Psychologist surprised by condition of hostages

A Zurich police psychologist says he was surprised to find the four Swiss hostages in a "good" mental state after almost six months of captivity.

This content was published on August 20, 2003 minutes

Markus Gurt accompanied the hostages during their flight home from Mali, where they were set free on Monday afternoon.

“I was able to speak to each of the former hostages for about an hour,” Gurt told swissinfo. “I was surprised by the good condition they were in.

“When you think about what they’ve experienced, they could have been in a much worse state.”

His aim was to prepare the hostages for their return to normal life and warn them of likely psychological repercussions.

Having assisted the crisis team set up in Bern following the kidnappings in February, Gurt was part of the delegation that flew to Mali on Sunday with ambassador Peter Sutter.

Hostage situation

The police psychologist took with him plenty of experience. He has already worked as a negotiator in hostage situations and has offered counselling after plane crashes and the local parliament massacre in Zug in 2001.

“The first responsibility for a psychologist after the release of hostages is to prepare them for normal life,” he said.

“But in fact their lives will never be quite the same as they were before. For one thing, they themselves will have changed during their captivity.”

According to Gurt, the most difficult psychological challenges could still lie ahead, particularly since the four Swiss had not had a minute to themselves to reflect on what had happened.

“They have been constantly at the centre of attention,” he said.

Future hurdles

The psychologist said he used his time with the four Swiss to explain some of the difficulties that could arise.

“Sometimes there can be moments of aggression,” Gurt warned. “There have also been cases where people have problems of perception, with touching or hearing. Others find themselves repressing their emotions.”

During Wednesday’s press conference at Zurich airport, two relatives of the hostages claimed that the group had been well treated by their captors and that they had expressed sympathy for the kidnappers’ position.

Gurt said it was too early, however, to talk about a possible case of “Stockholm syndrome”, which sees hostages taking the side of their jailers.

“To start with, I should point out that not all psychologists are in agreement about Stockholm syndrome. Some dispute its validity. And anyway, one can’t yet say if it could be true in this case.”

For now, Gurt is just happy to see the former hostages reuniting with their families.

“I will stay in touch with them, but we haven’t decided what will happen next.”

swissinfo, Ariane Gigon Bormann (translation: Mark Ledsom)

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