International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies

2003-02

2003 Meeting in Chicago: From Diversity and Complexity Toward an International Reintegration

Julian D. Ford and Onno van der Hart

The ISTSS 19th Annual Meeting takes place this year in Chicago, October 29-November 1. Chicago's history corresponds with the conference theme of moving from posttraumatic fragmentation toward integration. Chicago rose from the wilderness as a cauldron of clashing nationalities and cultures from all over the world, of fabulous wealth and abject poverty, of merchant princes and anarchists, of misogyny and women's rights, and of lost children and social reformers.

Today, Chicago embraces its heritage as it continues to heal from a struggle between fragmentation and integration. Diverse music, cuisines, commerce, arts and street life are within close reach of the conference site at the Palmer House Hilton in the heart of Chicago's "Loop." The city's energy and creativity will be complemented by a meeting program with a distinct international flair that addresses the profound fragmentation of trauma, celebrating the rejuvenation and integrity that come from healing and integration. The lineup of featured speakers sets the tone and provides a foundation for the meeting.

The Keynote Plenary features Laura Prescott, the founder of Sister Witness International, speaking from personal experience as a survivor and witness to the recovery of survivors across the world. Prescott brings to life, through personal stories and observations, the perspectives of trauma survivors from Macedonia, Kosovo, Hong Kong, Armenia and the United States. These survivors have sought help within the mental health system while living in families torn by addiction and abuse, and in communities and countries torn by genocide, war, illness and exploitation. Prescott confronts fragmentation with a vision of restoring the voices of healing of survivors, families, advocates, professionals and policymakers.

The closing plenary features Ellert Nijenhuis from Holland, who will present a cutting-edge overview of the emerging psychobiology of trauma-related dissociation. Drawing on recent advances in neuroimaging and psychophysiological and clinical research, Nijenhuis describes two distinct psychobiological conditions--one fixated in trauma and in the response to (perceived) danger, and one dedicated to daily life functions. He provides evidence that resolving the fundamental posttraumatic dissociation that characterizes PTSD, or more complex trauma-related disorders, requires integrative behavioral and mental actions by fragmented survivors and communities. Nijenhuis's analysis is of major importance for the skeptical scientist and theorist, and for advocates, administrators and social-policy experts seeking an evidence base to guide their work with traumatized individuals and their social environments.

Two sets of parallel plenaries will feature an international spectrum of personal, clinical, sociopolitical and scientific approaches to understanding posttraumatic fragmentation and restoring the integrity of survivors, communities and nations.

Danny Brom, from Jerusalem, will describe a society in survival circumstances and how the fragmentation of services and the struggle for more integrated systems of preparedness require a structural understanding of the processes of societies under existential threat--a timely message in a world increasingly threatened by terror.

A group of trauma survivors, assembled from around the world by Bostonian Jim Munroe and South Africa's Merle Friedman, tell personal stories of fragmentation and integration in a session that will both capture and liberate the many voices of healing.

Cathy Widom describes how her formative criminal justice research on the intergenerational cycle of violence has evolved into a major new study of the pathways leading thousands of individuals living with extreme socioeconomic adversity from childhood trauma to retraumatization.

Frank Putnam provides an overview of the challenges of fragmentation and integration to the traumatic stress field as a whole, based on decades of work as preeminent scholar and mentor in the study, assessment and treatment of posttraumatic dissociation.

We feel privileged to bring such a distinguished, dedicated and inspiring group of speakers to the 2003 ISTSS annual meeting. The richness, depth, and diversity of their backgrounds and their personal, scientific, clinical and advocacy expertise in many arenas relevant to the field of traumatic stress provide a tangible expression of our commitment to presenting a meeting that responsibly addresses posttraumatic fragmentation in its many forms-while moving toward healing and integration in action as well as in words.

Other fine presentations are in the works as well. Watch for future StressPoints articles that will preview special events and additional presentations which will enrich the meeting. Make your plans now for a rewarding visit to this truly international meeting in Chicago.

Julian Ford is the 2003 ISTSS conference chair; Onno van der Hart is ISTSS president.