More than 300 delegates enjoyed a rich and diverse program at the 20th Australasian Conference on Traumatic Stress (ACOTS) held in Sydney over three days in September. The theme, Trauma, recovery and growth: Advances in research and practice reflected the increasing recognition of multiple trajectories following traumatic experiences.
The international keynote speakers each presented a workshop and keynote talk. Professor Richard Tedeschi encouraged delegates to look beyond symptom reduction in the clinical and academic arena of posttraumatic mental health. He articulated the conceptual beginnings of posttraumatic growth (a term he coined), its theoretical underpinnings, and presented a working model of its clinical implementation through his work with the Boulder Crest Institute in the USA.
Professor Frank Neuner (Bielefeld University, Germany) gave delegates a firm grounding in the theory and clinical application of Narrative Exposure Therapy. His creative way of using evidence-based treatment and contextualising it within the often complex personal histories of those who are exposed to trauma multiple times was inspiring, and its implications across other trauma affected populations was clear.
Australian keynote speakers also presented fascinating addresses. Professor Richard Bryant (University of NSW) reflected on the history of psychotraumatology in Australia. Acknowledging the immense contribution of figureheads such as Professor Beverley Raphael, he revealed how far the field has travelled in the last thirty years. Despite significant advances, however, he stressed that the complex area of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander posttraumatic mental health still needs to remain a priority.
Professor Kim Felmingham (University of Melbourne) discussed the biological determinants underpinning gender differences in PTSD prevalence, emphasising that a bio-psycho-social approach is essential to future inquiry into this area.
The broad program of new and emerging science in the field of posttraumatic mental health was eagerly discussed amongst the delegates. Presentations featured leading groups and researchers speaking on refugee, child and adolescent, and military and veteran posttraumatic mental health issues, the role of exercise, and biomarkers of post-trauma trajectories.
The conference balanced the interests of academics and clinicians alike. For the first time, a dedicated clinical stream provided tutorials showcasing evidence-based interventions. These informative sessions, led by Australian experts, provided practical tools for delegates working with survivors of trauma. The tutorials included: Trauma-informed care for clients who have experienced violence; Transdiagnostic interventions; Working with moral injury; Imagery rehearsal for rescripting nightmares; The power of nature in recovery following trauma; and Compassion-focussed treatments.
Professor David Forbes, Director of Phoenix Australia, wrapped up the conference at the end of the program by saying, “What a fantastic conference this has been, with a rich and diverse program, and a wonderfully collegial atmosphere”. It is clear that Australia’s posttraumatic mental health community is strong and vibrant.