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Why Do Short Term Volunteers Need Debriefing?

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Marie Therese Fanning reflects on debriefing. A friend of mine often asks quite cynically, why short-term volunteers need debriefing. I love that question as it gives me an opportunity to explain that it is often not the duration of the placement overseas that matters but the intensity or impact of the placement on the individual volunteer.

In addition, because we cannot gauge this reaction debriefing should be offered to all overseas staff regardless of duration. Someone returning from a 6 week placement might have had a very intense experience and without the benefit of a structured debriefing may struggle with how to make sense of the experience now that they are back home.

Debriefing, gets bad press, sometimes from people who have never had a “personal debriefing” or see it as something for “problem cases”. Well, I would like to make the case for debriefing for all, regardless of the duration. Its relevancy should be seen in terms of honouring an organisation’s’ duty of care to its volunteers or development workers by providing a two part debriefing service starting with an operational debrief focusing on the work and followed by a personal debriefing which is for the benefit of the individual. Then there is, of course, the critical incident debriefing following a traumatic event.

Debriefing is also relevant for staff and Board Members who visit the field. Unlike longer term development workers, short term visitors often cram so much into these highly prized visits that there can be insufficient time to process the experience.

If you would like to read more about debriefing, see Dr Debbie Lowell-Hawker’s excellent manual. I would recommend it to all HR personnel, desk officers and managers. I work as a debriefing practitioner and am more than happy to engage on any aspect of debriefing. Marie Therese

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