WHO, WHAT, WHY?
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What do psychologists make of the extraordinary case of Natascha Kampusch, abducted at 10, deprived of her childhood, and now back in the real world after eight years?
In March 1998, Natascha Kampusch was snatched from a Vienna street as she walked to school.
For eight long years, she was held in a cellar she believed to be rigged with explosives. Her only human contact was with her abductor, Wolfgang Priklopil, who effectively brought her up. He provided her with clothes, food, helped her with her studies. It is not yet clear if he sexually abused her.
But on Wednesday, Natascha escaped. An elderly neighbour of the man she had to call "master" found the 18-year-old, pale and in distress, and called the police. Natascha was soon reunited with her parents.
"Her life has been suspended, and it will take a lot to reconnect," says Dr Anuradha Sayal-Bennett. "She's obviously a very brave young woman, very resourceful, to have managed to escape."
That can only stand her in good stead for the long and difficult task of coming to terms with what she's been through. Natascha's is such a rare case that while she has undoubtedly suffered enormous trauma, there is no way of saying in advance what the precise effects will be - or how best to treat her.
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Phillip Hodson, a Fellow of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, says those treating Natascha will be guided by her, asking her if she wants to talk about her experiences, and monitoring her for depression and flashbacks, for which there are a range of therapies.
"Go in with no assumptions, establish a basic rapport. Establish how used she is to conversation. Always put it as questions - 'they think you should talk about it; what do you think?'" he says.
It will be important to re-establish as normal a life with her loved ones as possible. But the life of a 10-year-old, or of an 18-year-old? For her first words to her father - after "I love you" - was "Is my toy car still there?" It had been her favourite plaything.
Dr Jack Boyle, a Glasgow psychologist who specialises in treating abused children, says a bit of both. "She has moved on emotionally from being a 10-year-old, yet that was the life she had that was abruptly cut off."
Another difficulty will be the feeling of abandonment, that no-one came to rescue her. A 10-year-old believes that adults are to be trusted, that her parents will be there for her, and these expectations have been shattered, says Mr Hodson.
Psychological response in hostages, in which they come to identify with their captor
Named after 1973 robbery in Stockholm, where bank employees sympathised with their captors
Famous case is heiress Patty Hearst (above), who helped her captors rob a bank
"At the time of the kidnap, she will have been saying 'why don't my parents come and get me?' Then she'll have despaired of that happening, and thought 'bugger them'. That will be a considerable barrier to being reunited with her family."
Then there's Stockholm syndrome, the coping mechanism whereby abductees exhibit loyalty to their kidnapper. Because Priklopil committed suicide after she escaped, this will further complicate Natascha's reactions.
"She'll have a lot of conflicting reactions - guilt and relief," says Dr Sayal-Bennett.
Phillip Hodson says his death will, in a way, be like losing a family member - even if she's glad he's dead.
"If somebody has been there through your transition from childhood to adulthood, it's impossible to not to form some sort of familial feeling. And she set in train the events that led to his death. That's a lot to come to terms with."
Add your comments on this story, using the form below.
I can only say that I feel total admiration for this resilient young girl who managed to stay healthy, mentally and physically, despite all the odds against her. The next hurdle for her now will be to reintegrate society and family life and try to regain some of the lost years. This will take a lot of time, courage and love but she can and will make it because she's proven that she is one strong girl! Let's just leave her alone until she is ready to share her story with us. Good luck, Natasha! God bless you.
E Greyeyes, Hatley, Quebec, Canada
It might help Natascha to learn that her story - the pre-arranged room, her captivity, etc - comes straight out of John Fowles' The Collector, although Miranda does not succeed in escaping in the book. At any rate I think her psychologists should be aware that someone actually wrote about her fate some 40 years ago as fiction before it became reality. I think it tells us something about the frame of mind of the kidnapper.
Maria Grech Ganado, Madliena/Malta
Staying with only one human figure for eight years can affect her way of interaction with people and psychological development. I think she will not have that bond with anyone, especially male, as she may relate them to her captor.
Rosemary Modise, Molepolole, Botswana
What a terrible time she has had being in that cellar for 8 years, missing her family's occasions, birthdays Christmases etc she must have thought about that, missing her family thinking that they abandoned her. All she needs now is reassurance and love, and hopefully in time she will learn to forget him.
Madeleine Rayner, Lancashire, UK
Of course everyone wants to know how she will recover. However, just like other big events, only time will tell. Curiosity isn't a bad way to learn, but when it's about someone else's private life, I believe it should be held back. Let her live in peace, let's hope there would be a book about her psychological state when she'll have recovered, only if she authorises it. Let her be.
Lynne Champoux-Williams, Quebec, Canada
Compassion, fortitude and discernment are essential qualities for those who help Natascha to heal. One hopes that she is able to take the lead in this extraordinary process, without that there will be unforeseen difficulties. Those who have been abandoned and incarcerated deserve a lifetime of very special care and protection.
Jamie, Manaton, Devon
That girl was kept in a cellar for 8 years and didn't see her family once because of that man. How can you say it must have been like losing a family member? She must have been glad that he is dead. HE took away most of her life and as far as she was concerned she might as well have been dead.
How will she cope going from living in confinement, only seeing her captor, to having the media trying to film and interview her continuously?
Dan Williams, Reading, UK
How can you just assume that Natasha is going to have all of these feelings and reactions? Why are so many assumptions being made? Just let the poor women tell her side of the story when she's ready and forget about this Stockholm syndrome.
D La Valle, London
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