International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies

ECOTS Focuses on Historic European Issues

Posted 1 January 1998 in StressPoints by William Yule, PhD Contributing editor, Child Trauma

The European Society for Traumatic Stress Studies' Fifth European Conference in Maastricht reflected the different histories of traumatic stress studies in Europe and United States, with a greater emphasis on the effects of the Second World War on people in continental Europe. There was moving testimony from Trudi Simonsohn on her experiences in Nazi concentration camps and how she survived to live a full life. In answer to a question from the floor, she said that forgiveness did not play a part in her adjustment, as only the dead could forgive, neatly challenging some of the current views on reparation and forgiveness between victim and perpetrator.

As far as work with children and adolescents is concerned, there was a tour-de-force keynote from ISTSS Past President Bob Pynoos, but no obvious child track throughout the meeting, other than continuing concerns with the impact of child abuse. There were indirect contributions to child and adolescent work from papers, particularly from the Netherlands and Scandinavia, presenting work with refugees. There are increasingly sophisticated models for delivering psychosocial services in different cultures following major upheavals, be they natural disasters or civil war. It was, therefore, all the more disappointing that UNICEF and other NGOs did not use the meeting to have a constructive look at their psychosocial programs in former Yugoslavia, particularly given the current opposition in New York to considering child trauma in the wake of war.

It is difficult to encapsulate the different ambience of the ESTSS meeting from the larger ISTSS ones. With Past President Wolter de Loos giving a number of excellent recitals on cello early in the meeting and with Adolf Muschg, a respected German writer presenting a keynote address entitled "Parzifal's Question: Sire, What About Your Illness? The Narrative as a Means to Cope with Trauma," the impression was of a group wrestling with age-old dilemmas, bravely developing interventions in difficult circumstances, but yet connecting to modern findings from basic studies in experimental psychology laboratories.