Why You Need a Debriefing. Yes You.

Why, Not How
This will be about why debriefings are needed, not how to offer them. There are some great trainings on debriefing out there. Such a skill set requires more than a mere blog entry.

Debriefing gets a bit of a negative rap. Too often I hear people say they do not need a debriefing because they are doing “fine” as in they have no major “emotional problems” or  life crises to deal with.

Debriefings are not only for those who are struggling. Everyone needs to be debriefed – and regularly. Everyone. Regularly. Including yourself. 

Here are some reasons we all need regular debriefings:

The Accumulative Effect
It was a major “aha” moment when the dynamic of accumulation was introduced to me. Often we think in terms of a major life event, for example, a traumatic event like a coup or car accident, which causes us to need debriefing help. Indeed, those sorts of traumatic events do require prompt debriefing. But I have come to learn that the normal experiences of life can accumulate in our internal worlds.

Even with a slow drip, the cup eventually fills to overflowing. Stress, loss, ungrieved losses (if a loss is not named and recognized, it cannot be grieved), and other life events all pile up in our lives and internal worlds. Each such event has a definitive impact on us and that impact accumulates. A regular debriefing affords us the opportunity to prevent accumulation. And it allows us to start anew, with a fresh start for the next chapter.

If you have never had a formal, personal debriefing, then may I encourage you to begin to wade into your accumulation of life. You will be amazed at the “load” off of your soul. Life accumulates. Period. Each life event has an impact on us, whether a joyful or a sad event.

Because of this reality, we need more than one debriefing in life. We ought seek out debriefing regularly. Life continues to impact us. More on this in a bit.

The Perspective Gift
In a life that is full of change, and the cross-cultural life is immersed in constant change, we often lose perspective. Sitting across from another person who is present to listen to your story and mirror back to you what is being heard is a profound gift. This process affords the opportunity for reframing, re-catagorizing, gaining words, terms and names – in short, gaining perspective about ourselves, others, and life experiences.

Without such perspective, life can feel like walking in a fog bank. You might be familiar with this particular place, but there is “stuff” going on inside of you that is disorienting. A debriefing is the opportunity to sort through that “stuff” and gain insight from it.

The Wisdom Mine
One of the graces God has provided for us to grow into a man or woman of wisdom is life events. Of course, these life events must be filtered through the grid of his Word. Life experiences that are not reflected upon, pondered and discussed with wise counselors, however, are a profound loss of potential wisdom. We learn from life. When we go from one life event to another week after week, month after month, year after year without reflection- well, we have missed out on a gold mine of life lessons that could grow us in wisdom. The book of Proverbs has one word for the person who does not take time to reflect upon life lessons: fool. A debriefing allows us to reflect upon what we have done, experienced, and better understand the impact it has had on us and what we can learn from it to guide us in future decisions and similar experiences.

Kids Need Debriefing Too
Be not fooled here. Kids need to tell their stories too. We often say kids are like sponges. Indeed. They are absorbing far more that we realize. Even the youngest of children who can share their story benefit from child-debriefing specialists. If you won’t go to a program for yourself, sign the family up for the kids’ sake. One of the end gifts is a common language for a family to process stress, change, and transition together.

We All Need Debriefing
My wife and I are debriefers. We have come to see the wisdom of debriefing. We have been gifted with hearing hundreds and hundreds of cross-cultural workers’ stories which has not only informed our own work but been used by God to shape our own hearts. We are so convinced of the need for regular debriefing that we seek to be debriefed ourselves after any major event – whether a series of meetings, a ministry event, an international trip, or a life transition (e.g. We have a son graduating from college. We will talk that one over for sure because it does impact us). Sometimes we debrief ourselves. Many times we need someone to help us unpack with good questions so we can hear what they are hearing. This simple choice helps us avoid life accumulation, allows us to keep perspective, and gifts us in growing in wisdom.

Shepherd: If you have never been debriefed, please stop, drop and roll on into a program someplace. Immediately. Seriously, gift yourself in allowing another shepherd to guide you through a personal debriefing. Also, debriefing is a skill set all shepherds can have in their repertoire. Check out MTI’s CODAR program as but one example of a great training.  Be forewarned, CODAR fills up in weeks. Sign up for next year and you might get in.

Be a debriefing evangelist. Encourage workers to seek a debriefing everywhere you go. It is like an annual physical – it is preventative medicine to keep us healthy. Let’s do whatever we can to aid workers to remain on the field doing their crucial work for the King.

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7 Responses to Why You Need a Debriefing. Yes You.

  1. Judy says:

    Thanks, Scott, for making such a good case for regular debriefings as we travel through life. I know they’ve made a huge difference in our own lives, and we greatly appreciate how you and our other Barnabas leaders not only model this but encourage us through your own sincere questions, listening, and care.


  2. Nicholas Todd says:

    After several unsuccessful attempts the past 8 months to sign up for MTI’s – Codar program I just called to say I was committed and wanted to be put on a wait list for ANY future program. Dates didn’t matter. I’ll be there.

    Thanks for your contribution, Scott. It’s valued.


  3. Nairy says:

    Thanks Scott- count me in as a debriefing evangelist! I like the analogy to an annual physical. Vital for everyone. And I am a strong advocate that a “delayed” debrief is better than no debrief. It is really never too late to process and unpack seasons and experiences of life. Thanks!


  4. Courtney says:

    Thank you for your valuable thoughts. Between opportunities to experience debriefing with someone else, do you have any suggestions of questions I can use to take myself through some debriefing? Any favorite resources out there?


    • Scott S says:


      Thanks for your response. And excellent question. I’d love to open this up to the numerous readers of this sight – what are some helpful self-debriefing ideas?

      Key elements of any debriefing conversation can reflect on one’s inner world (e.g. emotionally and spiritually); relationships; how life is impacting me physically; stressors I am living with; transitions; personal vitality; losses and how they are to be grieved; gains and lessons learned. Those type of topics are helpful. At the conclusion of an extensive international trip or major ministry event I will spend some time journalling on such topics. This begins to feel less like a formal debriefing and more like personal reflection.

      Personally, I have found the practice of personal reflection very important and helpful. I like to take time on a sabbath morning to reflect upon my inner world – what are the emotions I am primary experiencing; what is the state of my spiritual vitality; what have I found myself thinking about and praying about as I go through my days; how have I observed myself responding to others and life and what might be driving that (whether the responses are healthy and mature or not); what have I heard God or others say to me that I must take note of; how are my close relationships; is there anyone I need to be spending time with. These types of ponderings help keep me aware of what is going on inside of me, how I am responding to God and others, and what I must be mindful of.

      These are some of my random thoughts. Other readers, please chime in.

      Courtney, what have you found personally helpful?



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