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More than 1,100 people from all walks of the trauma field attended the ISTSS 20th Annual Meeting in New Orleans November 14–18. The meeting explored, among other topics, universal trauma issues relating to war, terrorism, mass violence, natural disaster and other traumatic events as major determinants of human suffering.

Participants traveled from 34 countries and throughout the United States to attend this highly anticipated event, which provided a place for learning, sharing and camaraderie.

Chris Hedges kicked off the official opening with his keynote, “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning,” setting the tone for the next four days of presentations, many reflecting current world unrest.

The days were packed with parallel plenary sessions, educational sessions, poster sessions, workshops, master clinician sessions, case studies, and media presentations. Participants also had a chance to relax, socialize and network at several receptions and coffee breaks. Eighteen Special Interest Groups, which continue to grow in members, held meetings and endorsed several sessions.

Pre-Meeting Institutes provided valuable specialized training for clinicians and researchers, featuring sessions such as “Posttrauma Evaluation and Treatment of Disaster Relief Workers,” “Developing Guidelines for Psychosocial Care Following Disaster,” “Preventing Psychological and Moral Injury in Military Service,” and much more. In addition, the meeting was followed by Post-Meeting Institutes, adding even more value. Also, many enjoyed the opportunity to attend AABT’s conference, CITRM’s first annual conference and ISSD’s conference, all conveniently held in New Orleans.

The Gala Awards Ceremony, always a popular event, honored those who have made special achievements in the field of traumatic stress studies.

Meeting evaluations were positive, reflecting hundreds of first-rate presentations. Thanks to Josef Ruzek and Patricia Watson, 2004 conference co-chairs, for a successful and compelling meeting. Mark your calendar for the ISTSS 21st Annual Meeting, November 2–5, 2005, and plan to join the world’s premier trauma specialists in Toronto, Canada.

ISTSS thanks supporters of the 2004 meeting: Pfizer Pharmaceuticals; Forest Laboratories; Wyeth-Ayerst; AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals LP; Cephalon; GlaxoSmithKline; and Janssen Pharmaceutica.

20th Annual Meeting First-Person Highlights

Berthold Gersons, MD, PhD, gives his first- hand account of the 20th annual meeting. Gersons is professor at the University of Amsterdam, department of psychiatry AMC, and ESTSS president-elect.

I compliment ISTSS on this excellent conference as a frontline platform of PTSD knowledge. Since 1989, after the Pietro Loma earthquake, I have visited and participated as a presenter at most ISTSS annual conferences.

For me, the highlight of this conference was a reflection of the trauma field on the current situation of war and terrorist threat in an increasing ambivalent world. The opening keynote by Chris Hedges, war correspondent for The New York Times, was impressive in setting the agenda for the conference. His discourse inspired a feeling of compassion in what wars do to journalists. This topic of the military and the sequels of terrorist threat and attacks came back again and again.

Other symposia topics I found especially interesting:

  • Attention was given to sexual abuse in the military, revealed by journalists, and the old tactics of denial and pushing away the victims.
  • Many interesting symposia covered themes of early intervention and disaster handling.
  • The ongoing discussion on the preventive value of debriefing, especially the CISD, was finalized by the study of Brett Litz, which showed no effect at all in an impressive sample of 16,000 randomized platoons.
  • Victor Sidel, from the Noble Prize Laureate Physicians for Social Responsibility, documented the constantly increasing numbers of civilians killed or humiliated by war and abuse.
  • The difficult position of doctors and psychologists in the army was discussed—they have to be loyal to their professional standards and to the army when dealing in cases of torture and abuse of prisoners.
  • Though little new improvements were available on the biology of PTSD, neuroimaging was shown to be fine-tuning the functioning of the brain following traumatic events.
  • The poster sessions are increasingly important in learning about research outcomes and are a platform for the many young, bright researchers.

The universal theme of the ISTSS conference provided for intense presentations; a shadow of the Iraq war, the outcome of the U.S. presidential elections and worry about a new “Vietnam” for an isolated USA in a world with increasing limitations of civil freedom was felt by all. The trauma field needs to find ways to help society in this complicated era.