As someone who wants to advance faith-based global trauma recovery efforts, I am always on the prowl for effective interventions that could be sustainably used by local caregivers. However, it is always important to ask whether a popular or up-and-coming intervention has been fully vetted. Sadly, “does it work?” and “does it work here?” are often not fully answered before an intervention is promoted as the next best thing.
One of the most popular forms of immediate trauma intervention is called “Critical Incident Stress Debriefing,” a one time group intervention designed to forestall long-term trauma due to stressors. When you think of CISD, think of interventions with police or fire fighters or military after a traumatic experience.
But, does it work? This post here provides a helpful summary of the critique, even though it was published 2 years ago. As I read this I remembered an American Psychologist article on the same topic–but for the life of me I can’t find it. My recollection of this fantasy article is that these interventions seem to be helpful for about 50% of those who participate but that at this point it is not possible to tell which 50% will find it helpful. And further, a portion of the other 50% are actually harmed by it.
I was perusing the Journal of Psychology and Christianity (27:1, 2008; pp. 61-65) this morning and saw Siang-Yang Tan’s mini article entitled, “Potentially Harmful Therapies: Psychological Treatments That Can Cause Harm.” He was working of a similarly titled article by the so-called Ralph Nader of Psychology, Scott Lilienfeld of Emory U. (in Perspectives on Psychological Science, v. 2:1, 2007, pp. 53-70).
Some therapies on the PHT list would not surprise you. For example, Tan lists re-birthing techniques where you wrap up your client in blankets put them between the therapist’s legs so they can be healed from their birth trauma. Sadly, a teenager suffocated not that long ago here in PA when an unlicensed person attempted this with her client. Also, Tan lists the use of hypnosis with those with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID).
But, you may be surprised to find that Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD) also makes the list of PHTs. CISD (aka CISM) has been used for years with police and fire fighters to help them debrief from traumatic experiences and the thinking is that this prophylactic intervention helps exposed individuals avoid problems such as PTSD. But there is evidence that such care may not only not help some individuals, it might actually harm others by increasing their arousal and those inclined to be hyperaroused appear to do better with no debriefing. For more of a critique of debreifing see DeVilly, Gist, & Cotton’s 2006 article in the Review of General Psychology (10:4) entitled, “Ready! Fire! Aim! …”
While CISD is not without merit and not always harmful, its popularity and widespread use without careful analysis should give us pause.
What widely accepted methods of Christian counseling also have the potential for harm?