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Incest family 'faces years in therapy'

  • Story Highlights
  • Austrian family held captive in a cellar will take years to recover, doctors say
  • Family are undergoing treatment at a local psychiatric clinic
  • Children kept underground may never lead normal lives, psychiatrist warns
  • Family have been offered opportunity to adopt new identities
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(CNN) -- The woman and children held captive in a cellar for years by their incestuous father will take years to recover from their disturbing ordeal, doctors warned Wednesday as the family at the center of the case remained in psychiatric care.

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The bathroom used by Elizabeth Fritzl, who was held captive for more than two decades, and her three children.

Members of the Fritzl family will also be offered the chance to adopt new identities in an effort to help them lead normal lives, officials said.

Hans-Heinz Lenze, the head of local social services said the family was "doing as well as can be expected in the circumstances" and said any change of identity would be the family's decision.

Elizabeth Fritzl -- now 42 -- spent more than two decades in the windowless basement after being drugged, handcuffed and locked up by her father, Josef Fritzl, as an 18-year-old. Repeatedly raped, she gave birth to seven children by Fritzl, one of whom died as an infant.

Three of the children -- Kerstin, 19; Stefan, 18; and Felix, 5 -- remained imprisoned underground with their mother. The other three lived in an apartment upstairs with Fritzl and his wife who believed Elizabeth had abandoned them after running away from home.

Elizabeth and five of the children were continuing to receive treatment at a local clinic near Amstetten after being reunited on Sunday. Kerstin, whose hospitalization at the weekend finally brought the family's plight to the attention of authorities, remained in a coma at a nearby hospital.

"It is astonishing how easy it worked that the children came together, and also it was astonishing how easy it happened that the grandmother and the mother came together," clinic director Berthold Kepplinger said. But Kepplinger warned that the family would require extensive counseling.

"We're talking of 20 years of darkness, incest and its effects and other illnesses they might have suffered from."

Kepplinger said the two sets of children were tentatively getting to know one another, adding that the two boys who had lived underground had an unusual way of communicating with each other.

A policeman who had accompanied the boys to hospital after their discovery on Sunday said the pair had "screamed with excitement" during the car journey as they experienced the outside world for the first time.

"The two boys appeared overawed by the daylight they had never experienced before," said Chief Inspector Leopold Etz. "The real world was completely alien to them... We had to drive very slowly with them because they cringed at every car light and every bump. It was as if we had just landed on the moon."

In an interview with the Austrian newspaper, Oesterreich, psychiatrist Max Friedrich, who treated the abducted teenager Natascha Kampusch, estimated it would take "between five and eight years" for the children to recover from their experiences.

Another psychologist, Bernd Prosser, told Austrian television that it would be impossible for the four held prisoner underground to lead normal lives. "I am afraid it is too late for that."

Kampusch, the Austrian girl abducted as a 10-year-old and held captive in a basement for more than eight years until she escaped in 2007, also offered her help to the family on Tuesday, but questioned the decision to move them from the cellar into psychiatric care.

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"Pulling them abruptly out of this situation, without transition, to hold them and isolating them to some extent, it can't be good for them," said Kampusch, now 20, in an interview with Austrian TV station Puls 4.

"I believe it might have been even better to leave them where they were, but that was probably impossible. This case is not like mine, where that was not my environment. They were born there and I can imagine that there is a strong attachment to that place." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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