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Many ISTSS members listed in the 1995/96 Membership Directory received a recent mailing from the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress (AAETS). The stated mission of the Academy is to "increase awareness of the effects of trauma and ultimately improve treatment for survivors." According to this letter, the Academy offers "membership in a prestigious scientific and professional association; a Code of Ethical and Professional Standards; programs to achieve diplomat and fellow credentials; National Training Conferences; the Academy Journal; and listing in The National Registry of Experts in Traumatic Stress."

A membership application form was enclosed with instructions to include a check for $125. Upon approval of application for membership, new members will receive "an elegant membership certificate, suitable for framing." Members will presumably be entitled to become diplomates and then fellows at some future time, but the criteria for those designations were not specified. Finally, members, diplomates and fellows will be entitled to display their Academy credentials as a part of their signature.

This mailing raised a number of questions among ISTSS members that were directed to me and ISTSS headquarters. Therefore, I would like to share with you what we do and don't know about the Academy.

First, there is absolutely no connection between ISTSS and the Academy. Neither I nor any member of the ISTSS Board has been approached by any of its representatives. We have little more information about the Academy other than what was stated in its letter and brochure.
On Feb. 22, Fred Lerner, director of the PTSD Resource Center at the National Center for PTSD, searched three bibliographic databases (PILOTS, to date; PsychINFO, 1967 to date; and MEDLINE, 1990 to date). He was unable to find any publication relevant to PTSD or traumatic stress written or co-authored by any officer or advisory board member of the Academy listed on its letterhead.

Lerner phoned the Academy for more information and learned the following: the first issue of the Academy's journal, Trauma Response, will appear in March; it will be "practitioner oriented." The Academy had been recruiting for about three months and had attracted over 200 members. The first annual conference is tentatively scheduled for September in the New York City area.
We have been advised that it is not unlawful for an organization to establish itself and to charge a membership fee as long as it accurately represents itself and provides members with the benefits that have been promised. In this case, Academy members should receive the journal, a membership certificate suitable for framing, a listing in The National Registry of Experts in Traumatic Stress, the right to cite the Academy credentials after their names and an opportunity to attend certain conferences.

I received a number of inquiries about the basis for the Academy's "expertness" in traumatic stress. ISTSS members may have personal beliefs about the proper meaning of the term expert. Based on our own legal consultations, members must make their own determinations on whether Academy membership makes someone an expert in the area of traumatic stress.

This is all we know at present. We have been advised not to make specific recommendations regarding the advisability of joining the Academy. However, we will try to keep you informed as we learn more about the organization.