Roz Oates: World Hearing Voices Congress, Greece, 10-12 October 2014

Roz Oates, a doctoral student in Durham’s Centre for Medical Humanities and Department of Geography, who is also part of the ‘Hearing the Voice’ research team, recently attended the 6th World Hearing Voices Congress in Greece. In this post, she gives an account of keynote presentations at the Congress which can be viewed here. Views are the speakers’ own.

When I saw this year’s World Hearing Voices Congress advertised, I was intrigued by its title, ‘Odysseying with the Sirens’. Its location was the culturally diverse city of Thessaloniki in Greece. Given the current economic crisis in Greece, it was highly relevant that the theme of the Congress explores “struggling towards recovery in times of crisis”. I was curious as to how individual stories of recovery would be described, and if these would be linked to crises that occur on either interpersonal or societal levels. Next year I am planning to help set up an Unusual Experiences Group in Oxford, for people who experience voices, visions and/or unusual thoughts. So I was hoping that the Congress would give me the opportunity to speak to voice-hearers and mental health professionals who currently facilitate hearing voices groups, and to learn from them strategies for running a helpful group for people who have unusual experiences. I did discover from a lady who facilitates a hearing voices group in Ireland that my story, ‘Behind the wall’, which is included in Hearing the Voice’s Voicewalks magazine, has been read by her group and this prompted a discussion about voices.

I was excited by the varied programme of presentations and workshops at the Congress. Speakers included Will Hall, an American counsellor and activist who would be speaking about “suicidal feelings and social justice”; Rachel Waddingham, the Manager of the London Hearing Voices Network, who would be presenting about the hearing voices groups that she facilitates in prisons; and Rufus May, a clinical psychologist, whose workshop would be exploring difficult situations that might be resolved in creative ways. I hoped to be able to attend as wide a range of workshops as possible, and to use this experience to reflect on my own journey of recovery in learning to live with voices. I appreciated the respectful space that the Congress created for people from many different countries to tell their stories of living with voices.

This 6th World Hearing Voices Congress was the first non-English speaking Congress, and each attendee wore a headset, so that they could hear a translated version of each presentation. This emphasized that this was an international Congress, with voice-hearers from many different cultures sharing stories of their voices. One of the keynote speeches was being given by Professor Marius Romme, a psychiatrist from the Netherlands, who is one of the founders of the Hearing Voices Movement. The title of Romme’s speech was “How to solve the schizophrenia problem”. (A podcast of Romme’s presentation is available here.) He considers that mental health professionals should not give a diagnosis, and that service-users should not accept a diagnosis. Romme argued that there is a lack of empirical scientific evidence for the diagnosis of schizophrenia. With schizophrenia, the symptoms are used to construct the illness, and, at present, there are no biomarkers or tests for determining this.

Romme explained that 4% of the general population has had a voice-hearing experience. There are many more people who hear voices than become a patient with this experience. Yet, “the illness concept discriminates millions of people who hear voices, because generally it is seen as a symptom of an illness”. Romme pointed out that there are links between the characteristics of voices and the problems that a voice-hearer has faced in their past. Romme believes that calling hearing voices “a psychotic experience” suggests that this is a meaningless experience, when, in fact, voices often have meaning for the voice-hearer. Romme added that “people don’t just hear voices. They hear different voices. Therefore, the voices need to be analyzed and discussed”. Overall, I found Romme’s presentation with its emphasis on abandoning the practice of using diagnostic labels to be thought-provoking and powerful, particularly given that there can be so much stigma attached to receiving a psychiatric diagnosis.

In another presentation, the researcher Sandra Escher, discussed the experiences of young people who hear voices. (A podcast of Escher’s presentation is available (Part 1) here and (Part 2) here.) Escher has worked with children who hear voices since 1995, and has interviewed three hundred voice-hearers. She said that only recently has it been accepted that some voice-hearers can be non-patients. Escher pointed out that the characteristics of the voices experienced by both groups are the same, in terms of the location of the voices, the loudness and reality of the voices, the number of voices, and their personification. However, she noted that the patient group usually has a lower level of education. The patient group is also likely to hear the voices more frequently, to be more distressed by these voices, and feel that they have less control over them. The patients are also likely to report more emotional triggers and greater adversity. The patients also used specific coping strategies, such as passive problem solving.

Escher’s research has found that for young people the onset of the voices is often linked to trauma. Traumas included their confrontation with a death, problems around the home situation, and problems around the school situation. Interestingly 67% of the children lost the voices during the period that Escher was researching their voices. Escher recommended that the child be interviewed with their parents present. In this way the parents could learn more about the voices that the child experiences. Escher suggested that the child needs space to work out their relationship to the voices, and one way is for them to keep a diary recording their voices. Escher said that “the child does not need to be frightened – the voices are mostly messengers”. She recommended that the young person “find out the message”. Escher argued that “the voices are not an illness, but a relation with the life history”. Escher suggested that the voices give information about the abusers and the problem. For example, she said that “if the voices are triggered at school – the problem is mostly with the school”. Escher added that “you don’t need medication to learn to cope with emotions. You need wise people”.

Rufus May, a clinical psychologist, gave a presentation on how dialogue can be used to understand voices that come out of crisis. (A podcast of May’s presentation is available here.) May pointed out that the acceptance of voice-hearing within the Hearing Voices Movement has led to a growing interest in dialoguing with voices. This is demonstrated by the Institute of Psychiatry’s Avatar Therapy trial, in which a computer-based avatar enables a psychiatrist to synchronize what a voice says to the patient, and the patient is encouraged to dialogue with this. May pointed out that a variety of approaches may be taken for dialoguing with voices, and these include cheaper alternatives, such as using finger puppets or art work and drawing. He suggested that in order to dialogue with voices, it is important to build trusting relationships, and to strengthen the person’s sense of self. It might also be helpful to honor the occasion of dialoguing with voices with flowers or making a cake. May suggested that “distressing voices are beings who are in distress”. He considered that this approach may help a voice-hearer to feel less scared by voices. However, as he pointed out, it is important to find safe ways to express powerful emotions.

May linked voices to dissociation, and suggested that voices that sound like an abuser may have their own secret stories. He suggested that “in a difficult situation most of the parts flee, and one part is left. This part is shaped by the abuser. It may even sound like the abuser.” May then told us a story about healing in post-civil war Gorongosa, Mozambique, where gamba spirits emerged in women who had experienced sexual violence. May said that these women felt possessed by the spirits of men who had died in the war. These men had experienced trauma, and their gamba spirits threatened to make the family sick if the family did not talk about their trauma. The gamba spirits then demanded to be married to the women, and this ceremony took place. May suggested that just as the gamba spirit helped the person to acknowledge abuse, the person’s voices made it possible for the voice-hearer to be in touch with many parts of themselves. However, May acknowledged that “listening to voices that are in crisis can be very difficult”. He recommended that voice-hearers look after themselves, and in doing so build compassionate relationships, and a community that supports them.

As someone who lives with voices myself, I was excited during the Congress hearing about these new psychological approaches that are being taken in dialoguing with voices. The rest of the Congress led to interesting conversations with other voice-hearers and mental health professionals from all over the world. If you would like to listen to other presentations from the Congress, these are available here. Next year the World Hearing Voices Congress will be taking place in Madrid, and it will be very interesting to hear about what new developments have taken place in both the practice of helping voice-hearers to live well with their voices, and in research into voice-hearing.



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The Clerks: ‘Phantom Voices’ (Cambridge, 31 October & Shoreditch, London, 15 December 2014)

Hearing the Voice is privileged to have been involved in the development of early music group The Clerks‘ latest project, Phantom Voices, which explores the links between musical hallucinations and remembered and imagined music. More information about The Clerks’ project, as well as details of their first performance in Cambridge on 31 October 2014, can be found in the press release below.

A new project from The Clerks explores the puzzling experience of musical hallucinations.

Gramophone Award-winning ensemble The Clerks follow up their cutting-edge music/science project Tales from Babel with a new programme entitled Phantom Voices – about the way the mind imagines music, and what happens when the imagined and the real seep into one another.

‘Phantom Voices is first and foremost a concert programme,’ says Clerks Artistic Director Edward Wickham; ‘an immersive musical experience with music by our long-standing collaborator Christopher Fox. It melds together live and pre-recorded elements to give some sense of what it is like to experience musical hallucinations.’

Composer Christopher Fox explains: ‘The audience will be led through a series of musical ‘hauntings’, a sequence of interrelated songs and motets which take us from the present back into the Middle Ages, via Bach, Heinrich Isaac, bluegrass and folk song. Like unpacking Russian dolls, each new element in the music will reveal itself as a reinvention of something we already know. At the same time, the audience will also be haunted more directly, by pre-recorded speech, music and sampled noises, to evoke the experience of voice and music hallucinations.’

The Clerks vocal ensemble, known both for their pioneering interpretations of Medieval and Renaissance music and their challenging, genre-breaking collaborations, have again received the financial support of The Wellcome Trust, and are working on this project with Charles Fernyhough of the Hearing the Voice project.

‘Hearing the Voice is all about understanding the huge variety of ways in which people hear voices in the absence of any speaker,’ says Professor Fernyhough. ‘Voice-hearing is usually associated with serious mental illness; we are discovering that it can happen in all sorts of different circumstances, to all sorts of people. What we are hoping to do with Phantom Voices is to find out whether the conditions that provoke musical hallucinations are similar to those associated with voice-hearing; and also to improve our understanding of how we remember and imagine music in our heads.’

To achieve this, the project is being developed through conversations with voice-hearers and those who experience musical hallucinations, many of which took place in Durham at a Hearing the Voice conference on inner voices and inner music on 17 & 18 September 2014.

The full concert programme will launch at the Cambridge Festival of Ideas on Friday 31 October, in the evocative surroundings of the Museum for Archaeology and Anthropology, followed by the Spitalfields Winter Festival on 15 December.

For more information and to book tickets, please click here.

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Voice Collective creative workshop: ‘Write Back!’, Only Connect, London, 18 October 2014, 1.30-4.30pm

Are you are aged 18 and under and hear or see things that other people don’t?  Or do you care for a young person who hears voices or has other unusual experiences?  If so, then you might be interested in the following workshops from Voice Collective.

VC imageWrite Back!
A free creative workshop for young people who hear voices or see visions
Saturday 18 October 2014
Only Connect, 32 Cubbtt Street (Near Kings Cross)
1.30-4.30 pm

Through creative exercises and discussion we’ll create witty and poetic responses to those who label, misunderstand and generally annoy us.

A fun, encouraging and stimulating workshop offering you the chance to creatively express any frustrations, to write back at life’s challenges and to break down the stigma of mental health and hearing voices.

Facilitated by spoken word artist and published poet Sai Murray.

It’s up to you whether or not you share your experience of voices and visions. There will be space in the afternoon to talk with other young people if you want to, but we won’t pressure you to do this. We also run regular peer support groups for young people in London who hear voices (check out the Voice Collective website) if you want to find out more.

Who Can Come?
The workshop is open to any young person (aged 18 or under) who hears or sees things that other people don’t.

Parent’s Peer Support Workshop
(at the same time)

Does your child hear voices or see visions?
This workshop will enable you to:

  • Meet other parents & supporters of young people who hear voices
  • Learn more about voices and visions, discovering helpful coping strategies
  • Share your experiences with, and get support from, people who’ve been there too
  • Meet the Voice Collective team and find out more about the support available to you and your child
  • Chill out and have time focussed on you

 Who is the Workshop for?
Any parent or supporter (uncle, aunt, carer, family friend etc) of a young person who has experiences like these. You may already have lots of experience around supporting your child, or you may feel confused and/or out of your depth.

To register for these workshops, please click here.  If you have any questions, please contact Voice Collective

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Angela Woods: Medical Humanities’ Perspectives on the Phenomenology of Auditory Verbal Hallucinations, Public Lecture, Sheffield, 22 October 2014

Medical Humanities Sheffield is proud to continue a series of open interdisciplinary lectures for students, staff and the general public.

Conundrums, confounds and cacophonies: Medical Humanities’ perspectives on the phenomenology of auditory verbal hallucinations
Dr. Angela Woods, Durham University
WEDNESDAY 22 October 2014
University of Sheffield
Council Room – Firth Court – 6 p.m.

Improving our understanding of voice-hearing is widely recognised as a key priority of hallucinations research. To date, most of the phenomenological data collected in mainstream scientific studies of auditory verbal hallucination have come from clinical interviews in psychiatric settings, which has potentially shaped what kinds of experiences are reported and how they are interpreted. “What is it like to hear voices?” is a large qualitative study currently being conducted by the Hearing the Voice project and the Lived Experience Research Network. Using a novel phenomenology questionnaire, we invited people to reflect, in their own words, on aspects of experience – including the embodied presence and interpersonal agency of voices, and their relationship to thoughts, external and internal speech – which are rarely the focus of in-depth exploration in mainstream psychological research.

This paper will present preliminary findings from the study and reflect on the possibilities and challenges presented by interdisciplinary and medical humanities approaches to the study of inner experience.

Medical Humanities Sheffield: The interface between medicine and science on the one hand, and the arts and social sciences on the other hand, is one of the most exciting and important in modern academic life, offering unrivalled potential for multi-disciplinary work, policymaking, and public life. Medical Humanities Sheffield is sponsoring a series of open lectures in this exciting field.


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Alex Hunter on ‘Empathic Resonance – Paradigm Regained’, Joint Special Interest Group for Psychosis, Durham, 29 October 2014, 5.30pm

Durham University and Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust Joint Special Interest Group for Psychosis (JSIGP) is open to all staff working in either the Trust or University.  However, it will be of particular interest to those staff working in ‘psychosis services’ or who are involved in research within the field. A warm welcome is also extended to any service users who would like to attend. The group meets on a regular basis to discuss a wide range of topics and speakers.

The next meeting, featuring a presentation by Alex Hunter ‘Empathic Resonance – Paradigm Regained?’ will be held on Wednesday October 29th 2014 from 5.30 – 7PM in the Joachim Room, College of St Hild and St Bede, Durham University (30 on this map).

Alex will be talking about his own personal experience of unusual mental states and his journey to recovery.  His presentation explores ‘Empathetic Resonance Therapy’ – the therapeutic process he has devised as a result of his experiences, the unexpected echoes this finds with psychoanalysis, and its relevance to voice-hearers.

Places are limited for this event.  To reserve a place, please fill in our online registration form.

Service users and their families and friends who attend meetings of the Joint Special Interest Group for Psychosis can receive an honorarium of £20 plus travelling expenses.  For more information and to obtain the relevant claim forms, please contact Valentina Short.


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ABC Radio Brisbane: Simon McCarthy-Jones on ‘What Causes Auditory Hallucinations?’

Simon McCarthy-Jones is a core member of the Hearing the Voice research team and a Senior Lecturer and Research Fellow in the Department of Cognitive Science, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia.  In this podcast, he talks with Kelly Higgins-Devine from ABC Radio Brisbane about inner speech, voice-hearing, and the causes of auditory verbal hallucinations.

More information about the programme, as well as an interview with Nicky Carey (an artist and voice-hearer) and Sam Jemison from the Queensland Hearing Voices Community can be found here.

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Job Opportunity: London Hearing Voices Projects Manager (21 hours per week)

London Hearing Voices Projects Manager rsz_lhvn_logo
(21 hours per week)
NJC SCP 32-34, £30,656-£32,255
(£18,393 – £19,352 for 21 hours per week

Aim: To manage all aspects of Mind in Camden’s Hearing Voices Projects and undertake one-to-one, group and development work alongside service users.We are seeking a motivated and experienced individual to take responsibility for the overall management of our innovative London-wide Hearing Voices Projects. To be successful in this role, you need to have an in-depth understanding of the Hearing Voices Movement and the role of peer support groups within this. You will have experience of supervising or mentoring staff/volunteers, and have the skills necessary to build a strong and effective team.

With the confidence and organisational skills necessary to take the lead on busy and diverse projects, on the cutting edge of the Hearing Voices Movement, you will be required to engage with a wide range of stakeholders (from the adult mental health, prison, forensic and youth sectors). As such, this role is best suited to someone who is flexible enough to modify their approach to suit the situation. We are looking for someone with strong facilitation skills who is able to deliver and design training that communicates the values of the Hearing Voices Network clearly and accessibly.

As well as having responsibility for the overall management of the projects, including supervising staff/volunteers and ensuring we meet targets agreed with funders, you will also be required to undertake direct development work when necessary. This could include facilitating Hearing Voices Groups within a prison setting and, as such, it is important that you have experience in the adult mental health sector and supporting vulnerable people. Prior experience of working with people who have been in prison or forensic services is not essential, but a real willingness to do this is.

We particularly welcome applications from people who have lived experience of voices or visions and are able to use this experience to inform, and enhance, their work.

Previous applicants need not apply.

Closing date: 20 October, 3pm.

Interviews: Wednesday 29 October and Wednesday 5th November.

For more information and application forms, please see the job advertisement on the Mind in Camden website


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