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Recovery from Schizophrenia

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Jacqui Dillon

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Intervoice online

Information About the Voice Hearing Experience,
from intervoiceonline.org, the international community of voice hearers

We understand "voices" to be real and meaningful, something that is experienced by a significant minority of people, including many who have no problems living with their voices. Our research shows that to hear voices is not the consequence of a diseased brain, but more akin to a variation in human behaviour, like being left-handed. It is not so much the voices that are the problem, but the difficulties that some people have in coping with them.

Talking about voices can really help. The following key points provide a useful guide to opening up discussion about the voice hearing experience.

1. Open discussion

People who hear voices find themselves having to deal with another world that may overwhelm them and claim their attention to the exclusion of all else. As a result the power of reason may be virtually extinguished, at least initially, making it impossible for those concerned to go about their daily lives without being affected by such a penetrating and confusing experience. Open discussion with others offers the most important means of creating some kind of order in the attempt to come to terms with these experiences. Mutual communication between voice hearers gives the opportunity to share similar experiences, using a common language and to learn from one another.

2. Recognising patterns

People who hear voices say it is very important to discuss voices in the same way one might talk about disagreeable relatives. In the process, it is possible to learn to recognise their games and tricks, as well as their more pleasant aspects, and to identify patterns that are specific to given situations. Such knowledge can help the voice hearer to be better prepared for any subsequent onset of the voices.

3. Easing anxiety

Most people who hear voices initially imagine that they are alone in doing so. This can make the experience anxious and unpleasant and also produces feelings of shame or the fear of going mad. Anxiety often leads to the avoidance of situations which might trigger the hearing of voices, and this avoidance seriously blocks self-development. Thus some voice hearers cannot go to the supermarket or socialise at parties.

4. Finding a theoretical perspective

Like professionals in the field, voice hearers themselves look for a theoretical explanation to account for the existence of their voices. These include psychodynamic, mystical, parapsychology and medical models. Unless some meaning is attributed to the voices, it is very difficult to begin to organise one’s relationship with them in order to reduce anxiety. Generally speaking, perspectives that discourage the individual from seeking mastery of the voices tend to yield the least positive results. Interpreting ones voices as the manifestation of electronic influences might be one such example. The explanation offered by biological psychiatry may also be unhelpful in terms of coping strategies, given that, it too, places the phenomenon beyond one’s personal grasp.

5. Acceptance

In the process of developing one’s own point of view and taking responsibility for oneself, the essential first step is acceptance of the voices as belonging to me. This is of the utmost importance – and also one of the most difficult steps to take.

6. Recognising meaning

Voices can express what the voice hearer is feeling or thinking, for instance aggression or fear about an event or a relationship. When voices offer information in this way the challenge posed by their presence is often less significant than the reason for the anger or fear. When the voices express such views and feeling it can be valuable to discuss the nature of the messages.

7. Positive aspects

When people hear voices that are truly malicious – ridiculing or belittling others, or even abusing the hearers until they are driven to injure themselves – it may be difficult to persuade them to accept the existence of a positive, helpful dimension to the experience. Contact with others can lead to the surprising discovery that positive voices do exist, and to the realisation that these may arise, or be detected, as a result of a proper acceptance of the hearer’s own negative side.

8. Structuring contact

Imposing a structure on the relationship with the voices can help minimise the common feelings of powerlessness. It can be extremely valuable in helping people to see that they can set their own limits and restrain the voices from excessive intrusion.

9. More effective use of medication if required

Sharing experiences also enables people to get to know what medicines others are using, how useful these are, and what their side effects may be. It is important, for example, to know whether a particular medicine has been found helpful in reducing the hearing of voices or in easing the associated anxiety and confusion.

10. Family understanding

Sharing knowledge about voice hearing with families and friends can be very helpful. If a person’s family and friends can accept the voices they can be more supportive, this can make the life of the voice hearer easier, improving their sense of confidence in social situations.

11. Personal Growth

Almost all voice hearers who have learned to adjust to their experiences report that, with hindsight, the process has contributed to their personal growth. Personal growth can be defined as recognising what one needs in order to live a fulfilled life, and knowing how to achieve these ends; it could be described as a process of emancipation.

12. Watch out

Communicating about voices does have its disadvantages, exposing oneself can make one feel very vulnerable. Some voice hearers find great difficulty in opening up about their experiences, though it can be easier with other voice hearers. In particular, voice hearers who have never been psychiatric patients need real courage to face a world that will all too often call them mad when they talk about their lives. It can be hard to see what would be gained by doing so, and often their only motive is to help others who are unable to cope with their own voices. Another possible drawback to disclosures is that the voices may occasionally become temporarily more acute. All in all, though, the advantages definitely outweigh the disadvantages. Finally, one must always be wary of advice and explanations that are purely personal convictions and make no allowance for any other interpretation. It is most important to be fully aware of the wide variety of individual situations and circumstances. The least hazardous advice tends to be that which may serve to increase the individual’s own influence over their voices, rather than intensify powerlessness. Self determination and self knowledge are the key words.

Copyright 2011 Intervoice.