International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies


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

Julian D. Ford and Onno van der Hart

As promised in our spring StressPoints article, we now give you a closer look at the ISTSS 2003 annual meeting program. This article highlights the meeting’s array of integrative multicultural international presentations, which address the biopsychosocial aspects of posttraumatic fragmentation and shed light on the paths taken in our field toward knowledge and integration for trauma survivors of all ages, their families, communities and societies.

Two special forum sessions will address the traumatic dimensions of the war and societal rebuilding in Iraq. Stuart Turner will chair an international panel discussing the impact of this and other wars and the often prolonged aftermath on ordinary people, families, communities and civil society. Lars Weisaeth will chair a second international panel discussing the traumatic impact of this and other wars on military personnel and their families, and the institutions representing armed forces worldwide.

Two other special forum sessions will feature cutting-edge scientific and clinical systems for understanding the complex impact of extreme trauma on the mind and body. These sessions use a novel format involving a pr├ęcisof an integrative theory that first is presented by a renowned expert, followed by a dialogue with an eminent clinician-scholar and the audience. On Thursday, Chris Brewin presents an integrative neurocognitive model of trauma and PTSD, followed by a dialogue with Matt Friedman. On Saturday, Stephen Braude describes a phenomenological re-analysis of dissociation and extreme trauma, followed by a dialogue with Bessel van der Kolk.

Eight internationally recognized trauma clinicians will give presentations on their work in separate master therapist or expert clinical consultation sessions. The sessions will cover a wide range of therapeutic issues, models and clinical populations, including traumatized children (Esther Deblinger), adolescents (David Pelcovitz) and people of color and diverse cultural backgrounds (Ken Hardy). A variety of approaches to treatment of complex PTSD are presented, including sensorimotor psychotherapy (Pat Ogden), milieu and community interventions (Sandy Bloom), innovations in cognitive-behavior therapy (Barbara Rothbaum), and phase-oriented treatment models for complex PTSD (Marylene Cloitre) and dissociative disorders (Kathy Steele).

In addition, two invited symposia chaired by Joseph Spinazzola and Bessel van der Kolk will provide the third annual update on evidence-based innovations in the clinical assessment and treatment of complex PTSD. Premeeting institutes, workshops, case presentations, panels and symposia by other distinguished clinicians will address critical issues such as the impact of and recovery from clerical abuse, genocide, war, terrorism, prostitution, torture, traumatic grief, family and community violence, traumatic illness, and child abuse and neglect. Presentations also address the complex dilemmas facing trauma clinicians conducting psychotherapy, pharmacotherapy and social change interventions when complex trauma disorders are further complicated by mental illness, addiction, stigma and bias, homelessness or exile, or human rights violations.

In the opening plenary, Laura Prescott of Sister Witness International will address the personal dimensions of recovery from trauma, mental illness and addiction, speaking from experience from her work with survivors, advocates, providers and policy-makers worldwide. Complementing Prescott’s plenary will be two parallel plenary sessions. On Friday, Danny Brom addresses the fragmentation and paths toward integration facing people living in the Middle East. On Saturday, Jim Munroe and Merle Friedman moderate the voices of survivors from several continents sharing their journeys of healing. Invited symposia chaired by Stevan Weine (oral histories, both factual and fictional, following mass societal trauma) and Melissa Farley and Judith Herman (the institutionalized international trauma of prostitution) offer additional insights into social policy and clinical practice. Several other premeeting institutes, symposia, panels, case presentations and workshops highlight the role of traumatic stress in human rights and social issues.

To complement Ellert Nijenhuis’s closing plenary on the emerging psychobiology of trauma-related dissociation on Saturday, Frank Putnam will deliver a parallel plenary on the evolution of science and practice related to complex traumatic stress disorders and dissociation, and an invited symposium chaired by Richard Chefetz will describe cutting-edge studies on the nature of structural dissociation and dissociative identity disorder. Several premeeting institutes (including a full-day session on innovative therapies chaired by Bessel van der Kolk), symposia, panels and workshops highlight the newest developments in theory, research and clinical approaches to the assessment and treatment of posttraumatic dissociation and dissociative disorders.

In addition to the rich menu already noted, much more will be offered to the trauma researcher at the meeting. An integrative theme of trauma and human development will be addressed in a parallel plenary by Cathy Widom, in which she describes her groundbreaking longitudinal studies on the course of childhood trauma and revictimization. An invited symposium chaired by Chase Stovall-McClure will reprise the rapidly growing research base concerning trauma and disorganized attachment in early childhood and across the lifespan. Many other internationally recognized scientists will present new findings on the impact of trauma and the course of traumatic stress disorders from the perspectives of child and lifespan development, neurobiology, neuroimaging, information processing, neuropsychology, acute trauma and early intervention, and resilience factors and resource conservation.

If you haven’t registered for the ISTSS 19th Annual Meeting, we urge you to do so now by going to We look forward to seeing you, along with the stellar group of presenters, in Chicago, October 29–November 1.

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