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Hearing voices

Are voices a symptom of illness or a variety of human experience?

Hearing voices can be a very disturbing experience, both for the person who hears voices and family and friends. Until recently voices were regarded as a symptom of a mental illness and not talked about because they are regarded as a socially stigmatising experience.

Hearing voices are still considered by clinical psychiatry as an auditory hallucination and as a symptom of conditions such as schizophrenic disorders, manic depression and psychosis. The usual treatment – major tranquillisers – are administered in order to reduce the delusions and hallucinations.

However, not everyone responds to this type of treatment. Psychiatrists, nurses and other professionals have been taught that there is not a lot an individual can do for themselves to cope with the voices. Indeed, in the past professionals were taught not to engage voice hearers about the content of their voice experience as this was thought to be “buying in” to the patients’ delusions and not helpful. Most often professionals sought to distract the voice hearer from their voices.

Research has shown that there are many people who hear voices, some of whom cope with their voices well without psychiatric intervention, it has also been found that there are many people who hear voices who can cope with their voices and regard them as a positive part of their lives. Neither is it the case that voices have always been regarded as a negative experience.

Throughout history and even today there are people who hear voices who find their voices inspirational and comforting. These are facts that on the face of it are hard to square with the extremely negative way that the experience is regarded by psychiatry. The researchers, practitioners and involved voice hearers believe it is mistaken to regard voice hearing as part of a psychopathic disease syndrome. Rather, they consider it to be more akin to a variation in human experience – if you like, a faculty or differentiation – something like homosexuality, that it is definitely not open to cure.

This information has been taken from Mental Health Foundation, see link

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