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The International Psychological Trauma Symposium is held on an annual basis in Istanbul, Turkey. It is co-organized by former ISTSS and European Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ESTSS) past board member Sahika Yuksel. The theme of the December 2014 symposium was “Mental Health in War and Peace.” As part of the ISTSS “Global Meetings” initiative, an invited plenary panel discussion on “Psychotherapies for Trauma-related Disorders: What do They Have in Common?” was organized and sponsored by ISTSS.

Three experts in empirically supported psychotherapies for trauma-related disorders discussed the nature of trauma recovery, and how trauma-focused psychotherapy can support that process. Panelists Thomas Elbert, Konstanz, Germany (representing Narrative Exposure Therapy), Mariel Meewisse, Enkhuizen, The Netherlands (representing Brief Eclectic Psychotherapy for PTSD), and Emma Warnock-Parkes, Oxford, UK (representing Cognitive Therapy for PTSD) explained how they combine psychoeducation, exposure, and cognitive treatment elements in their respective approaches.

The discussion focused specifically on adults who had been exposed to various traumatic events, and that are suffering from comorbid conditions such as depression, substance abuse, or personality disorders in addition to PTSD. The panelists also discussed how the improvement of emotion regulation skills and the promotion of resilience are addressed.

As expected, many commonalities emerged. However, differences were also identified, e.g., therapeutic emphasis on fear versus other negative emotions and cognitions, or the creation of a consistent narrative. Based on the strengths and weaknesses of trauma treatment to date, the panelists explored the mechanisms of action that they share. Finally, solutions were suggested for unresolved problems such as residual symptoms, ongoing impairments in psychosocial functioning and relapse.

I acted as moderator of the panel. The audience of about 300 delegates was extraordinarily interested and active. In particular, they addressed questions related to intercultural issues, e.g., how best to respond to the specific treatment needs of refugees that are currently migrating into Turkey from Syria. The panelists engaged in a lively, culturally sensitive and mutually respectful conversation, and responded in a clinically meaningful way to the comments from the audience.

In summary, this ISTSS sponsored educational event was a great success, and was mutually enriching for not only the audience, but also for the presenters!

About the Author
Ulrich Schnyder, MD, is professor of psychiatry and psychotherapy, and head of the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at the University Hospital Zurich, Switzerland. His research activities are currently focused on various aspects of traumatic stress research, including epidemiology, neurobiology, psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy for PTSD, and resilience to stress. He is past president of the European Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ESTSS), past president of the International Federation for Psychotherapy (IFP) and past president of the International Society of Trauamtic Stress Studies (ISTSS).