Thursday, June 11, 2009

Hearing voices

I remember vividly how the the subject of voices was handled the one and only time it was raised during the bi-weekly meeting with other patients and families. It arose because one young man suggested during the meeting that people learn to make friends with their voices, as he tried to do. A worried look flashed between the staff members present. “You must ignore them!” they exhorted. Other group members nodded in agreement, but they seemed uncomfortable, judging from the somewhat embarrassed silence that followed. The topic was dropped. After that, people like me knew better than to bring it up.

Now, this to me is ignoring the elephant in the room. For a whole slew of patients, medication doesn’t quell the voices or the visuals. Medication wasn’t effective at stopping Chris’s “fleetingly improvised men” and I often thought that the medication actually aggravated them. It sure didn’t tame them. The higher the medication, the more sedated you are, but voices and visuals can still persist. The program’s approach was to try to medicate the voices.

An alternative, more sensible theory about voices, first promulgated by Dutch psychiatrists Marius Romme and Sondra Escher, was that voices are indicative of something else going on with a schizophrenic that medication might be able to help in the short term, but couldn’t fix in the long run. The Hearing Voices movement founded in Manchester, England, in 1989, and Intervoice, an international online community, are two of several self-help groups based on Dr. Romme’s work. Members meet to share experiences and learn to recognize that the voices may be expressions of their own subconscious. The emphasis is on personal growth for each individual.

Dr. Marius Romme believes hearing voices is not an illness. The voices are messengers that speak about certain problems that occurred in the person’s life. If you try to kill the messenger by ignoring the voices or medicating them, you often make them worse, you fail to address the deep-seated problem, and the result is a chronic patient. The difference between patients hearing voices and non-patients hearing voices is their relationship with the voices. People who never become patients accept their voices and use them as advisers. In clinical settings, however, voices are almost always seen as evil messengers and are considered a sign of schizophrenia. This is bad news for the patient.

1 comment:

  1. Working with Voices - Victim to Victor,
    by Ron Coleman & Mike Smith. P&P Press Limited, 2006.

    The new, second edition, Victim to Victor Workbook is for voice hearers and the people they select to support them. It will enable people who have difficulties to cope with their voices and to discover different sides to their voices. It will unfold their relationship with the voices and by doing so will stimulate them to acquire more effective ways of coping. Most important in this process, and well stimulated in this workbook, is to take ownership of the voice hearing experience. The workbook provides the opportunity for the person to begin the process of growing from victim to victor by writing his or her own life history in relation to their voice hearing, then moving forward to other positive growth exercises. This book will stimulate the person to plan their own future and life again, and is especially helpful for those who are presently feeling too overpowered by their voices to become their master.

    Hearing Voices A Common Human Experience
    by John Watkins

    This book explores ways of working creatively with voices and other inner experiences to foster personal growth, healing and recovery.

    Accepting Voices: A New Approach to Voice-hearing Outside the Illness Model
    by M. Romme & S. Escher. Mind, 1993.

    This acclaimed book illustrates how many people who hear voices come to terms with their experience without recourse to psychiatry. Focuses on techniques for dealing with voices, emphasising the importance of personal growth.

    Making Sense of Voices - A guide for professionals who work with voice hearers
    by M. Romme and S. Escher. Mind, 2000.

    Marius Romme and Sandra Escher triggered a seismic shift in the understanding of voice-hearing. They put the powerful case for accepting and validating people’s own interpretations of their voices, and showed how such interpretations often enabled people to live with them far more effectively than bio-medical approaches. This handbook for practitioners builds on this work. It combines examples with guidance on the various processes involved in enabling voice-hearers to deal with their voices and lead an active and fulfilling life.


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