Page last updated at 16:31 GMT, Thursday, 31 December 2009

How hostages get their lives back

By Jon Kelly
BBC News

Peter Moore
Peter Moore will be offered counselling following his release

British hostage Peter Moore has been released alive after more than two-and-a-half years in captivity in the Middle East - but now the bewildering task of returning to normality lies ahead of him.

Few can imagine how it feels to undergo such an ordeal, during which three of Mr Moore's bodyguards were killed. A fourth is also thought to be dead.

So the difficult process of putting his life back together appears even more daunting.

The IT consultant from Lincoln will be offered counselling by authorities to help him cope.

Nonetheless, Terry Waite - who was kidnapped in 1987 while attempting to secure the release of hostages in Beirut as the Archbishop of Canterbury's special envoy - believes that, above all, it is important for freed captives not to try and rush their recovery.

"Anyone who's been through that experience, I would say to them 'take it gently, take it one step at a time,'" Mr Waite advises.

"It's rather like coming up from the sea bed.

Terry Waite
Take it gently, get your story out
Terry Waite

"If you try and come out of an experience like that too quickly and try and do too many things too quickly, it can be a problem."

Mr Waite acknowledges that he felt greatly confused on his release and urges Mr Moore to find someone he can talk with about his experiences.

"Take it gently, get your story out, tell it to a trained listener," he adds.

"Not everybody who goes through that sort of experience suffers from post-traumatic stress - some do, some don't.

"But if you can get your story out, if you can begin to relate it to another, then you can manage it rather than being managed by it."

'Survivors' guilt'

Prof David Alexander of the Aberdeen Centre for Trauma Research, a trustee for the charity Hostage UK, says one of the hardest things former captives have to deal with is fact that the world has moved on in their absence.

"Readjusting to a new world is a very, very difficult thing," he says.

"At least in prison you have newspapers and TV. You come back to a world that has accelerated away from you, relationships that have changed.

"With some, you also have the phenomenon of survivor's guilt, where they exhibit self-destructive behaviour because they blame themselves."

However, Prof Alexander warns that no two ex-hostages are the same. For many, talking about their experiences helps; others may look for different ways to express themselves.

"It's important that you don't create a blueprint of how hostages behave," he argues. "Nor should we pathologise what is a normal way of coping with adversity.

What they really need is peace and quiet
Dr Keron Fletcher
consultant psychiatrist

"Yes, it is hellish, but people come through it."

Dr Keron Fletcher, a consultant psychiatrist who has worked with former hostages, agrees that returning to everyday life is one of the best ways of moving on.

"People are enormously helped if they get back to a steady routine," he says.

"The problem is they get plagued by journalists and people wanting to buy them drinks, when in fact what they really need is peace and quiet."

However, as Terry Waite says, it is important not to forget the other victims of kidnappings - the captives' loved ones, who will have spent years hoping for the best while fearing the worst.

"One needs to remember that the family, too, have suffered a lot in this situation.

"It's not just the hostage - it's the family as well who have been on a most difficult course."



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