International Trauma Conference
On the 28 and 29th of April the International Conference “Trauma and what it means to be human” was held at Webster University Geneva. Co-organized by the Department of Psychology and Counselling and the Global Initiative for Stress and Trauma Treatment (GIST-T), this event brought together a wide range of experts, researchers, practitioners and, more generally, participants interested in understanding and alleviating human suffering.
The conference included four keynotes offered by distinguished guests. On the first day, Pat Bracken, psychiatrist, talked about “Why the Current Concept of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is Unhelpful”, examining the historical roots of this diagnosis, its assumptions and (intended and unintended) consequences. Later that day, Gina Ross, President of the International Trauma-Healing Institutes (ITI), discussed “The Ross Model: Healing the Collective Nervous System”, with an emphasis on the dynamic of the trauma and the healing vortex. The second day started with a few introductory notes on creativity and trauma from Vlad Glaveanu and continued with a powerful, personal account of overcoming trauma by Cara Perret, Webster University Geneva. Lastly, Donna Orange (NYU and the Institute for the Psychoanalytic Study of Subjectivity) offered both conceptual and practical reflections on “Accompanying Witness to Trauma”.
The event included two expert panel discussions. The first day the panel was focused on defining trauma and problematizing current understandings of this phenomenon. It included Pat Bracken, Joan Giller, Gina Ross, and Ros Thomas as panelists, and was moderated by Gail Womersley. The second day panel examined trauma treatment, current advances and challenges, with reflections from Abdelhak Elghezouan, Donna Orange, Hermann Veerbeek, and Barbara Whitaker, moderated by Patricia Demierre-Berberat.
Last but not least, the conference comprised also a range of workshops, covering a wide range of topics and fostering the development of practical skills. Day one included workshops by Augustina Rahmanović-Koning and Selma Bajramović (Vive Zene) and Roy Tamashiro on collective trauma, Herman Veerbeek on treating anger, resentment and revenge, Tania Zittoun and Gail Womersly on trauma and imagination, and Francesco Visconti on visual correspondence. Day two featured workshops by Gina Ross on the transformative power of the “healing vortex”, Rachel Cohen, Cynthia Uccello, Catherine Butterly (Common Threads Project), Gail Womersly (GIST-T), and Joan Giller on war, displacement and gender based violence, Betty Sacco German and Neil German on trauma and dreams, and Tim Dunne on trauma therapy.
Most of all, this international conference offered an ideal platform for exchanging ideas and learning from other people’s experience. It created a space of dialogue, curiosity and joint exploration of some of the deepest questions faced by counselors, psychologists and aid professionals alike. In particular, it asked how we can retain our humanity in the face of devastating and sometimes even dehumanizing experiences, as well as how best to protect and promote the human dignity of the devastated Other. These questions, at the heart of what it means to be human, will continue to be the focus of a second edition of this event.