Child Debriefing: A Review of the Evidence Base

Betty Pfefferbaum, Anne K. Jacobs, Pascal Nitiéma, George S. Everly

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Introduction: Debriefing, a controversial crisis intervention delivered in the early aftermath of a disaster, has not been well evaluated for use with children and adolescents. This report constitutes a review of the child debriefing evidence base. Methods: A systematic search of selected bibliographic databases (EBM Reviews, EMBASE, ERIC, Medline, Ovid, PILOTS, PubMed, and PsycINFO) was conducted in the spring of 2014 using search terms related to psychological debriefing. The search was limited to English language sources and studies of youth, aged 0 to 18 years. No time limit was placed on date of publication. The search yielded 713 references. Titles and abstracts were reviewed to select publications describing scientific studies and clinical reports. Reference sections of these publications, and of other literature known to the authors that was not generated by the search, were used to locate additional materials. Review of these materials generated 187 publications for more thorough examination; this assessment yielded a total of 91 references on debriefing in children and adolescents. Only 15 publications on debriefing in children and adolescents described empirical studies. Due to a lack of statistical analysis of effectiveness data with youth, and some articles describing the same study, only seven empirical studies described in nine papers were identified for analysis for this review. These studies were evaluated using criteria for assessment of methodological rigor in debriefing studies. Results: Children and adolescents included in the seven empirical debriefing studies were survivors of motor-vehicle accidents, a maritime disaster, hostage taking, war, or peer suicides. The nine papers describing the seven studies were characterized by inconsistency in describing the interventions and populations and by a lack of information on intervention fidelity. Few of the studies used randomized design or blinded assessment. The results described in the reviewed studies were mixed in regard to debriefing's effect on posttraumatic stress, depression, anxiety, and other outcomes. Even in studies in which debriefing appeared promising, the research was compromised by potentially confounding interventions. Conclusion: The results highlight the small empirical evidence base for drawing conclusions about the use of debriefing with children and adolescents, and they call for further dialogue regarding challenges in evaluating debriefing and other crisis interventions in children.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)306-315
Number of pages10
JournalPrehospital and disaster medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 27 2015


  • children
  • crisis intervention
  • debriefing
  • disaster
  • disaster response

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine
  • Emergency


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