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Approaches to People who Hear Voices

by Sophie

I was very fortunate to be able to attend a workshop on the above subject in November 1997, with excellent speakers Marius Romme and Sandra Escher. It was a very interesting day and below is my account of the information passed to us.

Hearing voices is not as is commonly perceived, a symptom of a psychiatric disorder as there are many people who hear voices and are not, or ever have been a patient of psychiatric services.

Indeed, Marius Romme, who describes himself as a social psychiatrist, says that some psychiatrists who believe that hearing voices is a symptom and should be treated with drugs can actually fix rather than help the problem.

The point is to try and get to the root or cause of the phenomenon and gain control over one's life, if it is the case that the voices are dominating the functioning of an individual. Romme and Escher have developed a method that does this, which I shall explain later.

In their research, Romme and Escher noted how many non-patients in particular experienced their voices as predominantly positive and perhaps saw them as advisors to make certain decisions. This is fine except when the situation is that voice hearers forget to make decisions themselves. A desirable state for any individual is to have control over their lives and an identity that they are happy with.

Getting to know the root of the phenomenon of hearing voices for an individual, means understanding a person's life history and particularly what was going on in that person's life when they first started to hear voices and what things trigger the voices.

The ability to hear voices is part of the human condition. For example, situations that produce voices in people include being lonely at sea and experiencing a near death. Also, a trauma of some sort is often the root cause of hearing voices. The trauma is often an emotional one and the result of undigested emotions. The way society is organised can often compound emotional trauma. For example, the school system in a formal sense, denies emotional attributes and the peer group can be emotionally charged. All of which can produce confusion and defensibility.

Gaining control of oneself and as a part of that, the voices, involves what is known in the profession as an ego documentation, which really means understanding the why of voices by the voice hearer - why they started and what triggered them.

In their research, Romme and Escher documented a number of life events that could start voices in people, including a serious illness, living on your own, losing a job, sexual abuse, sexual identity problems, death or suicide of someone close. The triggers are documented as being (according to the voice hearers who participated in the research), situations where emotions are either overwhelming or threatening, new situations, unexpected situations, fear, insecurity, aggression, your own sexual feelings, sexual feelings of others, and losing control.

A number of coping strategies have also been developed as a result of collating together the coping strategies from voice hearers in Romme and Escher's research. These include ignoring them, entering into a dialogue and reach an agreement to listen at certain times, listen selectively, send them away, distracting oneself, keeping a diary, medication, relaxation, diet or alcohol.

The voices often have a metaphorical meaning and for the voice hearer, getting to understand their meaning for them, can help come to terms with the situation. With the help of a professional, friend, or family member, the voice hearer can be helped to put away and digest painful or past traumas.

For further reading on the subject there is a book entitled, "Accepting Voices", written by Romme and Escher, published in 1993.