Record Attendance at ISTSS Annual Meeting-Strong Program, September 11 Sessions, Sense of Community
For four days in December, people from all walks of the mental health community met in New Orleans for the highly anticipated ISTSS 2001 annual meeting. Despite a staggering array of backgrounds, interests and viewpoints among the participants, the meeting was infused with a palpable sense of unity of purpose and community, providing opportunities to learn and share.
ISTSS presidents, past, present, future, at the 17th annual meeting (left to right): John Fairbank, Matthew J. Friedman, Terence M. Keane, Yael Danieli, John Briere (president), Bonnie Green (immediate past president), Robert S. Pynoos, Charles Figley, John Wilson, Onno van der Hart (president-elect). Past presidents not pictured are Jacob D. Lindy, Bessel van der Kolk, Susan Roth, Charles Marmar, Elizabeth Brett, Sandra Bloom, and Alexander C. McFarlane.
Nearly 1,200 people from 29 countries attended the Dec. 6-9 meeting, which took place just 12 weeks into the wake of sadness, anger and fear created by the September 11 attacks. The meeting program had just been finalized at that time. So the Program Committee, chaired by Mary Ann Dutton, PhD, immediately set to work to develop an entirely new track of educational programming and special events to address the September 11 fallout.
The Program Committee built on a base of previously planned features and sessions that served to make the meeting meaningful and memorable, from the theme around which the curriculum was developed, "Reaching Underserved Trauma Survivors Through Community-Based Programs" to the 16 Special Interest Group meetings, to the reformatted "Friendship & Recognition Dinner" replacing the Awards Banquet.
Then-ISTSS President Bonnie Green opened the meeting by placing the events of September 11 within the context of the meeting, ISTSS and the preponderance of traumatic events worldwide:
"Terrorism is a fact of life in many countries, yet this year, the toll was exceedingly high. The United States was confronted by a massive threat that we have previously ignored or denied, and its citizens feel more vulnerable than ever before. In the aftermath, the U.S. was drawn more closely into the world community, and into that community's ongoing reality, in a new and terrifying way. As a nation, the U.S. experienced the helplessness, the fear, and the loss of our sense of safety that many in other countries have been struggling with for years, and we were challenged to figure out how to 'keep going,' and to live our lives, in spite of these emotions. As a world community, we have experienced enormous loss this year, and I would like to propose, now, a moment of silence, in remembrance of all victims of terrorism and war."
Janet Reno delivers her keynote address, "The Necessity of a Coordinated Community Response in Violence Prevention."
The conference was highlighted by former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno's Keynote Session: "The Necessity of a Coordinated Community Response in Violence Prevention."Plenary sessions anchored each day's programming, including "How Does Social Environment Affect the Human Brain: The Case of Trauma and PTSD," presented by Arik Shalev; Marie Fortune's timely presentation, "No Healing Without Justice," and Oliver Williams on "Creating Opportunities for Epiphanies in Populations Challenged by Violence."
A full day of premeeting institutes preceded the meeting. There were more premeeting sessions and participants than at any previous ISTSS Annual Meeting. Participants were able to choose a full day institute or two half-day institutes.
Additional highlights included two poster sessions, 16 Special Interest Group meetings, photograph-of-the-year display and David Hanschuh's media presentation during the Friendship Dinner.
The meeting received overwhelmingly positive marks in evaluations. Yet while attendee evaluations underscored the quality and value of the hundreds of oral and poster presentations, it was personal contacts with friends and colleagues and the interaction between researchers and practitioners that made the ISTSS meeting unique.
Improving the Meeting
Longer session times with fewer speakers helped improve the depth of the sessions. However, many attendees expressed the desire for further limitations on the number of presentations in each session.
Ongoing challenges for the meeting's planners include balancing the number of quality sessions with time for rest, contemplation and networking, as well as available time and space at the conference venue. As one participant put it, "The content of this meeting is so powerful. I would be too exhausted to attend more…" Improvements in handouts and the use of computer equipment, providing access to students and international participants were also cited as concerns.
The board has made a commitment to continue to build on the success of each meeting, adding improvements and adjustments to better serve participants and further ISTSS's mission. An Annual Meeting Structure Task Force continues its work of addressing the evolving needs of the ISTSS community and ISTSS's ability to meet those needs.
The diversity of participants and the variety of sessions and activities over four days meant that each participant found something special in the conference. By all accounts, the ISTSS 17th Annual Meeting delivered what people came for--a place for learning, sharing and an invaluable sense of community. In the words of one participant, "This was my first ISTSS conference and I enjoyed the social support and the expertise in the sessions. Thank you."
The 2002 Program Committee, chaired by Eve Carlson, has begun the work of developing the 18th annual meeting, which will take place Nov. 7-10, at The Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel, Baltimore, Md., U.S.A. The meeting theme is "Complex Psychological Trauma: Its Correlates and Effects." The Call for Presentations is already available here.