This paper reports part of a larger exploratory research study of social workers' preferred models of critical incident stress management and experiences of critical incident stress debriefing. Social workers were invited to contribute to the research through an advertisement in the national association's newsletter for Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers. Using a qualitative methodology involving in-depth interviews with 13 social workers, participants were asked about their experiences of critical events encountered within their workplaces over the last five years. Interviews were recorded by audiotape with consent and analysed using thematic analysis. Four main themes emerged: the importance of preparation for critical incidents, the role of relationship between line managers and social workers, specifically the line manager's support immediately after the critical incident, and the availability of peer/colleague networks. An unexpected finding was that social workers interviewed noted that the pre-existing relationship with the line manager influenced their experience of the debriefing process itself. The more engaged and emotionally aware the manager was seen, the more the social worker claimed the debriefing process had been successful from their perspectives. The implications for social workers and their employing agencies are discussed.