Counseling for Hostage Victims
Being held hostage is becoming an increasingly common experience. Terrorists commonly take hostages to use as bargaining pieces, and criminals may use hostages to shield themselves from the law. Hostages typically emerge from the ordeal traumatized and emotionally scarred. The effects of trauma can result in serious and long-term problems, but treatment is available to help you recover.
Stress Disorders Resulting from Trauma
Being in a hostage situation can cause posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but some people are more at risk of developing these problems. Every person’s reaction to stress is different, so although anyone who experiences a hostage situation will experience psychological effects, some people can cope while others will suffer more serious consequences. PTSD can be extremely debilitating and may contribute to depression, thoughts of suicide, sleep disorders, problems on the job and difficulty with interpersonal relationships.
What Is Stockholm Syndrome?
Another potential effect of surviving a hostage is developing Stockholm Syndrome. This mystifying phenomenon takes its name from a notorious incident that occurred in 1973: bank robbers inStockholm,Swedentook four people hostage, strapped them with dynamite and held them captive in a bank vault for five days. Upon their release the hostages had bonded emotionally with their captors and empathized with them. One woman actually became engaged to one of her former captors, and another started a defense fund to help with the defendants’ legal expenses.
Due to the publicity surrounding the event, the name Stockholm Syndrome was adopted to describe the emotional bonding that often occurs between captors and captives. However, the phenomenon was nothing new and has been observed frequently in cases of forced captivity and in other controlling relationships such as cases of abused or battered spouses and children. Stockholm Syndrome is so common in hostage situations that many hostage negotiators expect it.
Someone who has never been held hostage may find it incredible that anyone could feel empathy for a captor. However, psychologists consider Stockholm Syndrome to be a survival strategy. Hostages who show empathy and even a desire to help are much less likely to be treated harshly, tortured or killed. Hostage negotiators sometimes even encourage Stockholm Syndrome since it increases the chances for survival. However, Stockholm Syndrome can cause hostages to be uncooperative in the capture and criminal prosecution of the captors. Counseling is critical in helping former hostages regain their perspective.
Treatment for Victims of Terrorism
If you or someone you know has been held hostage and suffer from psychological issues as a result, therapy is available to help. If possible, getting the survivor into Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD) within 72 hours of the event can reduce the chance of developing PTSD. Counseling is very effective in helping those suffering from PTSD. If you would like help finding CISD or counseling for PTSD, call us. Our helpline is toll free and we are available 24 hours a day.