Other than the critical incident stress debriefing, the defusing is one of the most frequently used Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) techniques. Defusings are short debriefings. Defusings generally last less than one hour and provide CISM team members with an immediate opportunity to ask a wide range of questions about the critical incident. As in the debriefing, participants are not required to talk during the defusing. It is recommended that defusings be conducted within the first eight hours of the resolution of a traumatic event.

Three Phases
The critical incident stress defusing consists of three phases:

  1. Introduction – Here the CISM team members introduce themselves, describe the defusing process, set forth the guidelines, and encourage participation.
  2. Exploration – In this segment, team members ask the participants to describe their experience of the critical incident. During this time, the group is permitted to talk freely while the team members monitor the participants’ comments. As the group discusses their experiences, the team members can also ask appropriate questions to learn more about the most important parts of the critical incident. As the discussion begins to fall off, the discussion moves to the third and final phase.
  3. Information – During this phase, team members provide participants with information designed to help them cope during the next few days until the distress resolves on its own or until the team can organize a formal debriefing, if one is deemed necessary. This information consists of suggestions regarding rest, diet, and exercise as well as other stress control strategies.


The critical incident stress defusing will generally result in one of two outcomes. First, it may eliminate the need for a formal debriefing. Participants receive valuable coping information during defusing that, if attended to, can go a long way in mitigating the impact of the critical incident and in accelerating their recovery. In addition, participants come away from a defusing with more information about the incident than they started with and, again, this has proven to be beneficial to the recovery process.

The second possible outcome of a defusing can be to enhance a subsequent formal debriefing. Participants who have attended a defusing will generally have a good idea of what to expect in a debriefing and, hopefully, will have realized the benefit of participating in such a group process. In addition, the team that conducts the defusing will often be part of the larger team that conducts the debriefing. Thus, this Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) team will have more information about the incident and the involved parties prior to the debriefing. The team will also have a better understanding of the impact of the event on many of the participants.


As mentioned earlier, both critical incident stress debriefing and defusing are among the two most utilized processes under the CISM umbrella. Neither model should be employed by anyone other than trained mental health professionals and other trained CISM team personnel. It should also be emphasized that the CISM process is but one crisis intervention model among others available to Federal agencies.


OPM.Gov.(Feb 1998). Dealing with Workplace Violence. Retrieved from http://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/worklife/reference- materials/workplaceviolence.pdf


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