A chaplain’s view on sharing

  • Sumo

As a volunteer chaplain for about 15 years now, I know there are two types of group debrief that can happen after a major event. One type is useful, and the other is less useful and (thankfully) going out of fashion.

Situation group debrief
After a major event, it’s useful for the whole team to get together and assess how the situation went, to reflect on both good and bad. This helpful group work fits because the whole group faced the same situation, even though individual responsibilities were different.

Here are some typical questions asked:

“What was the scene like on arrival?”
“What were the patients’ presenting conditions?”
“What standard procedures did we follow? Did we need to modify anything?”
“Did the communication work?”

These are all quite functional: what the team did, and why. It reinforces procedures, investigates when creativity is required, and crystallises any lessons to hold on to.

Support group debrief
The unhelpful group debrief is an attempt to provide support, or psychological first aid, with everyone present. It tends to be a whip-around the group asking everyone, “How are you?” There are a couple of ways it can be a hindrance to support, rather than a help. (That’s why we don’t do this any more!)

The first problem is that people in a group are likely to say they are OK even if that’s not true. This lost opportunity is compounded by the likelihood that managers will hear, “We checked everyone, and they’re fine.”

Secondly, even if there is honest sharing, reactions vary by individual. And rightly so! There may have been just one event, but the numerous participants all bring their own character and history. Group sharing immediately post-event can cross-contaminate responses, or even undermine one’s reaction.

Imagine the following possible thoughts in such a group:

“Adam got teary and sad. Am I sick for not feeling anything much?”
“She got angry at the situation. Maybe that is what I feel, too.”
“Jo looks as calm as she said she is. I must be wrong for this job.”

A lesson in times of Covid-19
These two styles of group debrief came to mind because, it seems to me, in lockdown to reduce the spread of corona virus, social media is playing the role of a debriefing group. That’s good, but it’s also risky.

Social media is good to the extent that information needed by anyone can spread quickly. There is significant news to hear from governments, health agencies, the media, police, extended family, the sports club, schools, churches, local business, …

What’s risky is the amplification of fear and anxiety, or of lies and hatred. I’ve sometimes felt sucked in to a vortex of paranoia and cynicism when scrolling a social media feed. Even knowing this, it can be hard to get the fingers to stop instead of scroll! Even worse, this poisonous type of ‘group’ debrief does not even have the benefit of bringing people to be with each other – we’re still physically apart!

The lesson for me – and maybe for some others, too – is not to run away from all news and information. Rather, it’s important to get the appropriate info while being wary of the subtle dangers of having our reactions contaminated by those things we know are poison.