Chilean miners will need rehab for return to reality

Sixty-nine days trapped more than 600 metres underground: for the 33 miners rescued this week in San Jose, Chile, returning to the surface is a sort of deliverance. But can one escape such a trial unscathed?


They have waited for this moment for 69 days. Wednesday morning at dawn, the 33 miners trapped underground began to rediscover daylight and freedom. But the return to real life may not be easy for the San Jose "33". Three experts offer their insights on the difficulties the miners may encounter in overcoming their trauma. For the miners, does the return to surface mean a return to normal life?

Michel Siffre, caver: The ordeal of these 33 miners is very interesting because it has become a major media event. Can you imagine these poor miners being welcomed by the president? For them, this is something unheard of, not counting all the media that will make them dizzy. They have undergone a major psychological shock, which will be cushioned by this highly-mediatised escape [from the mine]. The return to reality will take place at another time. Once the media have calmed down, the miners will finally be left to face themselves. At that moment the traumas may surface.

What difficulties could they encounter?

Patrick Clervoy, specialist in stress and psychological trauma: They will be confronted by several difficulties. There is first of all the physiological wear. They have lived underground for more than 10 weeks, deprived of light, in difficult and stressful conditions for the body. Now, the stakes are above all psychological. They have already lived through three traumas: the collapse and the disaster, the long weeks of confinement and the extraction at the risk of their lives. How will they recover from these different trials? Finally, they have to face one more: reintegrate with their families. Clearly, many psychological resources have been put in place to welcome them, but this does not guarantee that there won’t be, for each of them, difficulties in returning to normal life.

Eric Zipper, technical adviser to French Caving Rescue (SSF): After a long period of confinement, the miners have organised themselves. For a time, they lived as a family unit. And suddenly, all these bearings will explode. Certainly they are very happy to be reunited with their families, but there will be an inevitable moment of lag and adaptation.

What role did the group factor play?

Patrick Clervoy: Cohesion, solidarity and fraternity offer extraordinary protection against stress and psychological trauma. Now one of the main challenges they face will be to successfully manage their separation and resume their individual lives. I think that this will require following by a team of psychologists.

Eric Zipper: In their misery, they still had one lucky break: to be many. The group factor allows exchanges, moments of weakness offset by others. For the miners, the best solution would be that the group does not disperse too quickly so that they can gradually replace the common bearings they had found underground by the bearings they built with their loved ones on the surface.


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