Objective: To identify literature concerning the effectiveness of psychological debriefing (PD) and analyse results according to different criteria of success and different uses of the intervention format.
Method: Literature search was made in databases PubMed, PsycInfo and Psychlit. Twenty-five studies were selected for a thorough description. Forty-two studies provided additional information.
Results: Results indicate that, in general, debriefing does not prevent psychiatric disorders or mitigate the effects of traumatic stress, even though people generally find the intervention helpful in the process of recovering from traumatic stress. The intervention holds potential as a screening procedure, and there may be economic arguments for continued use. When used with adherence to traditional descriptions of treatment group, events, group format, leadership and time spent, a preventive effect emerges. No tendency according to timing was found.
Conclusion: Current uses of PD are problematic. The concept needs to be redefined, and the scope of application must be revised. The objectives for use need to be clarified.