International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies

Past President's Column

Posted 1 January 2002 in StressPoints by Yael Danieli

The third president of ISTSS and the first woman president, 1988-1989, Yael Danieli, PhD, is a clinical psychologist in private practice, traumatologist and victimologist, author and editor, director of the Group Project for Holocaust Survivors and their Children, and founding president of the International Network of Survivors and Friends of Survivors of Holocaust and Genocide.

ISTSS United Nations representative and co-chair of its International Trauma Training, Danieli is responsible for developing, promoting, and implementing UN victims-related work. Recently she served as consultant for South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Rwanda on reparations and led an ongoing Project (Promoting a Dialogue: "Democracy Cannot Be Built with the Hands of Broken Souls") in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Having had the privilege of sharing in the founding of the society, shaping its vision, and steeped in a sense of family, my presidency was a labor of love. As builders of the society, our goals were long-term, to initiate and solidify both functionally and structurally lasting processes. The two main areas I focused on were the internationalization of the society and the promotion of multidisciplinary trauma education and training. I also actively sought to broaden the diversity of the victim/survivor populations served by the society to include more consistent representation of massive traumata such as holocaust, genocide, torture and refugee status.

As president, I arranged for the society to be associated formally with the United Nations Department of Public Information, thereby sowing the seeds for establishing in 1993 a consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Counsel, the most prestigious status with the United Nations for a non-governmental organization. This has enabled us to bring the society's message to the international community via the United Nations, and the messages of the UN to the society. The goal of the society at the UN has been one of informed advocacy to influence relevant policies and programs. It has been a gratifying task to represent the society to date at the UN, including editing three books published for and on behalf of the United Nations and formulating all UN instruments on behalf of victim/survivors and those who care for them.

This heightened global emphasis was reflected when the word "international" was added to the society's name in the year following my presidency. To further its international scope, in number of members, countries and regions-and in substance-I initiated the concept and the work toward the first world conference of the ISTSS, held in Amsterdam in 1992. One of my roles as its international chair was to form its honorary and scientific advisory committees, both of international stature and multidisciplinary nature.

The annual meeting of my presidency took place in San Francisco immediately after the Loma Prieta earthquake. Though alarmed, most who planned to attend-from 37 countries-did arrive. For the first time, participants came from the former Soviet Union, arriving with symbolic medical aid to the city, and making a historic presentation of the intergenerational consequences of Stalin-era atrocities.

To underscore the society's relevance to the community, quilts loaned by the AIDS Project covered many of the walls of the meeting hotel. In addition to individual members volunteering to help, the society held an open session for the San Francisco community led by international experts on disaster management.

The meeting held formal memorial sessions for both board member Sarah Haley and President-Elect Robert Laufer, who tragically succumbed to cancer earlier that year.

Organizationally, both the growth of the society and the need for cost effectiveness informed the decision to move from an individual executive director model to using a professional management firm.

The second major commitment of my presidency was trauma education and training. Under the chairmanship of John Krystal, more than 200 members of the society participated in developing curricula in all professions that interface with victimization and trauma. These included psychiatry, psychology, social work, nursing, media, clergy, creative arts therapists, organizations, institutions and public health, paraprofessionals and other professionals, and undergraduate education. Presidents of 20 organizations came to receive the curricula relevant to them and committed formally to distribute those within their constituencies. They included the World Federation for Mental Health, World Society of Victimology, International League for Human Rights, Radio and Television News Directors' Association, the two APAs, Council on Social Work Education, American Orthopsychiatric Association, American Association of Colleges of Nursing, the U.S. National Organization of Victims Assistance and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.

The ISTSS "Report from the Presidential Task Force on Curriculum, Education, and Training" was adopted by the UN and distributed to all member states at the UN Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice in Havana, Cuba, in 1990 as a formal conference document implementing the United Nations Declaration of Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power born in 1985, the year of the establishment of the STSS.

Reflecting back, I regret the loss of many of our grass root practitioners and hope that we will find a way to reverse this trend. While welcoming the ever-growing international presence in our midst, I believe the society still faces the challenge of developing a rationally balanced and coherent international structure that is neither fragmented nor competitive.

It was my profound pleasure in San Francisco to give the first Chaim Danieli Young Professional Award for excellence in service or research in the field of trauma, most aptly, to John Krystal, and it has remained constantly uplifting for me to follow the careers of all the recipients of the award.

References
Danieli, Y., Rodley, N.S., and Weisaeth, L. (Eds.) (1996). International Responses to Traumatic Stress: Humanitarian, Human Rights, Justice, Peace and Development Contributions, Collaborative Actions and Future Initiatives. Baywood Publishing Company, Inc., Amityville, N.Y.
Danieli, Y., Stamatopoulou, E., and Clarence J. Dias (Eds.) (1999). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Fifty Years and Beyond. Baywood Publishing Company, Inc., Amityville, N.Y.