Destigmatising and demystifying the experience of hearing voices is something I feel very passionate about. I myself have always heard voices and I was lucky enough to have a family that did not think it was unusual or problematic. My mother is avid about not correcting children’s experiences or imposing ‘reality’ on them, so I was allowed to enjoy my invisible friends and talk to spirits of nature, gnomes, elves, fairies and trolls.
But eventually I was confronted with ideas of normalcy and what kind of experiences are acceptable to talk about – and what not to talk about. I was around 8 years old when I started realising that not everybody has these experiences. And as I tried to fit in more, be more normal and push away the things that seemed to set me apart from others – my sensitivity and the voices and beings I could sense – I began to loose the sense of meaning and magic.
My life with voices is a long story that I won’t share here and now. A short version is in the book “Living with Voices: 50 Stories of Recovery” by Romme&Escher. But the essence of my journey has been the realisation that I need meaning and magic to counterbalance the pain and overwhelm of being in this world. Being sensitive and sensing things that others don’t, are both parts of what makes life worthwhile. And I need people who not only accept my experiences but actually are curious about them and help me find ways to express my inner world.
It was through relationships with other people that I began to find a language for my emotions, my fears and shame. I found out what it means, how it really feels, to feel safe. I found out what belonging tastes, smells and sounds like. And I started looking for and creating spaces, where I could experience safety and belonging.
One of the people who has walked along side me on my journey is Trevor Eyles. For more than 10 years he has worked to promote the Hearing Voices approach in Denmark and the rest of the world. He has supported both mental health workers and people who hear voices (and voices) to find ways to work together and change people’s relationship with the voices. He cares deeply about this work and he has helped set up numerous Hearing Voices groups. He has been a great mentor for me and many of my values around collaborative approaches to mental health are founded in working with him.
The interview below is a good and grounded introduction to the Hearing Voices approach. Tools that I have found helpful in working with voices are: Non-Violent communication, Mindfulness, Body Awareness Therapy, Voice Dialogue and the Maastricht Interview. Many good resources can be found on InterVoice’s website.
Hello Elisabeth. Just found and followed your blog off of twitter. As a psychology undergraduate and someone with mental illness I find your story very interesting. I think people deserve to express whatever’s happening for them and not to be told their experiences are wrong. I’m glad you had a family that encouraged this. And found Trevor of the hearing voices movement. I’ve heard of hearing voices groups in passing but didn’t read any details. I don’t deal with this myself. But have friends that do, and live in a residential facility for people with mental illness where it is quite common.
It seems psychiatry’s answser is heavy antipsychotics which sometimes solve the issue and sometimes not. It seems like a lot of people hearing voices are lost and misterable not knowing how to cope with it. They do have an understanding voices group here but I don’t know if it ueses this aproach or not. Will continue to read your blog.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Hi there. Thanks for your comment. In retrospect it is easier to be grateful for many aspects of my upbringing 😉 I was a bit of an outsider growing up and would blame my mother at times even though I understood her reasons for doing things the way she did. I appreciate it much more now but when you are young you just want to feel accepted by your peers and I didn’t.
Hearing voices is a more common experience than we realise. Before I came across the hearing voices network the only place I heard of experiences I could relate to was in books and in lyrics in music. Which I am grateful for. But sometimes I wish the network had been around when I was a teenager and that I had had a HV group then. That said, all groups are different and sometimes they are helpful, sometimes not. I was in a lovely group for 6 years and has witnessed some amazing journeys and made some beautiful friends.