Letter From The President

Trauma and Dissociation: Treatment is Prevention

Dear ISSTD Community,

25 November marks the start of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. The theme this year is “invest to prevent”. Our responses to child abuse, domestic violence and sexual assault have clustered at the so-called “tertiary” end, focused on trying to heal survivors after the fact, and hold perpetrators to account. So how do we encourage governments to invest upstream to prevent violence before it occurs?

In my work on public policy responses to complex trauma, I’ve come to think of trauma a little like a virus. Sometimes trauma heals on its own, just like any illness or injury. But if left untreated, trauma tends to spread: laterally, where traumatised people and communities create trauma for others, and also intergenerationally, in the many different ways that trauma can be transmitted from parents to children and grandchildren.

I’m not convinced that we can effectively prevent violence and abuse in a trauma-saturated society. In the covid-19 pandemic, bringing the virus under control required providing treatment to people with covid-19, not only for their own wellbeing but for community health as well. We needed to reduce the viral load in the community to bring the pandemic under control. In the same way, we need to reduce the trauma burden carried by our communities if we are to be truly free of violence and abuse.

For that reason, I feel strongly that, when it comes to trauma and dissociation, treatment is prevention. The work that ISSTD members are doing, every day, is not only providing victims and survivors with a pathway to health and wellbeing, but in doing so, creating new futures for their children and grandchildren. The treatment and prevention of trauma and dissociation is a virtuous cycle that the ISSTD is proud to be a part of.