Conference Review: ESTD (European Society for Trauma and Dissociation) Biannual Conference, Berlin – March 2012

by Eileen Noonan

I have just returned from ESTD’s conference and would like to share my enthusiasm and excitement about it. ESTD was formed out of the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation nearly seven years ago. One of its stated aims is to promote an increase in the knowledge of Trauma, Dissociation and all disorders related to chronic traumatisation; and another is to support cooperation and communication among clinicians and professionals in the field of dissociation. A number of years ago when I was struggling in my work with clients who have a dissociative disorder I came across ESTD and it has been a support to me to have a network of people who are working with similar clients.

The conference provides a place to learn and to chat to people who are doing similar work. It is interesting to hear and meet people whose books I have read, who have the experience of working in this area for thirty years and so have a lot to teach me. Finally, and most importantly, the conference provides a chance to network with Irish colleagues and people from other countries. It is very heartening to meet new people who have a curiosity and passion for their work.

The conference focused on working with both adults and children. The conference has a pre-conference workshop day offering a choice of five workshops. I chose Kathy Steele’s workshop, Healing Betrayal Trauma: Working with Attachment and Dependency Issues. Her workshop covered the topic of how, for people who have been abused and neglected by caregivers (betrayal trauma), the therapy relationship can be a powerful trigger that evokes defences that maximise attachment efforts on the one hand and defences that minimize closeness on the other hand. One of the greatest challenges in the therapy is for the therapist to navigate the transference and counter-transference issues specific to this dissociative attachment style. Using attachment theory and dissociation as a framework, Kathy made a distinction between healthy and maladaptive dependency and how the therapist’s stance can contribute to either type of dependency. Kathy, a co- author of The Haunted Self and Skills Training Manual for Trauma Related Dissociation, is funny, compassionate, practical and has empathy for both client and therapist whilst being clear (from experience) about what works and what does not work.

The conference itself included three plenary sessions and five break-out sessions where there were 12 different choices of workshops, lectures and presentation of research papers to choose from, see http://estd2012.org/ StructurePlan.php for details of the programme and pre-conference workshops. Of the workshops I attended one that stood out was: The Art of Process given by two psychotherapists from the Netherlands, on working with pre-verbal experiences and how a therapist has to rely on their instinct and creativity in order to maintain contact with the client on this (nearly) wordless level. Another workshop by Suzette Boon, Mr Toad’s Wild Ride: Resolving therapeutic misadventures and impasses in the treatment of dissociative disorders was excellent. She spoke of how during an impasse the therapist is at risk of becoming enmeshed or distancing from the client and how it can be difficult to maintain boundaries and limits in the face of chronic crises’.

Overall, I would highly recommend this conference. It covers the range of dissociative disorders from DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder) at one end, to the kind of work we are all engaged in as psychotherapists at the other. It has a good balance between experiential and academic/research sessions. Because of its manageable size it was easy to feel welcome among this group of clinicians and researchers.