What shocked or frightened you most about this incident?

What images or previous experiences were triggered for you?

How else did you find yourself reacting?

Interpretive Questions

What impact has this had on you personally? How are you different now?

How are we different as a group or as a society as a result of these events?

How has our view of the world changed?

What might have been some contributing factors to why this happened?

What might be some of the underlying issues behind all of this?

What might we learn from this?

Decision Questions

What can we do to deal with the situation in the short term?

What are some things we can do to begin to deal with the underlying issues and prevent events like this from happening again?

What can we do to help each other?

We will undoubtedly continue to reflect on this. If you need help, please be sure to ask for it.

Some of these questions are difficult to answer, so if there are few spoken answers, don't  worry. The very fact of raising these questions and following this flow allows deeper reflection later.

Follow-Up Required:

It may be helpful to print out the questions for people to take with them for later reflection.


Source: Jo Nelson

History of Development: This conversation is adapted from a conversation in Jo Nelson's book The Art of Focused Conversation for Schools, published in May, 2001 by New Society Publishers and The Canadian Institute of Cultural Affairs, p. 155.  Third edition published by iUniverse. 

Recognizable components: The ToP Focused Conversation Method.

References: The Institute of Cultural Affairs Focused Conversation Method.

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