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My first message as ISTSS president is written in the wake of the society’s successful 18th annual meeting in Baltimore. With 1,204 in attendance, ISTSS experienced its largest meeting ever. I found the meeting extremely well-organized, and the Baltimore hotel proved to be an excellent locale. I want to thank 2002 conference chair Eve Carlson and her committee, as well as headquarters staff members, for their invaluable efforts in making this an exceptional conference.

The meeting was dedicated to complex psychological trauma, an issue of major interest to many members. Even though the theme of the meeting will change each year, complex trauma and related subjects of diagnosis and treatment will return time and again because so many members are deeply involved in this area. Among the many high-quality presentations, I would like to mention the first plenary session on “Trauma and Reconciliation: The Case of Northern Ireland,” in which victims and former activists from both sides participated. This presentation was referred to by many as an awe-inspiring and hope-giving experience.

Personally, I would like to see a similar meeting between Israelis and Palestinians at a future ISTSS meeting, but the feasibility of its happening soon remains questionable. The theme of trauma and reconciliation highlights the complexity of trauma, but it also is reflected in the 2003 conference theme: Fragmentation and Integration in the Wake of Psychological Trauma.

Membership Composition
General ISTSS membership is strong, but membership from countries outside North America should be greater, and I intend to focus on this issue in 2003. In 2002, ISTSS was composed of 2,610 members: 2,180 (84 percent) lived in North America, with 2,037 from the United States and 143 from Canada; 430 (16 percent) members lived elsewhere. The three largest membership contingents outside North America exist in Australia (88), the United Kingdom (73), and the Netherlands (69).

Emphasizing the International Nature
Though ISTSS is an international society—thus all of us are international members—an often-heard statement is that ISTSS is composed of American and international members, as if it were an American organization that has a few members from other countries. On all levels, centripetal and centrifugal forces are at work in this regard.

Among the centripetal forces I have witnessed are the tremendous efforts within the society to actively involve members “from abroad” in the organization. For instance, six current board members, including the president and the treasurer, are from abroad, thus overrepresenting the minority of 430 non-North American members. A number of these members also are active in various committees and task forces. Many of them make valuable contributions to the Journal of Traumatic Stress—see the December 2002 issue for a special treat—and related journals.

The board wants to emphasize the society’s international nature by scheduling its midyear meeting, whenever possible, in conjunction with important trauma meetings elsewhere in the world, allowing ISTSS members to present to professionals who are not likely to attend the North American meetings. In 2001 the midyear board meeting took place at the 7th European Conference on Trauma Stress (ECOTS) in Edinburgh, Scotland. In May 2003 it will be held in conjunction with the 8th ECOTS, in Berlin, Germany. Many trauma specialists from Eastern European countries are expected to attend. On a more subjective level, among American members, I consistently witness great interest in, and respect for, the views and experiences of those from abroad.

Among the centrifugal forces at work, economic factors play a dominant role. People sometimes complain that the annual meetings are held only in North America and in rather expensive hotels; therefore, the cost of attending reaches beyond their means. Also mentioned is the cost of membership dues, prohibitive for many people in countries other than the United States.

I can testify that these financial difficulties—and the economic hardships in many parts of the world—are very much alive as an issue before the board, weighing heavily on its conscience. We share a grave concern that many professionals elsewhere in the world could benefit greatly from what ISTSS has to offer but cannot afford the membership fee, let alone travel to annual meetings. Ongoing discussions about possible remedies include members donating extra money to a membership and travel fund, or members—individually or as a group—supporting the membership of a colleague. Creative ideas from members and non-members are welcome.

International Reach Requires Financial Stability
Given the fact that 84 percent of the constituency comes from North America, there is no doubt in my mind that the annual meeting should take place on that continent. I feel differently about the World Congress—discussions currently are taking place about the location of the next one, which, unless there are compelling reasons not to, should be held elsewhere in the world. We should not forget, though, that to help professionals from disadvantaged countries join the society, ISTSS must have financial security. Not too long ago, ISTSS lost money on every new member and was facing economic disaster. Thanks to the brilliant and creative help from past treasurer Danny Kaloupek and a highly competent and dedicated Finance Committee, our financial situation currently is solvent. Nevertheless, careful scrutiny of our expenses and strict adherence to a budget remain a necessity.

Specific to international issues, I encourage non-American members to join committees and recruit others into the organization, thus helping to change the profile of the membership. Those with resources, whether non-American or American, can raise funds and donate money. More generally, ISTSS must reflect the needs of its members. Remember that you have a voice in the organization—you can contact me and other board members about ideas, publish your views in StressPoints or contact headquarters about joining committees.

E-mail o.vanderhart@fss.uu.nl or istss@istss.org.