Summary of the 15th ESTSS conference – 2-4 J...

The 15th ESTSS conference

Sophia Selsbæk

The 15th ESTSS conference was held on the 2-4 June 2017 in Odense, Denmark, the birth place of the famous fairy tale writer Hans Christian Andersen. The conference was organised by the Danish Psychological Society against Child Maltreatment and the National Center for Psychotraumatology, and took place at the University of Southern Denmark.

The theme of the conference was “Child Maltreatment Across the Lifespan”. Child maltreatment occurs in all societies and remains a high priority on the global public health agenda as it involves a complex interplay of social, cultural, economic and biological factors. The consequences of child maltreatment are multifaceted and associated with increased risk of chronic mental and physical health outcomes across the lifespan. The goal of the conference was to discuss current knowledge and establish grounds for future directions on child maltreatment research, to inform and improve actions on prevention and treatment. In order to present a broad and nuanced overview, the conference included presentations and seminars from both research and clinical perspectives. This approach aimed to increase collaborative work between trauma survivors, academia, voluntary and statutory services as well as policy makers in responding to new developments in the field.

Prior to the conference, 11 pre-conference workshops were held with 250 participants. The workshops covered psychological treatment and assessment methods, research methods and alternative treatments, and provided an outstanding opportunity to learn from highly skilled professionals.

The 550 participants for the three-day conference came from 30 different countries, covering six different continents. The diversity of the conference was also reflected in the different subjects presented in symposia, poster presentations and keynote presentations. The focus was on a range of traumatic responses, such as survivors of accidental traumatic experiences, life-threatening diseases, catastrophes, veterans and refugees. 440 abstracts were accepted and presented along with more than 100 posters. Based on the accepted abstracts,  80 symposia was created,  divided into seven subject-tracks covering work related trauma, refugees, a broad perspective on traumatic stress reactions, trauma treatment, child maltreatment, child trauma treatment and trauma in a global perspective.

Eva Secher Mathiasen, the chair of the Danish Psychologist’s Union, opened the conference with a speech. The opening speech was followed by Professor Johannes Frandsen, who gave a lecture on Hans Christian Andersen and how his greatest works reflected trauma.

In terms of social events, a welcome reception was held at the City Hall with the city council major, Bjørn Skov Nielsen giving a welcome talk.  The following night, a conference dinner was arranged at the Greenland-inspired restaurant “Nordatlantens Hus” right by the beautiful harbour of Odense.

The seven keynote speakers were all highly esteemed researchers in the field of traumatic research. The first keynote speaker of the conference was professor Grete Dyb with her presentation “Child Trauma: Toxic to the Young Mind”. The focus of this presentation was children`s exposure to traumatic events and the long-term consequences that might occur, based on the findings from the Utøya massacre of 2011.Grete Dyb is a Norwegian child and adolescent psychiatrist and a senior researcher at the Norwegian Centre for Violence and Traumatic Stress Studies as well as a professor in child adolescent psychiatry at the University of Oslo, Institute of Clinical Medicine.

The second keynote speaker was Dr. Andrea Danese with his presentation “The Hidden Wounds of Childhood Trauma: Implications for Mental Health”. The presentation concerned the translation of childhood exposure to traumatic stress into a biological risk for psychopathology.

Andrea Danese is a clinical scientist interested in developmental psychobiology and psychiatry. He is faculty member at the Department of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry at the MRC Social, Genetic, and Developmental Psychiatry (SGDP) Centre at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience. He is also an active clinician, working as Consultant Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist at the National and Specialist CAMHS Trauma and Anxiety Disorders Clinic, Maudsley Hospital, London, UK.

The third keynote speaker of the conference was professor Raija-Leena Punamäki with her presentation “Children and War: Developmental, Generational, and Treatment Considerations”. The presentation discussed the theoretical and empirical knowledge of vulnerabilities and resources in infancy, middle childhood, and adolescence in traumatic war conditions, family relations and attachment style in recovery from war trauma, and treatment implications for working with war-affected children adolescents and families. Raija-Leena Punamäki is a professor of psychology in the faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, University of Tampere, Finland.

The fourth keynote speaker, professor Martin Teicher presented on “Childhood Abuse, Brain Development and Psychopathology”. The presentation covered the effects of maltreatment on brain structure and function, emphasizing the importance of timing of maltreatment and type of maltreatment. The relationship between brain changes and 19 psychopathologies were discussed, and professor Teicher presented the ‘ecophenotype’ hypothesis: that maltreatment and non-maltreatment individuals with the same diagnosis are clinically, genetically and neurobiologically distinct. Martin Teicher has been the director of Developmental Biopsychiatry Research Program at McLean Hospital and is currently Associate Professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

The fifth keynote speaker, Dr. Esther Deblinger presented on “Developing an Evidence-Based Treatment for Youth Impacted by Trauma: A Personal Professional Narrative”. Esther Deblinger shared her personal and professional journey that led to the development, evaluation and dissemination of Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), an evidence based practice for youth who have experienced child sexual abuse, exposure to interpersonal violence, traumatic loss and/or other traumas. Furthermore, she shared her personal, clinical and research experiences in an intriguing narrative format, acknowledging all that she has learned about overcoming childhood trauma over the last three decades of working in the field. Dr. Esther Deblinger is a Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology at the Rowan University in New Jersey. She is the co-founder and co-director of the Child Abuse Research Education and Service (CARES) Institute which is a member of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.

The sixth keynote speaker was Maggie Schauer with her presentation “The impact of childhood trauma: How Domestic, Community and Organized Violence Fuel a Mental Health Crisis”. In this talk, she discussed how violence and deprivation have destructive impacts on mental health, resulting in a psychiatric emergency of pandemic proportions.

Maggie Schauer directs the Center of Excellence for Psychotraumatology at the University of Konstanz in Germany. She has experience in both clinical and research settings as well as missions in disaster and conflict areas with expertise in evolutionary psychology. Maggie Schauer is a founding and current board member of the NGO ‘vivo international’ and co-developer of Narrative Exposure Therapy.

The last keynote speaker of the conference was Emeritus Professor David Fergusson with his presentation “The Development and Evaluation of Early Start”. The presentation described the Early Start home visiting programme developed in New Zealand. Early Start is an intensive home visiting programme targeted at children in families facing multiple challenges.

David Fergusson retired from the University of Otago in Christchurch, New Zealand, in August 2015. He is currently a Consultant of the Ministry of Social Development. He is the founder of the Christchurch Health and Development Study, a study of a birth cohort of 1265 children born in the Christchurch region in mid-1977. The cohort has been studied through infancy, adolescence, and as adults.

In addition to the keynote speakers, Dag Øystein Nordanger presented “Snapshots from the first investigation of system failure across severe cases of child maltreatment”. This presentation covered some of his findings in system failures in Norway and its consequences.

As another extra activity, study trips were conducted to one of the Danish Children Houses. The Danish Children Houses are for children aged 0 to 17 who has been sexually or physically abused. This institution gathers relevant authorities under one umbrella to ensure a coordinated and interdisciplinary intervention of high quality is delivered. In the Houses, children meet professionals who are experienced in handling victims of abuse, ranging from the police, social workers,  to psychologists. The idea is that children who has experienced abuse get highly qualified help easily with a gentle intervention in one safe space.

As an outcome of the conference, a small electronic library will be assembled at www.psykotraume.dk. Here, you shall be able to find selected powerpoints and articles presented at the conference, which will be added over the summer.

Overall, the conference was a great success with intriguing presentations and exchange of both research and clinical knowledge. The atmosphere throughout the conference was thoroughly invigorating with participants from all over the world gathered to learn about different and innovative research in the field. The social events were also pleasant and provided a superb opportunity for networking and relaxation.  Moreover, the conference provided an excellent platform where many great ideas were generated and exchanged, and created a potential for new and innovative collaborations. Therefore, we are positive that the field of research and clinical work in trauma will benefit from the conference.