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When the hostages come home

With prospects improving for freeing of the Americans held captive in Tehran, the news media seem to be riding a new hobbyhorse. The past focus on the danger to the physical lives of the hostages has lessened. Now the speculation is all about what the mental state of the prisoners will be once they are released. Lemming-like, print and broad-cast journalists are rushing to interview psychologists and psychiatrists on what can be expected after so many enforced months of isolation. There will be tensions adjusting to the normal world, it is said by some. Post-captivity phobias to be fought. Perhaps even permanent "psychological damage."

Such talk may titillate readers and audiences; sadly, the media always seem to prefer highlighting potential disaster. Yet prognostications of this kind could prove selffulfilling if dwelt on enough. They are certainly contradictory for those who believe in the power of prayer. Why do we look to divine Providence to protect the lives of innocent people and to free them without physical harm -- and then forget providential care when it comes to the state of their minds? Surely the spiritual protection sought encompasses the individuals' whole being and experience, both during and after incarceration.

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We do not for a moment impugn the thoughtful efforts of psychologists and others to ease the way for the return of the hostages. Over the years much experience has been gathered in understanding and treating ex-hostages. It indeed may prove needful and compassionately helpful in this instance. We would simply caution against a deluge of dire predictions and an unwitting public itch to savor some tragic tales. When the time comes, the former captives should not be set upon like so many experimental subjects for psychiatric research. It should be left to them to point the way to what they do or do not need.

In the meantime, it is more salutary for the public to be balanced in its concern, remembering the resilience of the human spirit. We would like to think that the enormous out-pouring of affection and support which Americans have given the captives, as well as the prisoners' own God-given reserves of strength , will continue to sustain them through the weeks and months ahead.


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