From Trauma to Recovery – A blog post on the 35th Annual Meeting of the International Society of Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS) in Boston

Curious to know what the recent ISTSS conference was all about? Many thanks to Yoki Mertens for this reflection on the meeting! 

It is early morning in a freezing-cold Boston and Judith Herman presents as the first keynote speaker of the 35th Annual Meeting of the International Society of Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS). One might assume the organizers scheduled it this way to ensure everybody arrives on time and it worked: The room is filled with over 1,700 attendees, more than ever before. It’s been 27 years since Judith Herman published her renowned book “Trauma and Recovery” and introduced the concept of complex PTSD. Back then, the New York Times called it “one of the most important psychiatric works to be published since Freud”.

The prevailing question of this annual meeting is: How far has trauma research, trauma therapy, and policies come in helping individuals with (complex) PTSD recover in the past decades? And which paths to take to move forward? After three days of attending symposia, panels, and poster sessions, it can be convincingly stated that steep progress has been made. Meanwhile, some challenges are left to be solved for the current generation of trauma researchers and clinicians. Continue reading

Global Mental Health Capacity Building at the 2012 ISTSS Annual Meeting

I ‘stumbled’ on this great blogpost by Andrew Rasmussen on the annual meeting of the ISTSS. Andrew is an associate professor of Psychology at Fordham University and has served as a deputy for the conference. He has been so kind to let me cross-post his thoughts. The original, slightly more extended version can be found on his blog, where he writes about psychology, culture, and displaced populations.

The annual meeting of the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS), this year held in Los Angeles, wrapped up November 3rd. This year’s theme, Beyond Boundaries: Innovations to Expand Services and Tailor Traumatic Stress Treatments, was in large part a response to a lack of global and cross-cultural perspectives at most ISTSS meetings.

This year the planning was directed by two global mental health researchers, Debra Kaysen and Wietse Tol, and global perspectives were given the main stage. This was most obvious in two of the keynote addresses, one by global mental health luminary Vikram Patel and longtime transcultural psychosocialist Joop de Jong.

In addition to the international perspectives, it was good to hear the issue of capacity building addressed head on. This was addressed in the keynotes, but it also had its own symposium. Theresa Betancourt chaired “Capacity Building in Low-Resource Settings,” and she laid out the issue as movement from “relief to resource,” which sums it up nicely. Speakers included Vikram Patel, Mary Fabri, and Joop de Jong.

One of the key problems in global trauma practice is that mental health professionals from high income countries fly in to low and middle income countries (LMICs), ‘do their thing’ for a few weeks or a few months, then fly out — leaving nothing in terms of increased ability to deal with the long-term issues related to disasters, let alone in terms of preparation for subsequent ones. Capacity Building in Low-Resource Settings was a discussion of how to guard against this all too frequent phenomenon. Continue reading

ISTSS conference

“Major advances have been made in the assessment and treatment of traumatic stress in the past 20 years.

Despite these advances, the vast majority of those affected by traumatic stress still do not receive any type of services or care.”


The opening sentences on the flyer of the rapidly approaching conference of the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies ask for action. The meeting is one of the biggest yearly events in the field and it goes well beyond studies only; it includes many clinical workshops and contributions by journalists, policymakers, and (other) advocates. The program looks promising, especially the parts on outreach and innovation, its focus on mental health instead of mental disorders, and its keynote speakers.

And this year there will be more opportunities to follow the conference from afar! The hashtag is #istss and hopefully we’ll have a good group of people tweeting about their insights, available online resources, and shared interests (maybe next year we’ll welcome our first Twitter-born ISTSS initiative/project…?). The society tweets as @ISTSSnews and is also building its presence on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Are you at the meeting and would you like to learn how you can make best use of Twitter for your work? Come join us on Thursday (noon – 1.15, Diamond Salon 3, abstract 1211)! You can already start following ISTSS members (even when you don’t use Twitter yourself) via this link.

I hope some plans of action will be born or furthered next week. Let’s bridge those service provision gaps together.

Paper in a Day: An invitation for early career researchers attending the ISTSS conference

Did you finish your PhD less than 5 years ago or are you about to submit it? And are you going to the ISTSS conference in LA? I’d like to invite you to a meeting just before the conference.

I have named it “Paper in a Day” and that’s exactly what it is (although..please read on :-)). The idea is to sit together with about 8 people and write a short report within one day. A super speedy process with a number of goals:

  • to get to know each other (hopefully we’ll have a nice mix of nationalities!)
  • to exchange ideas about traumatic stress and recovery
  • to come up with a collaborative short report
  • to have fun

In short: an intensive, nice, and productive day, with the potential to grow into a yearly event.

Program & preparation

The day will run from 8.30am until about 8.30pm, including plenary discussions, writing & analysis time in couples, and breaks :-). It will take place on Tuesday October 30th; the day before the pre-meeting institutes and the start of the conference. Continue reading

Trauma and PTSD researchers should tweet

Last week, I tried to compile a list of trauma and PTSD experts who are part of the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS) or affiliated societies. It turned out that we have only a handful of active twitterers, while the societies have thousands of members. At the last annual ISTSS conference in November, we had only two people tweeting.

It’s a missed opportunity. Twitter is a fantastic tool to build a prospering research community (see e.g., Mollett et al., 2011; Reinhardt et al., 2009;). I’ll give you some examples:

While I was searching for tweeters for my list, @raulpacheco started the #myresearch hashtag, asking people to present their research topic or question in about 120 characters. It went viral. Moreover, it was highly informative, entertaining, and instantly led to new connections and exchanges between researchers all over the world. Marc Smith made a beautiful graph of it. Continue reading