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Apprehended Without Warrant: Issues of Evidentiary Warrant for Critical Incident Services and Related Trauma Interventions in a Federal Law Enforcement Agency

NCJ Number
Criminal Justice and Behavior Volume: 35 Issue: 10 Dated: October 2008 Pages: 1337-1353
Katherine M. Newbold; Jeffrey M. Lohr; Richard Gist
Date Published
October 2008
17 pages
Based on scientific evidence, this article questions the effectiveness of Critical Incident Stress Debriefing and Management (CISD) within law enforcement (with a focus on the FBI), which has been promoted as a means of managing the presumed ill effects of occupational exposure to stressful career episodes; and it notes the professional difficulties that have resulted from CISD and how such difficulties could have been avoided.
CISD is based on the assumption that exposure to events perceived as traumatic can result in the development of psychological symptoms that can grow to pathological proportions absent early intervention that provides emotional release and guidance in constructive coping with the impact of the traumatic event. The CISD intervention is most often conducted in groups and is typically administered within 24 to 72 hours following a stressful event. A definitive review of the theory and research on psychological debriefing by McNally, Bryant, and Ehlers (2003) concluded, however, that there is no convincing empirical evidence that psychological debriefing prevents posttraumatic stress disorder. Randomized controlled trials of individualized debriefing and comparative nonrandomized studies of group debriefing have failed to confirm CISD’s effectiveness. Some evidence suggests that it may impede natural recovery. The review advises that for scientific and ethical reasons, professionals should cease compulsory debriefing for trauma-exposed individuals. Under its Employee Assistance Program (EAP), the FBI has promoted CISD through persuasion based on the assumption that it has been scientifically validated as a needed service for personnel exposed to traumatic events in the course of performing their duties. This article argues that the promotion of CISD is an unethical and possibly detrimental exposure of employees to an unproven and risky treatment regimen that may obstruct and/or delay them from receiving prompt referral for evidence-based clinical intervention when indicated by valid psychological screening. 90 references