🚧 Website Maintenance in Progress: Thank you for visiting! We are currently in the process of enhancing our website to serve you better. Please check back soon for our new and improved website.

Modern concepts and treatments of psychological trauma are inextricably linked with the history of psychoanalysis and psychodynamic psychotherapy. Josef Breuer and Sigmund Freud’s first major psychoanalytic text, Studies on Hysteria (1895) is the fountainhead of modern psychotherapy and centers on the hypothesis that many patients “… suffer mainly from reminiscences” of traumatic events. Although Breuer and Freud agreed that their patients could neither fully remember nor ever forget these wrenching experiences, they could not agree on why this was so. Instead, they framed fundamental questions about the nature of trauma, dissociation, conversion (a term which they coined for the Studies), the biological and psychological bases for intrusive memories, and the process of recovery which ISTSS members continue to study and debate today.
At the time of ISTSS’s founding, there was little need for a Psychodynamic SIG because so many of its pioneers and early members were psychoanalysts or psychodynamically oriented. To name but a few, these included Henry Krystal, Robert J. Lifton, Chaim Shatan, Sarah Haley and Art Blank. When the Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (later ISTSS) was established 1985, its membership and agenda were primarily concerned with advocacy for the field of psychological trauma and sharing clinical wisdom about its treatment. Over time, however, the organization shifted to more biological models of PTSD and the development of clinical practice guidelines based on evidence-based psychotherapies.
Chapters on psychodynamic psychotherapy were included in the first two editions of the ISTSS practice guidelines for PTSD1,2 (published in 2000 and 2009 respectively) but its prominence in the field was already waning when our SIG was founded in 2008. In part, this was because of the ascending dominance of biological studies, but it also reflected criticism that psychodynamic psychotherapy lacked the strong research base developed for prolonged exposure, cognitive processing therapy, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR). This eventually became the rationale for determining that there was insufficient evidence to recommend psychodynamic psychotherapy as an effective treatment in the third edition of the ISTSS Prevention and Treatment Guidelines in 20203.
It was within this context that Lutz Wittmann, who was then completing his studies at the University of Zurich, raised the idea of forming a Psychodynamic SIG. Lutz had read about the working group that developed the chapter on psychodynamic psychotherapy for the 2009 edition of the ISTSS Guidelines and sent its chair, Harold Kudler, an email asking: “What do you think about founding an ISTSS Special Interest Group for psychodynamic research and practice in the trauma field?  We could invite all members of the former working group and invite [other] interested people. We could meet in Chicago [at the ISTSS 2008 Annual Meeting] for the first time and make an agenda for projects (e.g., building a network, exchanging information about who is doing what, preparing a symposium and/or workshop for the ISTSS meeting in 2009). A formal request to charter the new SIG was sent to ISTSS within a month, its founding was officially announced in July 2008, and, as Lutz envisioned, the SIG held its first meeting at the ISTSS 24th Annual Meeting that November.
In the years since, the SIG has met annually and, in between meetings, continues to collaborate on projects. These have included developing symposia and panel discussions for national and international meetings of ISTSS, the European Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ESTSS) and other organizations focused on psychological trauma. Particularly memorable was a three-part psychodynamic trauma workshop led by Lutz Wittmann, Roderick Orner (co-founder of the ESTSS) and Harold Kudler for a standing room-only crowd at the 12th European Conference on Traumatic Stress held in Vienna, Austria in 2011.
The SIG has proven valuable in gathering international support for psychodynamic projects and position papers. These have included joint letters to the editor on key issues, an invited chapter on the psychodynamic treatment of disorders of traumatic stress for a two-volume handbook on psychological trauma developed by the American Psychological Association (APA)4, and the establishment of a Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) code for taking a military history as a part of a social history (thus incentivizing the identification of veterans in United States health care settings by garnering Medicare, Medicaid and third-party reimbursement for asking about military service). Among the SIG’s most recent efforts was assembling an international collaborative of psychodynamic researchers and clinicians to critique the 2017 edition of the American Psychological Association’s Clinical Practice Guideline for the Treatment of PTSD in Adults5. The APA has subsequently decided to rework its PTSD Guideline and a SIG member has been nominated to the steering committee that will frame that revision.
In considering the growth of our field since Breuer and Freud’s 1895 publication, it is worth noting that the strong personal and intellectual bonds between those founders of the field of psychological trauma broke down because of fundamental disagreements about theory and practice. The mission of the ISTSS Psychodynamic Research and Practice Special Interest Group is to share ideas among likeminded people but, more importantly, to provide fresh insights and build new and useful bridges between all theories, practices, and practitioners.  We have 137 SIG members and welcome new members from all backgrounds.  We look forward to future conversations!   

Learn more about the Psychodynamic Research and Practice SIG.

How To Join This SIG

  1. Log in and go to your ISTSS member profile.
  2. Go to the SIG Choices tab and check the boxes next the SIGs you want to join.
  3. Scroll down and click “save.”


  1. Foa, E. B., Keane, T. M., & Friedman, M. J., (2000). Effective treatments for PTSD. New York, NY: Guilford Press.
  2. Foa, E. B., Keane, T. M., Friedman, M. J., & Cohen, J. A. (2009). Effective treatments for PTSD: Practice guidelines from the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies. New York, NY: Guilford Press.
  3. Forbes, D., Bisson, J. I. Monson, C. M., Berliner, L. (2020) Effective Treatments for PTSD Third Edition. New York, NY: Guilford Press.
  4. Kudler, H. The Psychoanalytic Concept and Treatment of Psychological Trauma: An Evolving Perspective.  In S. N. Gold, J. M. Cook, C.J. Dalenberg (Eds.), APA Handbook of Trauma Psychology: Volume 2 (pp. 295-326), Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Press, 2017.
  5. American Psychological Association (APA). (2017, February 24). Clinical practice guideline for the treatment of PTSD in Adults. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/ptsd.pdf