SCS Partnering with Expert for Innovative Course on Trauma

2010-2011 Issue 2

The team that created the iTrauma course (left to right): Dr. Carmen Sicilia, Solange Richard, Jean-Paul Rémillieux and Oksana Maibroda, and clinical psychologist Christophe Herbert (right)

McGill Professor’s Expertise Reaches an International Audience

Since high-profile incidents like the 9/11 attacks almost 10 years ago, medical and psychology researchers and practitioners have been making great headway in better understanding post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and how to treat it. This is reassuring news because, according to one American study, 90% of us will experience a traumatic event in our lifetime, and 9% of us will likely develop PTSD at some point.

PTSD can result from experiencing or witnessing such things as natural or man-made disasters, crimes, accidents or domestic violence. The often debilitating effects of this disorder – which can be considered akin to a physical injury that leaves the victim with psychological scars – include constantly reliving the traumatic event, depression, guilt, suicidal thoughts and avoidance behaviours.

Educating a Global Audience About PTSD

Dr. Alain Brunet

One local expert and his team are doing a great deal to inform both fellow professionals and the general public about PTSD. Through their informative Info-Trauma ( website, they are at the forefront of an impressive awareness campaign. Launched several years ago by Dr. Alain Brunet, an associate professor at McGill’s Department of Psychiatry, and his colleagues at the Douglas Hospital, the website provides FAQs, case studies and professional tools to help others identify PTSD symptoms and aid trauma victims.

Dr. Brunet’s latest initiative is a short online iTrauma course – developed and launched by the School of Continuing Studies – which allows health-care professionals to learn important information about PTSD in a convenient self-guided format with a final attestation. In just seven hours of instruction, the course covers the major concepts and equips individuals to identify and evaluate the symptoms of PTSD and related ailments. Based on this knowledge, they will be able to counsel victims and family members, and even perform triage for trauma victims in the event of an accident or disaster.

One of Dr. Brunet’s colleagues, Christophe Herbert, a clinical psychologist and PhD candidate, is thrilled about making the iTrauma course available to interested individuals around the world. “The Internet provides us with an excellent way to disseminate key PTSD information to help those dealing with or treating trauma victims. By collaborating with instructional design and technical experts at the School of Continuing Studies, we are delivering this educational material to health-care professionals or students wherever they are: in the office, at home or on the road.”

Easy-to-Follow Modules Teach Trauma Basics

Anyone can take the iTrauma course since there are no prerequisites. Once individuals sign up, they have 30 days to complete it, working through the 90-minute modules at their own pace. The course explains the basics of trauma and then presents typical patient responses to traumatic events and how to identify the frequency and intensity of symptoms. The course includes a video of a psychologist interacting with an actor who plays the role of a victim. At the end, students take a two-part final examination, which they can repeat if they do not pass it the first time.

With word getting out about this highly accessible course, thousands of health-care professionals and students are likely to sign up to learn more about PTSD for work or study purposes. In Quebec alone, up to 3,000 employees from the Quebec Ministry of Health and Social Services are slated to take the course. And given its valuable content and convenient Web-based format, Dr. Brunet and his colleagues have already had requests to make it available in additional international languages.

Continuing Studies Experts Cooperate With Many McGill Units

A lot of work went into making the iTrauma course a simple user experience, courtesy of Jean-Paul Rémillieux, Director of the Instructor Services and Educational Technologies (ISET) unit, and his team of course-design and technical experts. “When planning the course, we focussed on how users would work their way through it. Since the students do not interact with other people, it was essential to make sure that no one would get lost,” says Rémillieux. “To accomplish that, we worked very closely with many preliminary users to ensure a smooth flow of information and that we met the course’s learning objectives.”

Rémillieux and his team also worked with various McGill units to ensure that the course would run smoothly from registration and administration perspectives. This was especially important given that the course is available for a global audience. “We collaborated with McGill’s IT Services and especially with ICS (customer support). They were quite enthusiastic about helping us with this innovative endeavour and created a special hotline. We also got important assistance from Network Communication Services (NCS), Content and Collaboration Solutions (CCS) and Information System Resources (ISR).”

A First for McGill and the PTSD Community

Now that both French and English versions are up and running, everyone involved in the iTrauma course is satisfied with the results. Christophe Herbert says, “Tapping Continuing Studies’ and McGill’s pedagogical, technical and administrative expertise was an excellent choice for this project. We were really impressed with the commitment and professionalism of the many staff members who collaborated directly with us, as well as the people behind the scenes – their enthusiasm made this project a real pleasure, and the content and the interface are even better than we envisioned.”

The iTrauma course is administered by Career and Professional Development, whose Director, Dr. Carmen Sicilia, says it is a very impressive accomplishment and bodes well for similar projects: “This course is the first of its kind both for McGill and for the PTSD community. And it perfectly showcases how we can take some of McGill’s top-flight expertise and make it available to a worldwide audience in a well-structured and pedagogically sound format. We’ll be speaking with various units and faculties to see how we can capitalize on this successful project to bring other McGill expertise to new audiences.”

Editor’s note: For more information about the iTrauma course, which costs $99.00 plus tax, go to:

What is a Traumatic Event?

An event is considered traumatic if the person experienced, witnessed, or was confronted with an event or events that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others. The person’s response must have also involved intense fear, helplessness, or horror (American Psychiatric Association, 1994). – from the Info-Trauma website (

What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a psychological reaction, which can manifest itself after a traumatic event. A person who develops post-traumatic stress disorder will display three major symptoms:
Continually reliving the traumatic event or having nightmares about it.
Avoidance – conscious or involuntary – of things that serve to remind the victim of the traumatic event.
Hyperarousal in the absence of imminent risk – being on the look-out for a danger that is not present.
– from the Info-Trauma website

Comments are closed.