What is a debrief and can we apply it at work

October 10, 2023

Working in health and social care, no two days are ever the same. Working with people is incredibly rewarding, challenging and satisfying, but it can also be incredibly frustrating, challenging and at times extremely difficult. There are moments when supporting people or delivering care that as health and social care workers, we are challenged to the very core, often in ways that are not predetermined or sometimes even logical. Often it is after the event that we realise we were involved in a very emotive or overwhelming situation, and yet we keep going, as there is always someone who needs our help or support. Over time, riding the rough with the smooth, these factors can take their toll, even on the most mentally and emotionally strong of individuals. As employers we always offer the standard supervisions strategically positioned at well placed points in the year. These supervisions are as much for us as staff, as we need to tick that box, but what can we do to really offer regular support to our staff in the way of decompressing after a challenging shift, or a taxing service user interaction? Offering our staff regular debrief sessions can really help with this.

Debrief – to carefully review upon completion

The idea of a debrief in health and social care, is that staff have a safe space to vent, discuss and decompress after a tricky shift, multiple shifts or a particular service user. There are always great days and there will always be more demanding days. To prevent those demanding days from escalating to unbearable days, an opportunity to discuss the situation with an understanding and listening ear is welcomed. This could be in the form of:

  • Group sessions
  • Individual sessions
  • Group video call sessions
  • Individual video call sessions

People tend to be more expressive when they can see another person’s face, which is why in person is the preferred option, followed by a video call if logistics prove too difficult.

This should not be used as an opportunity for disgruntled staff to squabble. It is an opportunity to offer staff to check in and making your presence known by actively saying ‘I’m here if you need me’ or ‘I realise we are going through a tough period now, how are you feeling?’ ‘What can we do to help?’

The intention of the discussion is to:

  • Be factual
  • Reflect
  • Realise how it makes the staff member feel
  • Find out how they think the service user or other individuals involved may feel
  • Form a plan on how to tackle the situation should it arise again
  • Suggest coping mechanisms to support the staff member if they are finding a situation that is likely to occur again very difficult; for example, looking after someone who is dying

All staff members should be made aware of the opportunity available for them to debrief after a difficult episode at work at induction. It would be good practice to remind them of this at their formal supervisions and in newsletters.

Situations that you are aware of that trigger the need to debrief without waiting for staff to approach you:

  • Caring for a dying service user
  • Caring/supporting a member of staff who has found a dead service user
  • Caring for a service user with an end-of-life diagnosis
  • A member of staff who has experienced conflict at work

At QCS we have a reflective practice form that you can use to document the discussion. Sometimes staff do not need to make a formal complaint, they need to know that they have management that they can go to, to decompress when they have an emotive period at work for whatever reason. Taking the time to do this will aid you greatly in having a more content and secure workforce.

Happy debriefing!


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