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So, what's wrong with hearing voices?

December 14, 2011
by Dennis Grantham, Editor-in-Chief
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Proponents of European-inspired Hearing Voices Network plan peer-run groups across USA
  1. Startling phase—In this phase, the hearer is often startled or frightened by the experience, yet also interested or curious. In this phase, the speakers said that “going to a group can really reduce the anxiety when this occurs.”
  2. Organization phase—After accepting the reality of the experience, hearers in the second phase try to make sense of the voice(s), organize it, and look for its meaning or antecedents.
  3. Stabilization phase—The third phase is characterized by greater calm, acceptance, and recognition of the experience. The voices don’t go away, and, in many cases, the hearers find that they do not want them to go away. The hearer remains in a stable relationship with his voice(s) or experiences and often learns or discovers approaches that help to address or manage the voices more comfortably.

Among the more common strategies used by hearers to deal with voices heard at unwelcome or inconvenient times involves “putting off” the voice by “making a date” or “asking if it would come back/call back later,” presumably when the hearer has more time or ability to listen. Another very common strategy is to treat ones voices with calm and courtesy, as though each was an unexpected, but temporary guest.

The notion that peer-led groups might help voice-hearers to tame and better live with their voices was, in the words of one local psychiatrist, “liberating.” The psychiatrist added that he found the autonomy offered by the HVN approach “extremely helpful” and a “welcome alternative” to the “paternalistic and sometimes even unethical” means advocated by some in psychiatry for treatment of whose who experience voices or other extreme phenomena.

The ability of many voice-hearers to live with their experiences without recourse to the mental health system, along with the experiences of those who emerge from the HVN process with the abilty to better live with their voices, “calls into question why we ‘pathologize’ these experiences in the first place,” said Hazen. In fact, Marius Romme, the Dutch professional who first studied the phenomenon, rejects the idea of “mental illness” in favor of the theory that voice-hearing is an expression of trauma or other personal problems in the life of the hearer.

Voice hearers who want to locate HVN groups or receive facilitation training, as well as behavioral health professionals or organizations interested in supporting the formation of local groups can learn more by visiting Voices of the Heart (link) or joining the “Hearing Voices Network USA” page on Facebook.