Highlights of the ISTSS conference in Baltimore

Last week’s conference of the International Society for Traumatic Stress Society was a success. A lively conference with a number of excellent and thought-provoking presentations, where some insights kept on popping up. For me, the highlights of the conference with regard to children and youth all related to interventions:

New, large studies on early interventions

Researchers from Switzerland and Australia presented the outline of large, rigorous studies to measure the effect of early interventions for children who have been accidentally injured. These studies will lead to insights into the effectiveness of a short intervention and a longer one. The short one consists of 2 sessions and includes psychoeducation, the creation of a trauma narrative (a personal account of what happened), and training of coping skills, tailored to age group (2-6 years, 7-11 years, 12-16 years; by Landolt and Kramer). The longer one is a trauma-focused, cognitive behavioral treatment for Australian children with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) at one month post injury after a staged process to screen children for high levels of stress reactions (by McDermott, Kenardy, March, Cobham, and Nixon). It will be necessary to go to an ISTSS conference in one or two years to hear about their findings :-).

Youth intervention to diminish gang violence

If you get the chance to see the documentary “The interrupters”, do it. The film shows the work of three violence interrupters in Chicago during a full year. These people have been able to make the transition from difficult, violent backgrounds to being mediators who “cease fire” between youth gangs. For me it was shocking to learn about the war zones in Chicago. It’s impressive what the violence interrupters do, and what risks they take, to bring about change in groups of youth. In addition, the film in itself is beautiful.

Need for intervention on several levels

It came up during several, separate sessions: if you want to bring about long-lasting change (e.g., to make sure that teachers are able to support children in daily school life after a traumatic event), you need to take action on different levels. Using Bronfenbrenner’s model of social ecology, presenters with different backgrounds made clear that intervening on the individual level is not enough. Regarding the example of teachers, providing workshops to a number of teachers is not going to do the trick. We need to start at the societal level, make sure attention to mental health is paid at the governmental level, which then translates to school principals and schools, which are subsequently the place to be to provide workshops. Drs. Brom and Pat-Horenczyk showed a successful example of this approach in Israel.

What about your highlights of recent conferences on children and/or trauma?

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