How do you debrief after you have heard or seen hard or disturbing things?

Do your colleagues share all the gory details with you over lunch or during meetings?

Have you ever attended a training that felt more traumatizing than informative?

Helping professionals can unwittingly spread secondary trauma among their colleagues, family, and friends. Some helpers admit that they do not always consider the secondary traumatic content that they may be passing along to the recipients of their stories. Others believe that sharing the “gory details” is a normal part of their work. And some helpers are so desensitized to trauma work that they forget that ordinary citizens may be horrified or shocked by our stories. All these reactions are normal and common.

Low Impact Debriefing or LID (also known as Low Impact Processing or Low Impact Disclosure) is a trauma-informed technique for sharing and processing the difficult stories and images that we see and hear about through our work as helping professionals.

An important part of LID is to stop the contagion effect by removing unnecessary details of traumatic events. This reduces the cumulative exposure to traumatic information while ensuring that we can safely reach out to others for support and connection.

Low Impact Debriefing is a trauma-informed technique for sharing and processing the difficult stories and images that we see and hear about through our work as helping professionals.

What is “Sliming”?

After a hard day, it is normal to want to talk to someone to help alleviate the burden of what you have experienced. However, if not done properly, this can leave the person on the receiving end feeling as though they now carry the weight of this graphic or traumatic information too.

At TEND, we use the term “sliming” to describe the feeling of receiving or witnessing unnecessary traumatic content without warning or permission. Sliming can be contagious.

Two Types of Debriefing

The Formal Debrief

The formal debrief happens in a structured way. These are often scheduled meetings, sometimes referred to as peer consultation, supervision, or Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD).

Mandatory debriefing done in large groups has been shown to increase levels of psychological distress among some participants and is no longer recommended as a best practice protocol of CISD. There are approaches that we can use instead to develop and cultivate safe communities of practice (such as Psychological First Aid).

The Informal Debrief

The informal debrief happens in a casual way. These are spontaneous conversations that happen in a colleague’s office at the end of the day, in the staff lunchroom, or during the drive home with family and friends. Many helpers who have been exposed to traumatic events need to debrief right away and cannot wait for a scheduled supervision meeting.

However, informal debriefs can be harmful when the listener feels as though they do not have a choice in hearing about graphic or traumatic content. This can result in the listener feeling as though they have been “slimed,” rather than feeling as though they are part of a safe debriefing process.

LID outlines four steps you can use to protect your colleagues, friends, family, and yourself.

Four Steps of Low Impact Debriefing

1. Self-Awareness

Have you ever shocked or horrified friends or family with a story that you thought was benign – or even funny? It is normal and common to become desensitized to trauma and loss when it is a daily part of your work. The first step of LID encourages you to become aware of the stories you tell and the level of detail you provide. Before sharing, stop to consider – are all the details really necessary? Can you give an abbreviated version that still communicates the necessary information?

2. Fair Warning

If you had to share bad news with a loved one, you may start the conversation with: “I have some bad news” or “you better sit down.” The second step of LID encourages you to warn your listener that the content you are going to share is disturbing or traumatic. You might start the conversation with: “I would like to debrief a difficult situation with you and the story involves traumatic content.”

3. Consent

The third step of LID is to seek permission by asking: “Is this a good time?” or “I heard something really hard today, could I talk to you about it?” The listener now has a chance to decline, or to qualify what they are able and ready to hear.

4. Limited Disclosure

Once you have received consent, the final step of LID is to decide how much to share. Start with the least disturbing details and gradually add more information as needed. You may not need to share the most graphic or traumatic details to get the benefits of sharing with a peer or loved one.

Low Impact Debriefing is a practice that helps us to share and process the trauma that we encounter as helping professionals – and to do so safely and respectfully. It can be applied to all facets of our lives including both personal and professional. Ask yourself: Is this too much trauma information to share? This simple and easy strategy can reduce contagion and protects our loved ones, colleagues, and ourselves from unnecessary traumatic details.

Resources to Learn More

Download and print our Low Impact Debriefing postcard or PDF to share with others in your organization.

This article was originally published online in 2008 and was updated September 2022.

Cet article est également disponible en francais.

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