Psychologists prepare for 'trauma never seen before' of released hostages

'They were treated like objects and will need to learn to be humans again,' say experts


Ahead of the expected release of 50 hostages currently held in the Gaza Strip by Hamas in exchange for 150 Palestinian prisoners and a four-day pause in the fighting, leading health professionals and trauma experts have outlined their planned approach in dealing with a level of trauma “never seen before”. 

Professor Hagai Levine, head of the medical team at the Hostages and Missing Families Forum in Israel, a body created by the relatives of October 7 abductees to facilitate their safe return, and Mrs Orna Dotan, head of the resilience team, spoke on an online panel to journalists on Wednesday. 

Levine said: “The three most important elements we will remember in dealing with returned hostages is PPP: professional, personal, and patience.  

“There will be a lot of media attention. The public will want to know about what happened, but it is crucial that we provide a calm, protective environment where they don’t feel forced to do anything. Human rights must be at the centre.” 

Levine said they have been preparing for many potential issues that could be easily overlooked, such as hostages being unacclimatised to sunlight, broken shoes, dental issues, damaged hearing aids and glasses. 

“It’s important that the approach to each individual is treated on a case-by-case basis, and that we learn from each of them and bring that knowledge onwards to the next. Women especially will need to feel safe as we don’t know what has happened to them,” Levine said. 

“There is no answer that fits all. For some, the most important thing they need is a hug from their mother. For someone else, it’s immediate surgery.” 

He noted that it was likely the hostages would not be aware of all that had happened in the last six weeks, with no knowledge of how many hostages there were and how many had been killed on October 7. 

“The hostages were treated like an object by Hamas for purposes to frighten and cause terror,” Levine said. “They were used, and now they need to learn to be humans again, and that is our challenge.” 

Orna Dotan, who leads a team of nearly 100 mental health professionals, said: “We are writing the textbook on how to deal with this amount of trauma, a level that has never happened or beeen seen here before. 

“Families are now in the most challenging circumstances of their lives, each requiring a different approach and a tailor-made treatment. For some children, they may have seen their parents shot. We don’t know how many are alive, what they saw, which type of trauma they are dealing with.  

“It will be a long road of consulting international health bodies and professionals, day and night, reading the literature and giving the captives back control. Patience is key.”

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