Conversation for Debriefing a Traumatic Event
Jo Nelson
I would like to offer this conversation to people to use with colleagues, friends and family to begin to process traumatic situations and respond to them productively.  Please note that this conversation is not to be used as therapy or when recalling the facts of the event would re-traumatize people:  it is for a group to understand all the perspectives on and interpretations of an event in order to come to terms with it. For example, the first time I used it was for a group of facilitators a day or so after 9/11, who needed to work through what had happened and have a way to respond. They found it very helpful.
This conversation is adapted from a conversation in my 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.
A group member can help the group guide its thinking with the following questions.  The sequence of questions is designed to gradually move from surface observation through personal reflection, thoughtful interpretation, and resolution.
Debriefing a Traumatic Event
Aims of the conversation:
To talk about personal experiences of the trauma
To face reality and begin to deal with it productively
To move from shock to beginning to come to terms with the situation
This event has shaken all of us.  Let’s take a little time to reflect on what’s 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?
Decisional 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.  It may be helpful to print out the questions for people to take with them for later reflection.
Jo Nelson CPF, a professional group facilitator with 47 years of global experience, works with ICA Associates in Toronto, Ontario.  She can be reached at Her book Art of Focused Conversation for Schools: Over 100 Ways to Guide Clear Thinking and Promote Learning has nearly 200 sample conversations.  It is available in both hard copy and ebook formats through iUniverse.

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