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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 March 2006, 14:46 GMT
'Normality the key to moving on'
Norman Kember - C - Al Jazeera
Support from family and friends will help Norman Kember in the coming weeks
British hostage Norman Kember and Canadians James Loney and Harmeet Singh Sooden have been released after four months in captivity.

But what are the effects on a person's mental health of being held for so long?

The key, according to psychologist Michael Reddy, is a return to normality.

He said hostages needed to be reminded that their recent experiences were not usual.

The main thing is to instil that it's in the past, not the present
Simon Meyerson, Institute of Psychology

Mr Reddy told the BBC News website: "Often, people do not need to speak to professionals - they can simply talk to the people around them.

"It is only if people have a specific issue that they may need to seek professional help.

"Each individual is different. There may be fears of post traumatic stress disorder, but that is very rare."

He said an individual's psychological "balance" was important - as seen in the cases of Terry Waite and John McCarthy who were held in Beirut for five years - who emerged from captivity in "strong" frames of mind.

He added: "One thing that will help Norman Kember is his faith.

"Belief in the will of God, or a higher faith, is one of the things that helps enormously for getting through the hostage situation and coping afterwards."

'Survivor guilt'

And Mr Reddy, chairman of the British Psychological Society, said the three men would help each other come to terms with their experiences.

"They have a bond which can never be broken.

"I once dealt with survivors of an air crash in which many people had been killed.

"Despite coming from different parts of the world, the survivors created their own self-support group where they could discuss their experience."

But he said the death of one of their group - American hostage Tom Fox, whose body was discovered two weeks ago - would have had a huge impact.

"There can be a feeling of 'survivor guilt' - where people think 'it could have been me, it should have been me'".

Simon Meyerson, of the Institute of Psychology in London, has worked with many released hostages, including an American journalist held hostage in Iraq two years ago.

He said some people do break down.

"If that happens, we have to start working with them to help them rebuild their lives.

"They may have flashbacks. When that happens, we would talk them through what they were seeing and feeling. Others may experience nightmares.

"We take them through the situation and try to disarm it."

But he added: "The main thing is to instil that it's in the past, not the present."


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