The ESTSS history

Brief History of ESTSS

In 1988, Roderick Ørner convened the First European Conference on Traumatic Stress Studies, in Lincoln (UK). He invited Charles Figley, co-founder and first president of what was then the Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (STSS), based in North America, together with John Wilson, its president at that time. Those attending the meeting debated forming a European branch of STSS but, recognizing the significance of distinctive European traditions in psychotraumatology, chose instead to develop what became known as the European Trauma Network for professionals in the field of psychotraumatology. Its aims were (1) to facilitate networking between academic institutions, treatment centres and individuals with shared interests in the effects of trauma and their resolution and (2) to organize more European Conferences. The Second European Conference on Traumatic Stress was held in 1990, in Noordwijkerhout (The Netherlands).

By this time, STSS had changed its name to the International Society for Traumatic Studies (ISTSS) and in 1992 it organized the first World Conference on Traumatic Stress in Amsterdam (The Netherlands). There was also increasing interest in establishing a European Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ESTSS), with the formation of a planning group comprising Wolter de Loos, Atle Dyregrov, Roderick Ørner and Stuart Turner (chair). What was sometimes energetic discussions took place between this planning group and ISTSS, culminating in an agreement in principle with Charles Marmar, the president of ISTSS at the time - that ESTSS would be formed as an affiliate of ISTSS, within a framework leading in time towards a federation of Traumatic Stress Societies across the world.

ESTSS was therefore formally launched in 1993, at the Third European Conference on Traumatic Stress held in Bergen (Norway). A founding Board of Directors met and elected Wolter de Loos (Netherlands) as the first president of the ESTSS. By May 1995 when the ESTSS held the Fourth European Conference on Traumatic Stress in France the society had established a solid membership base and a secretariat. Members received the ESTSS Newsletter and were able to subscribe to the Journal of Traumatic Stress at a reduced rate. In recognition of the linguistic diversity in Europe formal links were then established with the Association de Langue Francaise pour l'Etude de Stress Traumatique (ALFEST).

Later presidents were Stuart Turner (UK), Roderick Ørner (UK), Ueli Schnyder (Swiss), Bas Schreuder (Netherlands), Dean Ajdukovic (Croatia), Berthold Gersons (Netherlands), Jonathan Bisson (UK), Miranda Olff (Netherlands), Brigitte Lueger-Schuster (Austria), Vedat Şar (Turkey), Ingo Schäfer (Germany). In January 2019 Jana Darejan Javakhishvili (Georgia) started her presidential term, which will last to the end of 2020. Until 1999, the Board of the ESTSS was brought together by co-option. In 2000, it was resolved to hold formal elections every two years. Under the current arrangements, the president first serves as president-elect, then serves two years as president and ends with one year as past-president. In this way, continuity in society is safeguarded.

The ESTSS biennial conferences were held in different cities of Europe: Maastricht (1997), Istanbul (1999), Edinburgh (2001), Berlin (2003), Stockholm (2005), Opatija (2007), Oslo (2009), Vienna (2011), Bologna (2013), Vilnius (2015), Odense (2017). In 2019 the conference will take place in Rotterdam, and the one after that in Belfast. These conferences are attended by between 600 and 1200 participants from all over Europe as well as from the US, South-America, Asia, Africa and Australia. Typically, these European conferences are organized by local societies, usually with active support from the local government. The diversity of culture, food and music helps to make these conferences very attractive meeting places for trauma-professionals to get to know each other as well as to exchange experiences and present their scientific and clinical expertise.

Apart from the biennial conferences, there are many other local meetings across Europe, sponsored by ESTSS. These were started in the 1990s when Roderick Ørner launched a series of the events to discuss early intervention strategies after a disaster. These developed into the more broad-based European Workshops for Traumatic Stress (EWOTS), held for example in Dublin, Belfast, Helsinki, Milan, Zagreb, Toledo, Zurich, Tbilisi, Warsaw, and many other cities across Europe. The last ESTSS workshop took place on December 2018, in Tampere, Finland, the next I scheduled for October 2019, in Tbilisi, Georgia.

One of the main limitations of ESTSS was its restricted language base (English) and hence excessive domination by members in the UK and Northern Europe. In Germany, the Deutschsprachige Gesellschaft für Psychotraumatologie (DeGPT) was established and grew very rapidly. At around the same time, the membership of ESTSS started to decline. It was recognized by ESTSS that it was becoming more expensive to join a regional STSS, the ESTSS and the ISTSS. The ESTSS Board therefore decided in 2003 to start restructuring the ESTSS towards a role as an umbrella organization of regional European STSS member societies. In the Netherlands the Dutch Language Oriented Society for Psychotrauma was established in 2005, later followed by the following societies: the British (2006), the Georgian (2007), the Polish (2007), the Portuguese (2009), the Swiss (2010), the Italian (2010), the Croatian (2011), the Lithuanian (2013), the Swedish (2015), the Belgian (2015) and the Ukrainian (2016). Currently, ESTSS comprises 13 member societies, and the process of forming new societies is still going on, i.e., on July 2018 the Finnish Society of Psychotrauma was launched in Tampere, Finland.

In 2009 the ESTSS officially began the process of becoming the European umbrella organization for the above-mentioned societies, a transition that was completed in 2014. The corresponding changes were incorporated into the statutes of the society. Since then, the ESTSS board is composed of representatives selected by the local societies. At the same time, there are individual members of ESTSS from those countries where there are no local societies at the moment. These individual members jointly elect their single representative to the ESTSS board.

Not all trauma societies or organisations (Europe-wide, international, national and regional) are in a position to become member societies. But if their objectives are at least partially consistent with those of ESTSS they can become ESTSS Affiliated societies. Members of Affiliated societies can then apply to join ESTSS as individuals and are entitled to a reduced fee for full membership (see for a complete list).

And of course we treasure the constructive collaboration with ISTSS whose board meetings often take place at the ESTSS conference and whose members help to provide very popular keynotes and workshops. We have also participated for years in the ISTSS facilitated Global Collaboration Panel. The latest product of this cooperation is the “Internet Information on Childhood Abuse and Neglect” – an e-pamphlet for adults who have experienced childhood trauma.

In a cooperative venture with the European Commission, ESTSS has sought to inform and influence policy concerning training requirements for professionals involved in the care of those subjected to traumatic stressors as well as standards of practice within centres of excellence. EU funded research projects, aiming to increase evidence based care for trauma victims was implemented and resulted in the TENTS guidelines – the guidelines on psychosocial care following disasters and major incidents.

In 2007 ESTSS introduced the ESTSS General Certificate in Psychotraumatology. According to the previous certification procedure, participants received an introductory workshop as well as several ESTSS approved half-day workshops covering a range of topics, in this way increasing their knowledge and practice with various aspect of psychotraumatology. In 2017-2018 the certification structure and curricula were revisited by the ESTSS certification task force. As a result, from 2019 on the new certification structure will be introduced, and overseen by the following three committees: ESTSS Accreditation Committee (AC) elected by the board and responsible for quality control and accreditation of the curricula elaborated and submitted by the local societies (1); ESTSS Certification Committee (CC) uniting professionals, delegated by the local societies, who will act as an EU level platform for exchanging information and experience in accreditation/certification between the member societies (2), Local Certification Committees (LCC) formed by each local society and responsible for implementation of the certification at the local level (3).In December 2010, ESTSS launched its own journal: the European Journal of Psychotraumatology (EJPT, https://www.tandfonline.com/loi/zept20) with both scientific papers and more clinical practice orientated contributions. EJPT is an open access journal published by Tailor & Francis, which made impressive progress since its foundation (i.e., impact factor 4.209 in 2017).

Members of ESTSS pay lower publication fees to EJPT as well as the lower conference registration fees for scientific meetings arranged by ESTSS and other affiliated societies for traumatic stress studies. In 2018 a new website was created which will be functional from April 2019 to meet the needs of the modern trauma specialist.

All these initiatives illustrate how the ESTSS seeks to fulfil its mission statements.