The way from the beginning

The idea for a training centre came up when the current director of the centre learned in a keynote at the ISPA colloquium in Eger, Hungary from Bernie Stein, Israel, in 1996 that school psychologists could be useful for limiting the damage to individuals in schools after terrorist attacks. Though not expecting that these kinds of critical incidents would happen in Europe it was clear that there are many other situations which could traumatize children: sudden deaths, car wrecks, suicides, natural catastrophes…. Since it could be proved that not only parents and doctors and psychotherapists could be helpful but as well professionals in schools by helping to stabilize individuals, groups and the school as a system right after an event, it seemed obvious that action should be taken to bring relevant knowledge and skills to European schools.

Colleagues in Israel and the USA by 2000 had aquired a lot of experience in this field. Therefore Professor William Pfohl, USA, member of the National Emergency Team (NEAT) of the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), did the first training for Bavarian school psychologists in 2002. Shortly after it the school shooting happened in Erfurt, Germany. The group of recently trained school psychologists could effeciently use their knowledge and skills. Acknowledging this success the Bavarian Minister of Education, then Ms. Hohlmeier, decided that a permanent team of specially trained school psychologists should be formed.

The current director of the ESPTC decided to have more trainings for European school psychologists using the COMENIUS project of the European Union. The trainer team consisted of Prof. Pfohl, Arthur Englbrecht, early deceased in 2007, and Bernhard Meissner. Dr Shulamit Niv, Dr. Yehuda Shacham were included to add their experience from Israel, particularly focussing on copings using the research of Mooli Lahad, head of the Community Stress Prevention Centre for which they work. Since 2003 every year basic COMENIUS courses in crisis management in schools were organized, since 2006 advanced courses, too.

The basic trainings teach fundamental knowledge and skills in stabilising potentially traumatized children

  • by activating coping strategies, using the BASIC-Ph model developed by Mooly Lahad, Israel,
  • by teaching easy techniques to help organize the chaos after critical incidents in schools,
  • by teaching useful protocols for meetings with affected individuals and groups,
  • by teaching how to prepare schools for critical incidents or even better to prevent violent acts,
  • by preparing trainees for supporting the school administration,
  • how to deal with the media,
  • and by encouraging trainees to form networks with other support groups on community, regional, national level.

Since special critical incidents, like suicide and bullying could not be included in the basic course, and it soon turned out that the more trained persons were available the longer the special support for schools was needed, an advanced course was offered since 2006.

Its topics are

  • exchange on experience when using the basic techniques,
  • discuss organizational issues in longterm intervention and PTSD diagnosis,
  • dealing with suicide and suicide prevention,
  • dealing with bullying prevention and intervention,
  • building safe schools including cooperation with municipality based agencies.

The trainings always are conducted by the whole team, named above, in order to share developments round the world in this area and as a model for crisis intervention. Other principles are that participants are individually involved by exercises, sharing experiences and trained to use fundamental tools in simulations.

Unfortunately a growing number of school shootings and threatenings happened since 2002 in Europe and attracted many school psychologists to the trainings. Nearly 400 school psychologists from 17 European countries have been trained so far, an unknown number by our former trainees in their home countries.

A network of experienced trainees has been formed in 2009. They are available in their countries to offer trainings for their colleagues and for school personnel. They meet regularly to exchange new experience and knowledge.

Two-day-courses are offered now as well for helping develop safe schools e.g. dealing with bullying and classroom management which have to be paid for by participants themselves.

Since 2007 the courses were run fully under the roof of ISPA, while before they had been organized as a joint venture of ISPA and FELS e.V. Unterfranken.

In 2010 it became obvious that a European legal entity independent from ISPA would better serve the aims of the training centre. So it was formed as such in The Netherlands. Particularly active and experienced former trainees are now on the board of the foundation European School Psychology Centre for Training (ESPCT) registered in the Amsterdam Chamber of Commerce.