Voices in a Positive Light – Special Issue of Psychosis Just Published

In November 2011, with the support of the Wellcome Trust and Durham University’s Institute of Advanced Study (IAS), Hearing the Voice brought 45 experts by experience and profession together for the world’s first interdisciplinary research workshop on voice-hearing.  Professor Marius Romme and Dr Sandra Escher, founders of the world Hearing Voices Movement and fellows of the Durham IAS, entered into lively debate with cognitive neuroscientists and theologians; literary and psychosocial studies scholars unpacked the logics of therapy with clinical psychologists; psychiatrists, artists and philosophers listened with rapt attention to voice-hearers’ discussions of their experience; and all agreed that there was much to be gained by approaching voice-hearing from a multitude of different perspectives.

Two years later, and I am very pleased to report that one of the collaborations initiated at that workshop has just born fruit. Jacqui Dillon (Chair of the Hearing Voices Network and a key advisor to Hearing the Voice), Simon McCarthy-Jones (HtV team member and postdoctoral fellow in psychology at Macquarie University), Marius Romme, Sandra Escher and I have just edited a special issue of Psychosis entitled ‘Voices in a Positive Light’.

What does it mean to view voices and voice-hearing ‘in a positive light’? In our editorial (accessible for free here) we argue that research in to voice-hearing is inspiring in a myriad of ways – it offers new insights into the human condition, new methodologies for understanding and making sense of experience, and new approaches to working with voice-hearers in ways which are respectful, collaborative and even emancipatory. The contributions to ‘Voices in a Positive Light’ in no way deny the very real distress and difficulties experienced by many voice-hearers, but focus on prioritising positive approaches to recovery in and beyond clinical settings, and taking seriously the view that voice-hearing is a natural variation of human experience.

Please click on the links below for abstracts and access options for each article:

Our sincere thanks to each of these contributors, to Professor John Read (Psychosis editor in chief), and the experts whose anonymous feedback helped ensure a robust peer review process.

The Voice-Hearer as a Public Identity

My research in the Hearing the Voice project starts with the deceptively simple question: what is it we are studying?

In a presentation at the Hearing Voices symposium at Stanford earlier this year, I explored how voices or auditory verbal hallucinations have been defined, differentiated and categorised across a range of contexts – in clinical practice, neuropsychological and social scientific research, and by voice-hearers themselves. But what does it mean for someone to describe themselves as a “voice-hearer”? Again, the answer to the question at first seems relatively straightforward: a voice-hearer is someone who hears voices, or, in psychiatric parlance, experience auditory or auditory verbal hallucinations. However, for readers of this blog it’s highly likely that the term ‘voice-hearer’ conjures to mind a much wider set of associations.

My article The Voice Hearer offers, from a medical humanities perspective, what anthropologists call a “thick description” of “the voice-hearer.” I’m not trying to analyse or make claims about any individual’s experience, but rather to investigate how the term itself arose and is mobilised in contemporary settings. I argue that

“The voice-hearer” (i) asserts voice-hearing as a meaningful experience, (ii) challenges psychiatric authority and (iii) builds identity through sharing life narrative. While technically accurate, the definition of “the voice-hearer” as simply “a person who has experienced voice-hearing or auditory verbal hallucinations” fails to acknowledge that this is a complex, politically resonant and value-laden identity.

Although I am the sole author of the article, I benefited enormously from discussing it with mixed audiences of medical humanities scholars, social anthropologists, members of the Hearing the Voice team, and friends who themselves identify (or choose not to identify) as voice-hearers.

The global Hearing Voices Movement and UK Hearing Voices Network have played, of course, the decisive role in building the public identity of “the voice-hearer” and in positively transforming the lives of many individuals. Anyone who is familiar with the HVM will know of the famous television appearance of Patsy Hague and Marius Romme in the late 1980s, a story which I describe in the article as a kind of “foundation myth,” told and re-told to illustrate the origins and the essence of the movement.

I now realise that my own re-telling of that story neglects two crucial elements, and I would like here to offer my sincere thanks to Dr Sandra Escher for discussing these with me. Sandra, who worked during that period as a journalist, saw immediately the role that a television interview could play in promoting and exploring further this new approach to accepting and making sense of voices. In an email she pointed out to me that

Voice hearers developed also because they could tell their story for a big audience and people listened to them. They had to prepare their story and by doing so learned to understand it better.

…You mention Marius and Patsy but you forget me. Marius always says: “If you had not been there the idea would never have gone out of my consulting room.” I am the 3rd leg. I was the first one who organised congresses, enabled people tell their stories, with Marius published them, and helped people to discover their rich experience. I belong to what you describe as the Pasty and Marius story.

Sandra is absolutely right, and my re-telling of this story in the article neglects both her role and the role of the media more generally in promoting “the voice-hearer” as a positive and public identity.

The significance of this omission is in part an academic failing (as Ian Hacking’s work on the earlier and not entirely unrelated figure of “the multiple” makes clear, mass media plays a constitutive role in the looping effects of human kinds). But if anything I am more disturbed by the politics at play here – my failure to recognise Sandra’s expertise and labour, which it could be argued is a failure to do justice to what is not coincidentally the work of women and of people outside the “psy” professions.

Sandra, who I had the privilege of spending time with throughout her fellowship at Durham University in 2011 and at the 2012 World Hearing Voices Congress in Cardiff, is a friend and an inspiration to many in the Hearing Voices Movement, not least for her research on children who hear voices. I would like here to extend my thanks to her for her generous comments on my article, and to put on public record her pivotal role in what should be “the Patsy, Marius and Sandra” story.

See: Angela Woods, The Voice Hearer, Journal of Mental Health 22.3 (2013) 263-270.

“Hearing Voices” Stanford “Music and the Brain” Symposium LIVESTREAMED Sat 13 April

Hearing VoicesComposer and researcher Jonathan Berger presents the seventh annual Music and Brain Symposium on Saturday, April 13, 10 AM – 6PM, at Stanford University (Stanford, CA). Berger is the Denning Family Provostial Professor in Music at Stanford, and is co-director of the Stanford Institute for Creativity and the Arts (SICA) and The Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA).

The 2013 symposium, “Hearing Voices,” brings together some of the most exciting researchers, scholars, and writers in the field to examine the phenomena of auditory hallucinations. Presenters include Tanya Luhrmann (Stanford University), author of When God Talks Back; Paul Watson, Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist upon whose experience The War Reporter is based; Dan O’Brien, librettist, playwright, and author; Daniel B. Smith (The College of New Rochelle), author of “Muses, Madmen, and Prophets”; Judith Ford (University of California, San Francisco), speaking on The Phenomenology of Auditory Verbal Hallucinations (AVH); Diana Deutsch (University of California, San Diego), presenting The Phenomenology of Musical Hallucinations; Angela Woods (Durham University), speaking on Taxonomies of Voice-Hearing; Chris Chafe (Stanford University), presenting The Acoustics of Imaginary Sound; and Shaili Jain (Stanford University) addressing hallucinations in veterans with PTSD.

The Symposium takes place at Stanford’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA). More information is here. The symposium will be livestreamed here  http://www.ustream.tv/channel/13876337 and will use the hashtag #HearingVoices. Please join the conversation!

In conjunction with “Hearing Voices,” Stanford Live presents “Visitations,” an evening-length program featuring two chamber opera commissions from composer and Stanford Professor of Music, Jonathan Berger, and librettist Dan O’Brien, incorporating the concept of auditory hallucinations. The program premieres Friday, April 12 (8:00 PM), and repeats Saturday, April 13 (8:00 PM), at Stanford University’s freshly launched Bing Concert Hall. Tickets are available here.

Two Operas

TWO OPERAS: THEOTOKIA & THE WAR REPORTER

The War Reporter and Theotokia present the stories of two men, each haunted by inner voices. Ambisonic electroacoustic soundscapes created at CCRMA transform the intimate, vineyard-style Bing Concert Hall by virtually placing the audience inside the brain of the protagonists. While on stage, their inner-voices – painful, poignant, sardonic and revelatory – come boldly and dramatically to life.

THEOTOKIA (world premiere, full version) takes the audience inside the consciousness of a man who, beset by hallucinatory voices, is taunted and seduced by the mother of god. Illuminating the experience of one possessed by ritualistic and religious hallucinatory delusions, the work portrays the inner struggle of mental illness in a rich musical, dramatic, and philosophical counterpoint.

THE WAR REPORTER (world premiere) depicts the true story of Pulitzer Prize-winning combat journalist Paul Watson, as he seeks to rid himself of the haunting voice of an American soldier whose corpse he photographed in the streets of Mogadishu in 1993. Librettist Dan O’Brien’s interviews with Watson are the primary source for the work.

Commissioned and presented by Stanford Live, “Visitations” features the imaginative and energetic St. Lawrence String Quartet (Geoff Nutall & Scott St. John, violins; Lesley Robertson, viola; Christopher Costanza, cello) — Berger’s long-time collaborators — with the preeminent all-male vocal quartet, New York Polyphony (Geoffrey Williams, countertenor; Steven Caldicott Wilson, tenor; Christopher Dylan Herbert, baritone; Craig Phillips, bass) and agile soprano Heather Buck, joined by Stephen Tramontozzi (bass), Tara Helen O’Connor (flute), Pascal Archer (clarinet), Pedja Muzijevic (piano) and Steve Schick (percussion). Directed by GRAMMY Award-winner Rinde Eckert and produced in association with Beth Morrison Projects; Christopher Rountree conducts.

Hearing the Voice at Cognitive Futures of the Humanities Conference

What is the ‘cognitive humanities’? In what ways is knowledge from the cognitive sciences changing approaches to language, literature, aesthetics, historiography and creative culture? How have practices in the arts and humanities influenced the cognitive sciences, and how might they do so in the future?

The First International Cognitive Futures of the Humanities Conference seeks to address these and other questions over the next four days at Bangor University in Wales. The conference is associated with the international AHRC research network of the same name, supported by an AHRC grant awarded to our new Durham colleague and Hearing the Voice Project member Dr Peter Garratt and Prof. Vyv Evans (Bangor University).

I am delighted to be chairing a panel entitled “Hearing the Voice: A Project Across Hermeneutics, Phenomenology, and Neuroscience” which presents research currently underway in the hermeneutics branch of our project. Ranging from the medieval to the postmodern, my colleagues’ three papers will open up new perspectives on the relationship between voices and texts, authority and experience.

  • Dr Hilary Powell,  Medieval miracle narratives and the writing of fictional phenomenology
  • Dr Marco Bernini, A Crowded Soundscape: The Phenomenology Of Voice‐Hearing In Samuel Beckett
  • Prof Patricia Waugh, Postmodernism, the Neo-Phenomenological Novel and the Critique of Neuro-Psychiatry

Abstracts for these and other talks (including the provocatively entitled “Why We are Not All All Novelists” by Shaun Gallagher, the celebrated philosopher and a member of our international advisory board) can be found here. I will be live-tweeting from the conference (@literarti) using the official hashtag #coghumanities.

“Hearing Voices” at Stanford University – A Symposium and Two Operas

Hearing VoicesComposer and researcher Jonathan Berger presents the seventh annual Music and Brain Symposium on Saturday, April 13, 10 AM – 6PM, at Stanford University (Stanford, CA). Berger is the Denning Family Provostial Professor in Music at Stanford, and is co-director of the Stanford Institute for Creativity and the Arts (SICA) and The Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA).

The 2013 symposium, “Hearing Voices,” brings together some of the most exciting researchers, scholars, and writers in the field to examine the phenomena of auditory hallucinations. Presenters include Tanya Luhrmann (Stanford University), author of When God Talks Back; Paul Watson, Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist upon whose experience The War Reporter is based; Dan O’Brien, librettist, playwright, and author; Daniel B. Smith (The College of New Rochelle), author of “Muses, Madmen, and Prophets”; Judith Ford (University of California, San Francisco), speaking on The Phenomenology of Auditory Verbal Hallucinations (AVH); Diana Deutsch (University of California, San Diego), presenting The Phenomenology of Musical Hallucinations; Angela Woods (Durham University), speaking on Taxonomies of Voice-Hearing; Chris Chafe (Stanford University), presenting The Acoustics of Imaginary Sound; and Shaili Jain (Stanford University) addressing hallucinations in veterans with PTSD.

The Symposium takes place at Stanford’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA). Information and registration for the symposium can be found here.

In conjunction with “Hearing Voices,” Stanford Live presents “Visitations,” an evening-length program featuring two chamber opera commissions from composer and Stanford Professor of Music, Jonathan Berger, and librettist Dan O’Brien, incorporating the concept of auditory hallucinations. The program premieres Friday, April 12 (8:00 PM), and repeats Saturday, April 13 (8:00 PM), at Stanford University’s freshly launched Bing Concert Hall. Tickets are available here.

Two Operas

TWO OPERAS: THEOTOKIA & THE WAR REPORTER

The War Reporter and Theotokia present the stories of two men, each haunted by inner voices. Ambisonic electroacoustic soundscapes created at CCRMA transform the intimate, vineyard-style Bing Concert Hall by virtually placing the audience inside the brain of the protagonists. While on stage, their inner-voices – painful, poignant, sardonic and revelatory – come boldly and dramatically to life.

THEOTOKIA (world premiere, full version) takes the audience inside the consciousness of a man who, beset by hallucinatory voices, is taunted and seduced by the mother of god. Illuminating the experience of one possessed by ritualistic and religious hallucinatory delusions, the work portrays the inner struggle of mental illness in a rich musical, dramatic, and philosophical counterpoint.

THE WAR REPORTER (world premiere) depicts the true story of Pulitzer Prize-winning combat journalist Paul Watson, as he seeks to rid himself of the haunting voice of an American soldier whose corpse he photographed in the streets of Mogadishu in 1993. Librettist Dan O’Brien’s interviews with Watson are the primary source for the work.

Commissioned and presented by Stanford Live, “Visitations” features the imaginative and energetic St. Lawrence String Quartet (Geoff Nutall & Scott St. John, violins; Lesley Robertson, viola; Christopher Costanza, cello) — Berger’s long-time collaborators — with the preeminent all-male vocal quartet, New York Polyphony (Geoffrey Williams, countertenor; Steven Caldicott Wilson, tenor; Christopher Dylan Herbert, baritone; Craig Phillips, bass) and agile soprano Heather Buck, joined by Stephen Tramontozzi (bass), Tara Helen O’Connor (flute), Pascal Archer (clarinet), Pedja Muzijevic (piano) and Steve Schick (percussion). Directed by GRAMMY Award-winner Rinde Eckert and produced in association with Beth Morrison Projects; Christopher Rountree conducts.