What is a Defusing & Why Do Them?
A defusing is an interactive group process conducted a short time after a group has been exposed to a traumatic event. At its core, a defusing is a very simple process. It is broken into three different parts: the Introduction phase, the Exploration phase, and an Information phase. Each of these stages serve a very specific role in successfully completing a defusing. By working through these parts, the main goal is to mitigate the impact of the traumatic event by stabilizing the traumatized group and restoring unit cohesion. It helps reset a person’s processing compass. In a sense, the objective is to render something harmless before it can do damage by getting the right kind of help at the right place and time.
To be very clear, a defusing is extremely time limited. It is designed for intervention in the heat of the moment. As Jacob Lindy, MD, of Cincinnati Psychoanalytic Institute states, “The trauma membrane begins to form shortly after the trauma in a very vulnerable time for the person. People cannot tolerate vulnerability for very long. Soon the trauma membrane is intact, and the person is more protected. The trauma membrane can also block help from entering. That is why early intervention is so important”. As many studies have been done in this arena, the ideal situation would be to organize a defusing within a few hours of an event, or at least prior to the first responder getting off their shift that day. Jacob Lindy, “A defusing will give people direction and lay out a road map toward recovery before the membrane is fully formed. The defusing can help the person to sort out something while the trauma membrane is in effect and their recovery process is made a little easier because they have received messages such as, “You are not alone.” “Someone cares about you.” “Here are some steps that may help you as you try to recover.” It is in a defusing that we often realize that someone else may have the missing piece to the puzzle in order for ourselves to find closure we need.
The reestablishment of unit cohesion is the most powerful effect of a defusing. Once unit cohesion is back in place, it is the hope that unit performance is back and running on all cylinders. The usual follow-up to a defusing is individual support (primarily done by trained peer support and/or a chaplain) and a Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD) for the group. This is where we look to key individuals to properly assess and strategically employ the best intervention moving forward after a defusing.
We know through studies, that an effective defusing helps decrease the potential of future health issues in our first responders such as PTSD, anxiety, and the list goes on. But for this to happen, the defusing has to happen. So, be aware, be observant, be engaged, and always care about your fellow peers. Remember, what doesn’t seem like a traumatic event to you, may be traumatic for your fellow team member, and they could truly benefit from what a defusing has to offer.
Chaplain David Green
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