President’s Message

The “I” in ISTSS: Maintaining an International Dialog

Paula Schnurr

What’s in a name? Or to be more precise, what’s in a letter? The Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, STSS, was founded in 1985 “to advance knowledge about the immediate and long-term human consequences of extraordinarily stressful events and to promote effective methods of preventing or ameliorating the unwanted consequences.” (For details, see Sandy Bloom’s article at www.istss.org/what/history.htm.) A decision to add an “I” to the society’s name, officially transforming it into the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, was made in 1990 in recognition of an increasing number of members who reside outside the United States. Bloom, in her fascinating account of the society’s history, cites then-president Jack Lindy in explaining that the name change reflected the intention to support an international perspective.

Since that time, interest in traumatic stress has grown tremendously around the world. The society now consists of members from more than 40 countries in addition to the United States. A number of regional organizations have formed to meet the needs of individuals in specific regions. ISTSS maintains formal relationships with seven of these organizations, which are called “affiliate societies,” or sometimes “international affiliates”:

To be an affiliate, an organization must focus primarily on the study of research and treatment of traumatic stress; represent a geographic region outside the United States or a non-English-speaking community; and include a mission, constitution and bylaws that are consistent with those of ISTSS.

In the winter 2004 issue of StressPoints I reported that a committee under the leadership of Erik de Soir and Danny Kaloupek is examining current policies and procedures with regard to affiliate societies. This effort is intended to clarify and optimize policies to meet the needs of affiliate societies while ensuring that we are responsive to the largely North American ISTSS membership.

For example, upon hearing about my commitment to focus on international issues, a number of ISTSS members suggested that we hold the annual meeting outside North America. A step such as this would clearly demonstrate our international focus. However, 83 percent of our current membership lives in North America. This fact creates a compelling case for holding our meetings in locations proximate to the greatest number of members, even as we work to increase the percentage of ISTSS membership that is based outside North America. To enable more individuals from outside North America to attend the 2004 annual meeting, we are implementing a program of reduced registration fees for individuals from countries classified by the World Bank as middle and low income.

In addition, we aim to enhance the international perspective of the meeting. But how do we do that? We usually have at least one plenary or keynote speaker from outside the United States. This year we’re offering each affiliate society the opportunity to develop content and present a symposium at the meeting (under the review of the Program Committee, as with other invited symposia). We’re also exploring the possibility of offering some sessions in Spanish, French or another non-English language.

Another exciting development regarding language issues is that SAPsi President Daniel Mosca has proposed to have his society translate StressPoints into Spanish for Web distribution. A further demonstration of international focus is our participation in meetings outside the United States. In 2003, the ISTSS board held its midyear meeting at the ESTSS conference in Berlin and presented at premeeting sessions. This year the board will hold its midyear meeting in Buenos Aires at SAPsi’s annual conference and again will make presentations. Soon we hope to report on concrete plans for our next World Congress.

Official relationships between professional organizations typically provide tangible financial benefits to members, such as discounted fees for journals and meeting registrations. But our affiliations provide much more. The formal organizational ties also provide opportunities for connection with people who share our interests. They help ISTSS members maintain an international dialog that enhances our understanding of trauma and what we can do to meet the needs of trauma survivors around the world.