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Master of Health Information Science


Health Information Science


Dr. Abram Oudshoorn

2nd Supervisor

Dr. Anita Kothari


The aim of this research was to understand current practices of debriefing being used or not used in community social service organizations and the presumed frameworks or evidence justifying these practices in London, Ontario. The geographical area under concern has seen an increasing poverty gap, lack of affordable housing, toxic drug crisis, with mental health issues being exasperated by the pandemic. Social service agencies are overwhelmed with caseloads, creating an increase in need of care for frontline workers, as they are the first point of contact for many. This research utilized an interpretive description methodology to explore workers’ experiences and created a unique opportunity to hear practice-based knowledge from those who live the concept of concern, namely debriefing. Qualitative data were collected from staff at the 10 participating organizations, 41 participants completed online text-based surveys with 9 one-on-one interviews conducted through the Zoom platform. The results show that more than half of the sample were receiving some form of debriefing. Participants’ perceptions were further examined revealing a strong connection between two sub-themes underpinning the broader challenge of a ‘fear of disclosing’: being conceived as weak and having had traumatizing debriefing episodes in the past. Participants felt stigmatized when reaching for help, resulting in an unintentional ‘mental health stigma’ by co-workers and at an organizational level. Ultimately, we find that workers have a willingness to communicate with peers privately about their experiences but often do not feel safe enough to do so in current models of debriefing, resulting from an environment that ‘lacked psychological safety’. This study shows that most frontline workers who participated in this study, desired better organizational-led debriefing practices, rooted in evidence-based models.

Summary for Lay Audience

Purpose of Study

This study focused on understanding current practices of debriefing being used [not used] in community and/or non-profit social service organizations and any frameworks or evidence justifying these practices. There is a lot of research looking at what contributes to psychological stress and mental health risks experienced by frontline workers, but this hasn’t led to the creation of clear standards for doing good debriefing.

Data Collection

Data were collected through online tools (i.e., short answer) from 10 organizations, 41 participants completed the questionnaire, with 12% male, 83% female and 5% preferred not to say. Participants were than given the opportunity to participate further via in-depth interviews over the Zoom platform, of which 9 participants choose to share their experiences.


The results demonstrated that over half the sample were receiving debriefing, performed in a variety of ways, from: daily debriefs to critical incidents, and were either peer or management led. The majority of debriefs were unstructured and peer-led. Through further analysis of the data, key themes were found, indicating that community social service workers felt a lack of psychological safety in the workplace. Themes were found from the perceptions and experiences of workers, showing a desire for open and supportive communication but some felt unsafe to disclose their triggered trauma responses, resulting in felt mental health stigma.


This study recognizes the challenges that community social service workers and organizations are faced with, resulting in creating and executing their own debriefs, without any specific evidence-based guides in place. This study stresses the importance of creating psychologically inclusive spaces for social service and community workers. Although, more research is needed to create a standard debriefing guide geared toward social service and community workers specifically.