Hearing voices

I remember vividly how the the subject of voices was handled the one and only time it was raised during the bi-weekly meeting with other patients and families. It arose because one young man suggested during the meeting that people learn to make friends with their voices, as he tried to do. A worried look flashed between the staff members present. “You must ignore them!” they exhorted. Other group members nodded in agreement, but they seemed uncomfortable, judging from the somewhat embarrassed silence that followed. The topic was dropped. After that, people like me knew better than to bring it up.

Now, this to me is ignoring the elephant in the room. For a whole slew of patients, medication doesn’t quell the voices or the visuals. Medication wasn’t effective at stopping Chris’s “fleetingly improvised men” and I often thought that the medication actually aggravated them. It sure didn’t tame them. The higher the medication, the more sedated you are, but voices and visuals can still persist. The program’s approach was to try to medicate the voices.

An alternative, more sensible theory about voices, first promulgated by Dutch psychiatrists Marius Romme and Sondra Escher, was that voices are indicative of something else going on with a schizophrenic that medication might be able to help in the short term, but couldn’t fix in the long run. The Hearing Voices movement founded in Manchester, England, in 1989, and Intervoice, an international online community, are two of several self-help groups based on Dr. Romme’s work. Members meet to share experiences and learn to recognize that the voices may be expressions of their own subconscious. The emphasis is on personal growth for each individual.

Dr. Marius Romme believes hearing voices is not an illness. The voices are messengers that speak about certain problems that occurred in the person’s life. If you try to kill the messenger by ignoring the voices or medicating them, you often make them worse, you fail to address the deep-seated problem, and the result is a chronic patient. The difference between patients hearing voices and non-patients hearing voices is their relationship with the voices. People who never become patients accept their voices and use them as advisers. In clinical settings, however, voices are almost always seen as evil messengers and are considered a sign of schizophrenia. This is bad news for the patient.