Ambitions, aims and views of ESCAP’s president-elect

Stephan Eliez: president of internationalization and sustainable governance

A new ESCAP president has been appointed in Madrid. Stephan Eliez, director of child psychiatry and special education at the Geneva University School of Medicine, has taken the place of long-time board member and president of ESCAP, professor Ruud Minderaa. Just before taking the chair of ESCAP, professor Eliez presented his views and ambitions, his inspiration and dilemmas of a four-year presidency.

ESCAP's president-elect Dr Stephan ELIEZTurning ESCAP into a real international society – not only for the obvious ‘elite’ – and organizing stable and sustainable governance. Those are the first subjects that Eliez brings up when asked for his presidency plans. And he underlines: “Over the coming years ESCAP must keep a strong focus on clinical and psychotherapeutic practice that could reflect the diversity of theoretical models used in Europe.”

Secondly, money is always short when you are idealistic and ambitious – so this is the next hot item, not only for the European society itself, certainly also for a number of member countries that were hit harder than others during the international monetary crisis. Therefore the new president will not hesitate to introduce sponsor relations and develop new, profitable activities.

Better international mix
As a board member and the treasurer of ESCAP, Dr Eliez already did his bit during the last four years. Where ESCAP used to host lectures and publications by homogeneous, national groups of scientists, a clear change becomes visible in the run-up to Madrid. Keynote speakers have noticed that there is a better mix of nationalities within the symposia and within groups of authors that prepare publications in the ECAP Journal.

Stephan Eliez: “That I consider an important step forward. If we can use our European network to promote visibility of academics in their own countries, we can actually support the improvement of the level of care in these countries. The standing of these experts in their own environment and the status of child psychiatry in their countries will improve and so will their influence on policy and the acceptance of evidence-based treatment.”

“Also, we should not underestimate the importance of many experts in countries that are not so obvious and renowned for their excellence in our field of science. They are often very competent in some niche of science that the colleagues from leading countries almost seem to overlook. Including experts from countries like Estonia, Poland, Greece and Bulgaria – to just name a few examples – is therefore a very good idea. And the clinical tradition in these countries is often much better preserved than in England or the Netherlands because they have not been cut as hard. And not many expect this, but they also put subjects on our agenda that are state of the art, like tele-psychotherapy or other e-health applications that are extremely important if you have so much rural and remote territory with no mental health care to be found within a reasonable distance. So they raise the scientific and clinical level of expertise in these groups and at the same time bring home a promotional message like I have just pictured. And on top of that: ESCAP does not want to be an elite companionship. The professional and scientific communities in all European countries belong to ESCAP and ESCAP is theirs. ESCAP is as much Dutch or British, as it is Serbian or Portuguese so to speak. That is why I promote their involvement in all activities of ESCAP, including the membership of the Board.”

Outstanding specialists
“On a grand scheme I see that there are a lot of outstanding societies today. For example: Autism Europe, the ADHD society Eunethydis, the Psychosis association CAFEPS, the European Association for Child and Adolescent PsychopathologyAEPEA and many others. Specialized societies for every disorder and they are usually very good, ran by very competent people. But they only draw the attention of colleagues who are specialized or for a specific interest of the cognition in the researchers. At a European level other than ESCAP and IACAPAP, I do not think that there is any society that includes all these countries and offers knowledge to the general clinician – this is why we closely cooperate with IACAPAP and for example alternate our congress years with them.”

“Still those clinicians do need a general overview of almost all disorders which always has been part of the ESCAP package, both at the congresses and now also on the website. They do not select their patients. They have their patients walk into the front door and are confronted with multiple syndromes in a great variation. They may come across Asperger or a subject with attention-deficit, an eating disorder problem and a young patient with psychoses all in the same day of practice.”

Home of societies
“To keep offering a broad overview on all psychiatric disorders, ESCAP could become the temporary home of the specialized societies. We could offer them their own space and time during our bi-annual congresses and even label it as their own event. I think that such congresses within the congress could be very inspiring. In some cases this will be only a matter of tuning agenda’s and programmes. In others we may have to make a real effort to start understanding each other and find a couple of common perspectives to get the cooperation going. And this hosting role of ESCAP does not have to be limited to the events. Our online communication now reaches a large proportion of the mental health professionals and researchers in Europe and beyond. Every month, thousands of child psychiatrist consult our website and social media channels for news and knowledge. And they begin to contribute to it as well, and that is how networks can really flourish. It also supports one of ESCAP’s main goals: the exchange of knowledge. I would have no objection to let the specialized societies become part of our online platform and benefit from its popularity.”

Relations with
the industry
“I personally have no relations with pharmaceutical companies and I benefit from none. But sponsor relations must be possible for ESCAP and are not limited to the pharmaceutical industry, but also possible for companies providing diagnostic and testing tools, cognitive remediation software, and scientific press. It is an important source of revenue and it makes things sustainable for us. Of course we will very carefully follow all the rules and regulations that prevent any conflict of interest. Most ESCAP countries have a very clear code of conduct for that and fortunately the industry itself has developed a good self-regulatory system as well. Of course ESCAP will never promote a specific product, but giving visibility to sponsors is acceptable in my opinion. This means that we will keep seeing sponsor exhibitions during congresses, but always in a separate area, and we will continue to allow sponsor presentations clearly labeled as such on the programme, Conditions are that these presentations are on a good scientific level and not to dominant in space and number. And the same principles may apply to the sponsoring of our online and offline communication or other activities: as long as the sponsor message is clearly separated from the ESCAP knowledge exchange and there is no ambiguity, I will not be against it. The knowledge and the content that we offer at our events and online media will always stay independent. As usual, speakers will also have to introduce their lectures expressing any potential conflict of interest and source of funding.”

“You have to also take in consideration that our audience – the professionals in European child and adolescent psychiatry – are much more educated about sponsor relations than they were a decade ago. They can very well distinguish what is a commercial message and where our independent scientific knowledge comes in.”

Credential platform
To support the migration of child psychiatrists within Europe, Dr Eliez has a certification system in mind for training credentials, based on the enormous amount of knowledge that ESCAP represents in the European network of child and adolescent psychiatry. “When a colleague starts practicing in another country, it would be in the interest of the patients and in the interest of himself and the employer to bring an official, certified reference along with him. ESCAP could provide that with a proper review procedure in the same manner as we have our conference abstracts or ECAP articles reviewed. Together with the experts in our national associations we would check someone’s training background to see if he really has the required equivalence and if approved ESCAP will give this person an official European equivalence title that is recognized by all the national associations, which are the ESCAP members. So we already are the network that contains the knowledge and we are already skilled in the procedure. As an officially recognized office we would be able to validate the training credentials of professionals in European child and adolescent psychiatry. And ESCAP is really the only organization that is equipped to do so, and add an important guarantee to the quality of treatment everywhere in Europe. I could imagine that this may give a boost of confidence in our profession to many parties, like the patients and their families, government bodies and the hospitals, universities and institutions that employ us.”

Stephan Eliez is very much open to new ideas along these lines. Of course he will be present and approachable at the Madrid conference in June 2015, but why wait? Any member or friend of ESCAP is invited to send ideas and questions directly to the president-elect.

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