Have you ever tried to talk to someone about your overseas experience and been met with a blank look, or the glazed-eye-expression? Or found that someone immediately moves the conversation on to their own favourite toilet story? Or that time when they were in that place the opposite side of the continent to you?

In my February blog post on experimenting during re-entry, I very briefly mentioned how important endings are. One of the ways to bring a sense of closure to your time overseas is by talking about it. And often you don’t get that chance because others aren’t able to listen.


Debriefing offers you the possibility of processing your time overseas. A chance to look back at the good and the challenging aspects or being there. To be truly heard by someone who understands and is fascinated by your story.

Personal debriefing

A debrief is generally a 2-3 hour conversation with a trained debriefer, who helps you to process and reflect on your time overseas. There are week-long versions in the form of a retreat as well, but I am focusing here on the short version!

During a good debrief, you should feel like you have not only been heard but also understood; you may lay a few demons to rest; and see that your stress reactions weren’t any worse than anyone else’s in a similar situation; you will feel encouraged and stimulated by what you have learned and taken away from the experience.

What I am describing is a personal debrief, not an organisational one. Whilst organisations need their debriefing to work out how the processes have been from a work point of view, it is really important to have the chance to process the impact the placement has had on you personally. And sometimes that is better done outside the organisation, as many problems can arise within work environments.

The need for debriefing

Unfortunately debriefing is far from common, which is why I wanted to put some of these thoughts out there.


It can seem very odd to pay someone to listen to you. But as you well know, when it comes to describing your overseas experience, there are not many people who actually listen well and get where you’re coming from.

Missions organisations in the UK are generally ahead of the game on this one – not all of them, but many are. They offer a debrief when their personnel return from overseas – increasingly getting someone from outside the organisation to come in. I would love to see debriefs offered to all personnel as part of their contract of care, not just as an optional extra.

But secular companies are less good at recognising the need, hence individuals often have to seek a debrief out for themselves – if they know they exist!

How to organise a debrief

There are many ways to go about having a debrief:

  • find a debriefer in your local area using an online search
  • ask your organisation to find you a debriefer
  • get in touch to find out more or arrange a debrief with me – face-to-face or online

More information about debriefing can be found in the articles Debriefing and Coaching and Debriefing research.

Caveat #1: a debrief is important during re-entry, but may not be the only support you need. Don’t hesitate to keep on asking others for help during your time of adjustment – whether friends, family or a coach / therapist.

Caveat #2: Debriefing comes in different shapes and sizes. The type of debrief I am talking about is structured, as listed in Appendix 1 of my debriefing research article. It provides much more benefit than any sort of unstructured debrief.

20th March 2019