The 2022 Australia-New Zealand Regional Conference has been a long time coming! Planning commenced in early 2020 for a 2021 conference which was, like so many events, unable to continue due to pandemic lockdowns. Instead, during 2021 the Committee pivoted and focused on developing ISSTD’s first-ever online Asia-Pacific Regional Conference. (This very successful venture was held in November 2021 and is reported upon by committee member Adithy here)
Come the start of 2022 the Committee pivoted again and began preparations for the in-person conference in Melbourne, which was finally held 11-13 November this year. Somehow Melbourne floods subsided just in time and the sun came out. We welcomed Australians from all States, with the wonderful Sarah traveling all the way from Darwin (3754 kilometers/2332 miles away); a small and very welcome group from New Zealand; and a wonderful contingent from America, including ISSTD staff, our President Lisa Danylchuk; and plenary presenter Dr Colin Ross. We felt very privileged to have people come from so far away.
Our special thanks to staff who were on the task each day, despite jetlag, juggling conference duties as well as normal ISSTD duties. They were welcoming, uncomplaining and totally on the task. Mary Pat, Caroline and Kelly – you were the glue that held it all together!! We hoped you enjoyed down under as much as we enjoyed having you!
Another special thanks would have to go to Scarlett who operated the ‘roving microphone’ in most presentations. Not only was she the quickest roving mike ever, but she also asked her own thoughtful questions and generated discussion points among us.
Before we start talking about the papers, let’s begin with the really important stuff…food. Each day began with a breakfast with the mostest, followed by fantastic morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea… sometimes followed by a few drinks in the evening, as old friends reconnected in this (somewhat) post-pandemic world! The conference committee members received frequent feedback about the relaxed and friendly nature of the conference and joy in having a chance to really have some great face-to-face conversations with like-minded people. Some people also took the opportunity to arrive early or leave a day late so they got time to enjoy the cute laneways, good food and coffee, art galleries, and pretty gardens that Melbourne has to offer.
And we have to acknowledge our wonderful sponsors, The Trauma and Dissociation Unit of Belmont Hospital, Queensland. Not only did they travel all the way to Melbourne (donning their jackets for the trip, no doubt!) but they provided a great display. The highlight for a certain newsletter editor was the stress-toy squeezable giraffes. Graphics will show why this should be an essential therapy toy for every clinician. Much thanks is also given to Readings Bookstore who had a bookstall during the conference. These days a real-life bookstore at a conference feels like a special treat!
But back to the serious stuff. The Conference opened on Friday with workshops including an Introduction to Dissociation and the Dissociative Disorders, Treatment approaches for DID, the Developmental trauma, shame and dissociation triangle, a detailed workshop on trauma and memory, and a workshop on working with families who have experienced sexual abuse. This felt like an intense day of deep learning, interspersed with fun moments of connection over good food and some wine in the evening. Lowen hosted a great Create and Connect which we all could enjoy.
On Saturday there were wonderful plenary speakers including Dr Colin Ross, all the way from USA, who gave a fascinating talk on maladaptive daydreaming, complete with stunning artwork from people who experience maladaptive daydreaming. He intrigued us with his thoughts on potential links and overlaps between DID and Maladaptive Daydreaming. The graphics in his presentation were truly stunning and his talk sparked off lots of conversation over morning tea. We were touched by Colin’s warm and generous presence throughout the conference and were so delighted to welcome him down under.
Vanessa Turnbull-Roberts, Bundjalung woman and recipient of the Australian 2019 Young People’s Human Rights Medal, teamed up with Kyllie Cripps Palawa woman, and one of Australia’s leading researchers on Indigenous family violence, child abuse and sexual assault to speak passionately about indigenous trauma, removal of indigenous children from kinship networks, and the role of advocacy in healing trauma. Everyone was moved by their weaving of personal, family story into the professional, research-based aspects of their work.
Due to illness and misadventure some of the Saturday afternoon presenters had to cancel, but we soldiered on and some brave presenters pivoted (yet again) and re-shaped the afternoon presentations.
Warwick Middleton gave an address about working in the field and the experience of being a whistle-blower, right back in the start of his career. Some fascinating panel discussions were held exploring challenges of working in the field, as well as a panel chaired by Michael Salter which explored healing intergenerational trauma through cultural strength, advocacy and resistance.
Sunday followed up with a good number of workshops (cannot list them all!) on many aspects of treatment including introductions to treatment models; strategies for working with children, families and marginalised groups; research and treatment of organised abuse; the role of medications in treatment; and trauma-informed yoga treatment. The day ended with a moving panel exploring systemic issues in responding to violence against women.
Of course, this being an ISSTD conference, the conference was not just about learning but about connection and support. If you have not yet attended an ISSTD Conference Dinner, you really must. They are, without a doubt, the most caring, welcoming and positive events. The Saturday night Conference Dinner saw 2021 Australian of the Year Grace Tame, and all-round inspiring human being, give a moving speech about her journey as a survivor advocate, supported by Michael Salter who facilitated the speech in a question-and-answer format. The connection between Michael and Grace was fantastic and we were all touched and inspired by Grace’s talk.
We followed this with the presentation of Awards that have been unable to be presented in person at the Annual Conference. (Again, blame it on COVID!) For more information on awards see the separate awards article (here – insert link)
Overall, it was a wonderful get together. We learnt a lot and we connected once again, after far too long apart. There were lots of hugs, lots of deep discussions, and new friendships and collegiate networks were formed. On that note, this article cannot be complete without a picture of Noha, a recently graduate art therapist who embraced all the teaching an ISSTD conference had to offer, and networked with everyone, posting each picture on social media, setting off a bit on a LinkedIn storm. We were lucky to have Lowen, who has been heavily involved in the CAT SIG available to welcome and encourage a number of art therapists to join ISSTD.
On that note we had a chance this conference to promote the brand-new Australia-New Zealand Online Regional Community. We now have an ongoing chance to connect and support each other before the next regional conference – which will be held in the beautiful Aotearoa/New Zealand in 2025. See you all online (click here to join) and hopefully in-person in New Zealand.