Israel-Hamas War: How do you support hostages who are now coming home?

Science and Health

Preparations are essential, especially in anticipation of the return of our hostages. Our hearts are with them in Gaza, and we celebrate their gradual return.

This is an unprecedented challenge as, even for the most experienced therapists, including myself, we have not personally dealt with this situation. Even those who have provided care for previously released hostages have not encountered hostagesĀ held by terrorist groups.

There is much uncertainty regarding their physical condition upon return. Hospitalization has been necessary for several. Will hospitalization be necessary for the rest? What occurred during their captivity? Were they treated humanely or subject to abuse and torture? The care team will undoubtedly require support, guidance, and training to cope with the expected horror.

Furthermore, the needs of physically injured hostages, those who experienced sexual trauma, and children separated from their parents will differ significantly. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and we must approach each individual who emerges from this hell with utmost sensitivity, tailoring their treatment accordingly.

As we confront numerous unknowns, we are striving to develop answers at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, the army unit responsible for receiving the victims initially, other hospitals where they will be transferred for treatment, and welfare groups that will support them after completing acute treatment.

There are established procedures for who receives the prisoners (the army), who initially engages with their mental health needs (a social worker), and when psychologists and psychiatrists become involved.

However, flexibility and wisdom are crucial, and we must not adhere rigidly to a singular protocol. Our guiding principle is simple: we must provide whatever the hostage requires, as our professional and moral obligation.


Some may seek hospitalization while others yearn to be reunited with loved ones at home. Some may wish to discuss their experiences, while others may not. In this uncharted territory, it is not about “need and entitlement” but rather “ability and desire.”

How should friends and loved ones approach the returning hostages?

If a hug feels comfortable, offer one, but always seek consent. Physical touch and warmth are invaluable. Maintain a supportive gaze. Allow them to speak and listen attentively, but avoid pressuring them to share or encouraging disclosure if they are not ready.

Provide a safe, comfortable, and calm environment. Instill faith in their ability to recover, overcome, and embark on a path of healing. If they struggle to seek professional help themselves, assist them in connecting with the necessary resources.

We have a moral obligation and a significant professional challenge as we prepare for the return of the abductees. We are determined to fulfill this obligation and rise to the challenge.

Dr. Oren Tana is the Director of the Psychiatric Institute at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center and the Director of the Mentalix Institute for Psychiatry.