While the 39 hostages and their families bore the worst emotional burden of the hijacking of TWA flight 847, the crisis also triggered and intensified anxieties among Americans not directly involved, therapists say.
"Everybody's feeling it," Ruth Cohen, a clinical social worker and family therapist in Bethesda and Silver Spring, said before the release of the hostages. "People are shaken by what this means about the strength of society, our country, our president."
Fear of flying -- already a problem for many people -- has been exacerbated by concern over terrorist activities, said Barbara Stutz, administrator of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy's mid-Atlantic referral center, covering Maryland, Delaware and the District.
Over the past two weeks, Stutz received an average of five calls a day from people anxious about airline travel plans because of the hostage crisis.
An Indian woman living in the Washington area who usually returns to India every summer with her family called to say she has already postponed her flight and is thinking of canceling it, Stutz said.
Another woman called because she was afraid to fly to California.
"They're terrified, they're absolutely terrified," Stutz said. "They want to go, but they can't bring themselves to get on the plane."
Most of the callers wanted to talk to a therapist to find out whether their fears were rational or irrational, she said.
The hostage situation was on people's minds whether or not they were directly affected. "Every single one of my patients talks about it, and brings it up in their therapy sessions," Sara Klompus, a clinical social worker in Silver Spring, said last week. "Everyone is concerned about it."
A highly publicized crisis such as the hijacking of the Trans World Airlines flight June 14 triggers new fears in some people and intensifies existing anxieties in others.
"Americans tend to be very empathetic," Cohen said. They went through the crisis "in many ways as though it were happening to them."
The most immediate concern for those not directly involved is worry about travel. Travel agents and therapists reported that many were postponing flights. The reason is simple, Cohen said: "Pure fear."
And it's not just travelers flying to Athens or Bombay. Even people scheduled on domestic flights have been canceling, she said.
"The problem is, those who don't like to fly anyway are always looking for a good reason to cancel," said Dr. Ewald Busse, professor of psychiatry and dean emeritus of the Duke University School of Medicine.
For people already nervous about airline travel, Klompus said, the threat of terrorism "gives them an excuse not to have to pursue something that gives them anxiety anyway."
Not everyone, of course, reacts with fear and anxiety. Many people stick to their travel reservations, regardless of world events. Some travelers, said Cohen, are determined not to let incidents on the other side of the ocean control their lives. Such people vow: "They're not going to hold me hostage too. I'm not going to let them do that to me. Let's live the life we always have."
Busse said older people often are less affected than younger people by fear of flying, and more willing to take chances. As he puts it, they are more likely to say: "I always wanted to see Egypt. The hell with terrorism . We're going!"