Earlier this year, Hearing the Voice offered two travel bursaries to support a peer-group facilitator from the hearing voice community as well as a researcher with an interest in hallucinations to attend the Inaugural North American Conference of the International Consortium on Hallucination Research (ICHR), 26-27 September 2016, at the University of Illinois.
In the first of two reviews of the inaugural North American Conference of the ICHR, Kate Hill offers her perspective below as a mental health consultant, psychology student at Portland State University, and also an expert of lived experience. You can read Jordan Goldstein’s review here.
My name is Kate Hill. I have been working and volunteering in the mental health field for many years. I started eighteen years ago, working with children with developmental disabilities, first in outpatient care, the in residential settings. From there, I transitioned into work as a residential counselor for people labeled with “Serious and Persistent Mental illness” (SPMI)” diagnoses and did so for a number of years. Currently, I work as a mental health consultant and educator, and continue to study psychology, both at Portland State University and at the Process Work Institute.
I also have a personal history of hearing voices. As a troubled teen I was subjected to psychiatric “care” and psychiatric “medicine.” My “primary voice-hearing experience” began a few years later when “my voice” began speaking to me. My voice talked with me regularly for about four years. While it was a positive, and even much needed experience for me, I never thought to relate it to the experiences of my clients. This is most likely because the psychological literature available on the topic tends to describe something very, very different to what I actually experienced. I never received a related diagnosis. I never told anyone who could give me one.
Fast forward a few years, and I realize that my clients and I are not all that different. I found a place where I was able to “come out” and share my experiences with people in my own way and in my own time. The quality of my life improved more than I thought possible. In recent years I have continued to work and volunteer in mental health and also in mental health activism, but with a deeper understanding about the meaning behind voices, visions and extreme states, as well as the social and human rights issues that voice-hearers face.
This September, I earned a scholarship to attend the US Satellite conference of the International Consortium on Hallucinations Research (ICHR) in Chicago. As a person who is quite critical of mental health organizations, (especially ones whose jargon assigns value judgments on the experiences of those whom they serve), I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised for a number of reasons:
- I appreciated that the ICHR is an interdisciplinary organization. I love interdisciplinary approaches because they are more likely to keep us from propagating the incorrect assumptions commonly found by the popular culture of individual disciplines. There are, in fact, many ways of understanding the phenomenon of hearing voices and seeing visions, as demonstrated by the presentations of neuroscientists, anthropologists, clinical psychologists, educators and non-clinical researchers, to name just a few.
- With two equally compelling tracks available, I found it difficult to choose. There was a clinical track, which was highlighted by Dr. Charlie Heriot-Maitland and Dr. Eleanor Longden’s compassion-focused therapy for voices, and a neuroscience track. Although I’ve studied neuroscience to some extent and love it, I was even more curious about compassion-focused therapy for voices. Since attending the workshop, I am studying it in greater depth. Its gentle and non-intrusive nature as a clinical approach resonates with my personal experience, and I am very glad that it was included in the conference.
- I appreciated the tendency of conference participants using terms that describe experiences instead of using labels that are exclusive to clinical hegemony. It was common to hear the terms such as “voice-hearer” and “hearing voices”; terms that I feel are more respectful, inclusive, and dignified.
- Most importantly, the voices and perspectives of voice-hearers and those with similar experiences were actively invited and respected. In a time when evidence-based practice is continuously reinforced as essential, the ICHR is truly embracing such practices. While it can be very difficult to have the necessary conversations to make genuine progress (which organizers made a particular effort in spurring), keeping an inclusive and open-minded platform such as this is essential in achieving it. I look forward to continuing conversations as this conference in the future.
At future conferences, I would love to see presentations on how environmental factors influence/impact extreme states of mind; factors such as poverty, pollution and other toxics, relationships with law enforcement, medical professionals, and mental health professionals, with particular focus on the voice of lived experience. Another is more non-clinical research. How, where and why do people have positive personal or culturally acceptable experiences of voices and visions? How can we support our community member before they become distressed? How can we promote vitality within the voice-hearing community as a whole?
There is so much research in this field yet to be done and so many great people hard a work in it. I felt honored to be there and look forward to keeping up on the latest news and research. Thank you, again, to the scholarship and organizational committees. See you next year.