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 current president. 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 were 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) and Miranda Olff (Netherlands). In 2011 Brigitte Lueger Schuester (Austria) will start as the tenth ESTSS president. Until 1999, the Board of the ESTSS was brought together by co-option. In 2000, it was resolved to hold formal elections every two year. 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 the society is safeguarded.
Later ESTSS biennial conferences were held in Maastricht (1997), Istanbul (1999), Edinburgh (2001), Berlin (2003), Stockholm (2005), Opatija (2007), Oslo (2009) and in 2011 the conference will be in Vienna. These conferences are attended by between 800 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 groups, usually with active support from 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. In the 1990s, Roderick Ørner launched many such events to discuss early intervention strategies after 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.
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 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 British, the Georgian, the Polish, the French, the Swiss, the Italian, the Danish and the Portuguese Societies. In 2009 the ESTSS officially became the European umbrella organization.
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 a full membership (see <estss affiliated societies> for a complete list).
Particularly important are the collaborations that come from affiliation with other European societies like <ESTD>, <ESTPD>, and <EMDR> societies (e.g. joint days on the biennial conference) which help to unite the field and improve collaboration.
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.
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 (TENTS, www.tentsproject.eu), were started and supported by ESTSS board members.
In 2007 the ESTSS introduced the ESTSS General Certificate in Psychotraumatology. Participants receive 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.
Members of ESTSS currently receive the ESTSS Newsletter, can subscribe to the Journal of Traumatic Stress at a reduced rate and pay lower conference registration fees for scientific meetings arranged by the ISTSS and other affiliated societies for traumatic stress studies. In 2002, ESTSS introduced a Members Only section on the website. This section contains the latest and previous ESTSS Bulletins in English. In 2010 a new website was created with a new logo and services that meet the needs of the modern trauma specialist.
Finally, in December 2010, ESTSS launched its own journal: the European Journal of Psychotraumatology (EJPT, www.eurojnlofpsychotraumatol.net) with both scientific papers and more clinical practice orientated contributions.
All these initiatives illustrate how the ESTSS seeks to fulfill its mission statements.