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“I hear voices.”
Three of the most frightening words you may hear. Especially in a loved one.
These words conjure up images of someone who is disturbed. Someone who is hallucinating. Someone who is persecuted by an internal demon they cannot control or understand.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
These words intimate a world of psychosis. Someone is experiencing something that doesn’t exist. They’ve got voices in their head. They’re crazy.
For a traditional psychiatrist, to admit you hear voices that no-one else hears is to display a symptom of psychotic disorder. It may even mean schizophrenia.
Hearing voices is in fact a not uncommon experience. It has been estimated that 4-8% of people may hear voices at any one time. Many famous people have reported hearing voices, including Socrates and Freud.
And these voices are not always negative; they do not always persecute. They can be neutral, commenting on a person’s actions. They may even be positive, encouraging the person when they feel down or hopeless.
We have much to learn about the phenomenon of hearing voices.
There is in fact a global, growing Hearing Voices Movement that is dedicated to the propositions that voices may be engaged with, understood and even managed. Check out one of their main websites: https://www.hearing-voices.org/.
This movement – this approach – emphasises that any person can respond to their voices in many kind of ways. You do not have to stigmatise the experience of hearing voices.
So, for example, a person may relate their voices through trauma. A voice may come to symbolise a source of external trauma when they were younger, or a positive voice symbolising their own efforts to escape trauma.
A person may see the voices as representing different parts of their mind or personality. One voice may represent what frightens them, one voice may represent their response to the fear, one voice may represent a person who was important to them growing up. These voices may even guide therapy, allowing the voice hearer to better understand themselves and live a better life.
A person may understand their voices as a kind of gift; as an enriching of their human experience, The voices may ensure they are never lonely. People may even understand the voices as a spiritual phenomenon; an expression of their soul or angels.
The common theme here is the idea that voices don’t have to be stigmatised, medicalised experiences. They may be related to in a variety of ways.
And, perhaps surprisingly, the voices can often even be managed. A person may talk to their voices; respond to their voices. They may form an agreement with their voices that the voices will be given a certain free time to emerge, but will be quiet the rest of the time. They may discover that the voice does not have control over them or their actions.
Perhaps this all sounds too positive, or too hopeful? Certainly we must admit that some people are deeply disturbed by voices, and need and respond to medication.
But, at the same time, the Hearing Voices Movement offers many people the hope that they can engage with and manage something that appears, superficially, to only be frightening and pathological.
Join the survey to test interest in new, community-based groups for people who hear voices that others don't hear.
We get lots of phone calls from people trying to find this kind of group. Dr Richard Schweizer, Kinga Barron and Hugh Worral are investigating the possibility for One Door to start some of these groups.
Fill out the survey to help us with this. The survey is confidential unless you want to leave your details in the survey so you can be contacted about any groups we can start.
We’d love to hear from you!
People with a lived experience: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/JWNSDHF
Dr. Richard Schweizer, Policy Officer at One Door Mental Health email@example.com.
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Dr Richard Schweizer
Image credit news.com.au