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Impact of traumatic and/or stressing experiences: prevention and intervention strategies


Telematic Master: Impact of traumatic and/or stressing experiences: prevention and intervention strategies

Scientific literature highlighted the pathogenic potentials of traumas which involve a personal experience of powerlessness and loss of self-control. In recent years, empirical research has been trying to identify more distinctive and specific connections between the traumas suffered and the appearance of specific psychopathologic symptoms. First of all, it tried to define trauma considered as “an event that is typically outside the scope of common human experience” in operational terms (APA, 1980), and which involved a threat to life or serious physical damage or a threat to the physical integrity of self or of others (APA, 1994); i.e. that, by using the term “trauma”, it meant to indicate an objective event which is clearly identifiable (accident, physical violence, sexual abuse, diseases, for instance) and not to refer to generic negative and/or stressing experiences. Secondly, it pointed out that there is no unavoidable link between trauma and psychopathologic symptoms, highlighting that 70% of cases of traumatic events do not result in lasting symptoms (Kessler, Sonega, Bromet, Hughes, Nelson, 1995). However, it was also estimated that 30% of cases the immediate and long-term consequences of maltreatment, abuse and other traumatic experiences (like being involved in natural disasters or in situations of violence) lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Anyway, by these mere statistical data, we are unable to understand actual relations existing between the traumatic and sometimes complex experience and its effects in the span of life this individual is crossing. Actually, not always the works that dealt with the description of the PTSD clinical situation, its origins and its possible appearance in childhood, in adolescence and adult age, do agree. Through the acquisition of competences on the latest neurocognitive studies, there is evidence that subjects, who are victims of traumas, present interferences occurring in different areas: for instance, attachment (Liotti, 1993), biological functioning (Steinberg, 2005), emotional adjustment, dissociative experiences (Calamari and Pini, 2003), behavioural control, cognitive functioning and finally the concept of Self (Fonagy and Target, 2001). It has been noted that people experiencing a trauma can incur into alterations of the neurobiological processes related to stimula discrimination of stimulus and can suffer from physical disorders intrinsically linked to their inability to work out the event in question (Atlas, Wolfson, Lipschitz, 1995; Krystal, 1988; van der Kolk, 1996; Varvin, 1999). These individuals often have troubles in attention and concentration capacities caused by their need to obsessively and intrusively re-experience the non-worked-out trauma or caused by hyperactivation and greater awareness towards stimuli (Gold, 1995; McGough, 1983; McNally, Lasko, Mackin, Pitman, 1995; Zeitlin e McNally, 1991). Moreover, these alterations can make the “shift to acting” easier and the ensuing adoption of antisocial and destructive behaviours; and this gives way to behavioural instability directed to discharge this surplus of arousal.


Based on theoretical literature in the field and considering the many stressing and/ore traumatic events occurring in our society, we propose the implementation of a computer-based Master’s course that can offer a complete training on prevention, understanding and management of traumatic experiences by involving practitioners working on the field, technicians and public health care professionals.
In particular, this computer-based Master’s course is aimed at the following specific objectives:
1) prevent the impact of traumatic experiences;
2) implement individual and social resiliency skills;
3) structuring a social network to meet emergency situation;
4) maintain the skills to adequately cope with situations of danger;
5) plan targeted interventions in relation to specific populations and cultures of origin.

Teaching programme

We plan the implementation of two computer-based courses: a one-year Master’s course and a six-month Diploma. Both courses are structured according these three areas:
1) Assessment and research area: psychological and neurobiological consequences of traumatic experiences;
2) Psychosocial area: prevention and support;
3) Specific interventions.
Learning tools:  the courses will based on face-to-face lessons, meetings to discuss about contents, bibliographical reference on the proposed issues, meetings to review the individual work of each participant, focus groups on personal traumas experienced. We shall use the latest computer-based tools, television, videoconferencing, Skype, virtual classrooms. We shall realise a virtual platform enabling to organise web-based meetings moderated by a facilitator to explain personal experiences linked to emotional and behavioural management of stressing and/or traumatic situations described by the learners.
Course organisation: the lessons will be delivered by experts at National and International level working in renowned research institutes and universities (International Telematic University UNINETTUNO, University of Rome “La Sapienza”, University of Molise, Massachusetts Institute of Technology;). We shall organise several meetings about various thematic areas that will be studied more in depth from theoretical, practical-experiential and collaborative communicative and peer-to-peer perspective. Psychologists and psychotherapists expert in group dynamics will organise computer-based groups. In addition, we shall organise a secretariat to manage all the formal procedures for both courses.
The following thematic issues will be dealt with according to a theoretical-experiential perspective:
Module I – Risk situations, resilience and protection factors
Module II – Attachment: adaptation, security and disorganisation
Module III – Stress post-traumatic disorder: difficulties and debate in making a diagnosis
Module IV: The impact of traumatic experiences on (social, family) setting
Module V: Psychological dynamics and neurobiological maturation
Module VI: Clinical and diagnostic assessment of stress post-traumatic disorder in childhood, adolescence and in adult life
Module VII: Strategies of intervention in post-traumatic situations 

Expected Results

Both courses will give the students the opportunity to enter a communication social network among different professional profiles that will be respectively engaged in managing crises and emergencies basically aiming at preventing undesired outcomes and make appropriate interventions on the traumatised population. In addition, by establishing web-based focus groups, the communication of individual traumatic experiences will be favoured through a collective understanding of them and by mastering conflicting feelings. Upon completion of the one-year Master’s course students will be enabled to master the main issues dealt with, acquiring direct knowledge of experiences related to traumatic and/or stressing events by means of group discussions and supervised meetings. In addition, students will be enabled to plan a specific intervention in crisis situation using the main intervention techniques specifically implemented to face any emergencies involving individuals or the community. Upon completion of the six-month Diploma the students will get to know the man theoretical orientations linked to the significance of trauma through learning experience that will enable them to express and understand individual traumatic and/or stressing experiences. In addition, students will be enabled to actively take part in a specific intervention in crisis situations, since they got to know the main intervention techniques.


Teaching method

The teaching method is based on the Internet and in the “Master” section of the portal , the first portal of the world where teaching is delivered in 4 languages: Italian, English, French and Arabic.
The psycho-pedagogic model that is characterised by the shift:
·         From teacher’s central role to the student’s central role;
·         From knowledge transfer to knowledge creation;
·         From a passive and competitive learning to active and collaborative learning
Students play an active role in their own learning process and can study whenever and wherever they prefer to. Along their training path, students are supported by an online tutoring system that facilitate their training and web-based communication path and that supplies them with the tools the tools to carry out their study of a specific subject successfully.
Online tutoring is organised in classes of students and is based on a advanced system of agenda that can acknowledge any individual student and therefore customise and get the tracking of all training activities and qualitative and quantitative evaluation of the each individual student’s learning progress.

How to study

The didactic activities on the Internet unfold in the Web-based macro-area, called the Didactic Cyberspace. In the Didactic Cyberspace the training and learning process takes place and access profiles are diversified through customized logins and passwords based on the three different roles played by the actors of the learning process: Professors, Tutors and Students. These three categories of users can access the same information related to each course. In particular the Professors and Tutors can edit or replace training materials and add new ones for the whole course delivery period, whereas the student has at his disposal an area where he can enter data, information and personal notes.
The student can access:
  • the Page of the Appointed Teaching Professor
  • the Page of the Tutor.
On these pages there are the Learning Environments where is possible to access:
Didactic Materials which represent the course contents:
Digitized video lessons including bookmarks allowing for hypertextual and multimedia linking to books, selected bibliographical references, texts of the exercises, lists of selected websites. The system of dynamic bookmarks gives the Internet-based videolessons a hypertextual character allowing different levels of navigation: from one lesson to the other one, among subjects of a single lesson, between the materials referring to the same subject.
Distance Tutoring:
the students enrolled in the Master’s course will be assisted in every step of their study path by Telematic Professors-Tutors. The Telematic Professor-Tutor, represents a guide as well as a constant presence along the Learning Process. The distance Tutoring activities may be carried out in two ways:
- in a synchronic manner, by using chats, videochats, video and audio-conferencing, implemented in the Didactic Cyberspace, but also the three-dimensional classroom created on the UTIU Island of knowledge on Second Life.
- in a diachronic manner, through tools such as e-mail and discussion forums on the Internet. The discussion forums, related to the topics of a given teaching subject, enable to enlarge dialogue and trigger a collaborative learning and give the opportunity for autonomous thinking on the issue being discussed and on the study activities carried on.
The virtual classroom in UNINETTUNO Island of Knowledge on Second Life
On UNINETTUNO (International Telematic University) Island of Knowledge we realised a 3D Auditorium devoted to the Master’s course. In this environment the students and professors/tutors’ avatars interact in the three-dimensional world of UNINETTUNO by their voice. Practice work, assessment tests and videoconferences with the protagonists of the European Union attending through their avatars are carried out, as well as real-time practice activities guided by the professors/tutors’ avatars.
In the virtual classroom of Second Life on the UNINETTUNO Island of Knowledge the students and the professors/tutors teach and learn in a collaborative and cooperative way; they build and share knowledge with people belonging to different political, cultural and religious settings, they dialogue, cultural differences are confronted, socialization processes are implemented as well as the creation of new knowledge.