When your a caregiver, like many pastors, missionaries and counsellors it’s as if we are wearing a backpack and as we hear of people’s sad and traumatic stories we are taking the weight of their stories and filling up our backpacks.  

At the end of the day, we are carrying a lot of weight.  One of the ways that we can unload some of that weight is through debriefing.  

However, when we start unpacking the stories and release the burden we can unintentionally be just passing the weight onto our coworkers or even spouses.  

No wants to do this so often times we don’t say anything at all and just continue to carry that backpack and its weight grows with every appointment. 

In this video, I’m going to introduce a method of debriefing that will give you a way to debrief without passing on the burden to others.   With this strategy you find freedom and you build resilience. 


Just about everyone in a helping role can remember a time that they have, unknowingly traumatize their colleagues, friends and families with stories that probably had more details than necessary.

 I know I have had my fair share of shocked and blank stares when my response to the causal question of “so… What did you do today?” includes a story with a few too many unsavoury details.  

I want to introduce you to a strategy that prevents compassion fatigue and promotes a healthy workspace.  It’s a concept by Laurie Anne Pearlman and Karen Saakvitne called limited disclosure or Low-Impact- Debriefing. It is used to minimize the passing on of trauma by helpers who are informally debriefing with others.

As someone whose days are spent supporting and helping others; we can often become numb or desensitized to trauma so we are not aware of how shocking or distressing it can be for others to hear.  

Or perhaps it’s the opposite.

You are very aware of how distressing the stories can be and you hold it all in feeling like you can’t share with anyone about your experiences.  This can become a heavy burden and can feel extremely lonely. 

Low-Impact-Debriefing gives you the freedom to be able to talk and share with others without fear of re-traumatizing them and still provides you with all the support and care needed in sharing about the difficult work that you do. 

 

Low-Impact-Debriefing involves 4 key steps:

 

1. Self-awareness

It’s important to know what we are needing in debriefing.  Often times I just need someone to validate my work because I feel helpless and frustrated in the situation; therefore sharing the details aren’t necessary

 

2.  Fair warning

In everyday life when we are about to share bad or difficult news we often give a small warning that something negative is coming.  We say things like “I have some bad news to tell you” or “You’d better sit down”.  This allows the listener to brace themselves to hear what you are going to say.  

The same principle applies for debriefing.  If someone asks “How was your day?” and you share the graphic details of your day spent bedside at the hospital without giving them notice or warning the listener may be stunned or startled.  

It is important to provide fair warning to those we are going to share and debrief with so they can ready themselves to hear what might be difficult information.

 

3.  Consent

After you have given a warning to the listener, you need to ask for consent.  It can be as simple as saying, “I need to debrief something with you, is this a good time?” or  “I heard something really hard today, could I talk to you about it?”

The listener then has a chance to decline or to qualify what they are able and ready to hear.  For example, a family member might say to you, I’m right in the middle of something, can we talk later tonight?  Or a co-worker could say, “ I have 15 minutes and I can hear some of the story, but would you be able to tell me what happened without any of the gory details? Or perhaps they could ask “ Is this about children ( or whatever the trigger is)?  If it’s about children, I’m probably the wrong person to talk to; but otherwise, I’m fine to hear it. “ 

No one likes to get bulldozed when someone says “hey got a minute..” and they don’t wait to hear the answer but rush right into the story.

Giving space and permission for the person to answer builds trust and removes any guilt for sharing from you because they have provided you with permission and boundaries.

 

4.  Limited disclosure 

Now that you have received consent, you can decide how much of the story you will share.  Imagine your story as being contained inside a circle.  You start your story on the outer edge of the circle, which is the least traumatic information and you slowly moving around the circle gradually in towards the core or the very traumatic information giving opportunity for the listener to control the flow of what you are sharing.  

 

When you have used the Low-Impact-Debriefing strategy you are aware of your own needs for debriefing and you have warned the listener so they are able to brace themselves for what they are about to hear.  You have gained permission and boundaries and you started the story on the outer edge with the least amount of graphic detail.  

This process gives you the freedom to share and allows the listener opportunity to ready themselves and limit the content according to their needs.  Respecting both their needs and yours.

I feel it’s important to note that the confidentiality of the person your support is important.  Respecting their privacy is our ethical responsibility.  

Often times we are working in small communities or in churches where everyone knows each other’s business, so privacy and trust is a priority.  By starting at the outer edge we can speak in vague terms. 

For example.  When debriefing with your spouse “I met with someone today who share some awful things that happened to them as a child.  It made me so sad for them and angry that I can’t do anything about it.”  Details of the trauma were minimal and we were able to share about our day and how we felt about it without breaking privacy or burdening the listener.  

I hope you are able to use this low-impact debriefing strategy.  If you’re looking for more information HERE is an article that has more detailed information about this debriefing strategy.