Italy native David Tomasi is more than just concerned about his friends, family and community back home in South Tyrol right now. As a psychology lecturer at UVM and psychotherapist at UVM Medical Center, he’s taking action to mitigate the psychological trauma associated with the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Psychological support and psychotherapy are emergency medicine. If we don't act now, we will have an infinite series of untreated trauma in the population, especially healthcare workers and their families,” he says. “The comorbidity associated with COVID-19 is something we have seldom seen before. Not only are people dying at an unprecedented rate, but healthcare workers are under constant stress and risk developing PTSD symptoms.”
Three times each week, Tomasi opens Zoom meetings to Italians and others currently residing in Italy, the European epicenter of the outbreak, for free group psychotherapy sessions and individual sessions. Upwards of two dozen patients attend the live sessions in which he integrates basic behavioristic approaches to therapy with their cultural and situational needs. “Spiritual care — religion plays an important role in Italy — and mind-body techniques focused on emergency response, including centering techniques, grief and loss approaches, etcetera,” he explains. Most patients follow up for individual consultations.
“Mine is really a small contribution, but people who lost their loved ones and have been diagnosed themselves, in most cases, are really appreciative of having the chance to talk regularly to a psychologist,” he says.
Though he has utilized telemedicine in treatments prior to COVID-19, “This epidemic truly changes everything, both in terms of workload and technical difficulties.” Tomasi dedicates Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays to his patients in Italy, and the rest of the week with students and patients in Vermont. On the days he’s unavailable, a colleague and psychotherapist in Italy speaks with patients online, free of charge.
So far, treatments have been going well, he says. Tomasi also commends Italy’s healthcare system and says the country’s warm attitude “could be the best response, in terms of resiliency and recovery, from the traumatic experience.”
“The strength of Italy partially contributed to its weakness in the pandemic — most research indicates that on average, Italians are very close to one another, both in figurative terms and in physical terms, which contributes to the speed and spread of the pandemic,” he says. “The situation is terrible and people are extremely aware.”