New Groups Forming For People Who Hear Voices
Ron Bassman, a recent East Coast psychologist transplant, was responsible for getting trainers from the Hearing Voices Network to come to Boulder this past February to provide a 3-day group facilitator training. Bassman emphasized the value of encouraging people to be curious about their ability to hear voices in his invitation to the training:
“Hearing Voices groups do not pathologize voices, visions or other unusual experiences. Instead, group members explore these phenomena in an environment of mutual support and curiosity. They offer people who hear voices, see visions or have other unusual experiences the opportunity to share their experience and explore new ways of coping, understanding their experiences and getting support.”
The focus of Hearing Voices is to develop a community rather than a cure. Intervoice is the Hearing Voices international network dedicated to building supportive communities between people who hear voices and/or experience perceptual reality in ways not recognized by the accepted norms of our culture. The organization grew out of a doctor and client relationship in the Netherlands that spawned a movement outside medical models towards developing a peer support community. The aims of the network listed on their website are:
“to raise awareness of voice hearing, visions, tactile sensations and other sensory experiences, to give people who have these experiences an opportunity to talk freely about this together, to support anyone with these experiences seeking to understand, learn and grow from them in their own way.”
Hearing Voices groups are a mix of people, ranging from those who live harmoniously with their voices to those who have had their voices labeled as something wrong with them, as a symptom of mental illness.
In his New York Times article “Can You Live With the Voices in Your Head,” Daniel B. Smith explains from a diagnostic point of view that hearing voices alone is not always considered a sign of mental illness, it's how the voices manifest themselves; “Voices that speak in the third person, echo a patient’s thoughts or provide a running commentary on his actions are considered classically indicative of schizophrenia.” Imagine the presence of an all knowing critical superego constantly judging every move. A difference described between those who live harmoniously with their voices and those that don’t is that the former work out relationships with their voices and the latter tend to feel pressured to get rid of their voices.
The last night’s lecture of the 3-day group facilitation training this February in Boulder was open to the public and took place at Unity Church. Seasoned Hearing Voices trainers from the Western Massachusetts Recovery Learning Community, Caroline White and Lisa Forestell, shared their experiences with hearing voices. One of the speakers, Caroline, included in her narrative a moment in which she was at a recovery center as a client and experienced being recognized as a contributing member to a community for the first time in her life. The other speaker, Lisa, described her current relationship with her voices like a family that follows her around, each voice with a unique personality, gender and age that embodies a specific stable identity.
My personal take away from listening to these experiences was that all voices need to be heard and recognized as having something to say. When voices are suppressed it causes distress but integrating them into our experiences can be healing. Both speakers gave accounts about what it means to be in relation to their voices. For example if a voice tells you to do something, it does not mean you should do it. It is helpful is to explore the voice’s point of view, reflect back its concerns and validate its emotional experience. A member of the audience asked the speakers if they knew about Internal Family Systems. The speakers were not familiar with that modality. There was a feeling of a lurking clinical perspective (albeit a good one) about to invade a very nuanced personal experience. As I reflected upon my protective response the idea emerged that these voices want to speak for and organize themselves.
As a result of the recent training there are groups forming in Boulder, Denver and Fort Collins. For more information about upcoming groups or facilitator training please email Ron Bassman and check out Hearing Voices Rocky Mountains website.
Groups are free!
Curious? Here are some additional links for more information:
Ted Talk with Eleanor Longden, a British research psychologist and international Hearing Voices advocate who recounts her own struggles with mental illness and that through learning to listen to her voices she was able survive.
Susie Orbach interview with Jaqui Dillon, Chair of the Hearing Voices Network
Tangent: Another international organization that works with voices is the Complaint Choirs, which brings people who live in specific communities together with the intent of collecting common complaints about where they live and assembling that information into a performance. Check out the joy of complaining in harmony from communities all over the world!