Call for Participants: Study on Mystical Experiences

We have been asked by Loukia Chaidemenaki to circulate details of the following study on mystical experiences and voice-hearing. Loukia writes:

I am Loukia Chaidemenaki, licensed psychologist and student at the Art Psychotherapy Center in Greece, with an interest in learning more about the experiences of hearing voices and other unusual experiences. I am conducting research on the mystical experiences of people who hear voices, see visions or have other extraordinary experiences.

I am looking for men and women with such experiences, who would like to take part in my research study.

Are you:

  • Someone who has experiences of hearing voice(s), seeing vision(s) and/or other extraordinary experience(s)
  • Someone who has an interest in spiritual, religious, transcendent matters and so called mystical experiences, having/or have had mystical experiences
  • Over 18 years old

 

What is the study about?

The aim is to explore the experiences of the mystical among people who hear voices, see visions or have extraordinary experiences. The purpose is to explore multiple perspectives of people living with these experiences in order to better understand them.

We will talk about your experiences of hearing voices and how you and other people make sense of voice-hearing. I am particularly interested in talking about how experiences of the mystical and of hearing voice(s), seeing vision(s) or having other extraordinary experience(s) is understood by you; how you relate with spirituality and the way you interpreted/defined your mystical experiences; how these experiences might differ or relate to each other; how you cope with these experiences; whether you find any positive or safeguarding aspects in hearing a voice(s), seeing vision(s) or having other extraordinary experience(s); and your experience of sharing your encounters with the mystical with mental health professionals and your close environment.

Do I have to take part?

It is completely up to you whether or not you decide to take part in this study. If you do decide to take part you will be asked to sign a consent form. If you change your mind at any time during the study you can withdraw up to 2 weeks after our interview, without giving a reason.

What would I have to do in the study?

If you decide to take part in the study, you will do an online interview with me, the researcher, together with Georgia Feliou, the co-researcher. The session will be divided in two parts, an interview discussing your experiences and a second part where we will ask you to use colored pencils in order to describe, in the form of drawing, your mystical experience(s). If you cannot afford to buy the colored pencils and A3 paper, I can transfer the required amount to an account designated by you. The interview will last for approximately 60 minutes.

You will be given the opportunity for an online follow-up meeting, with us, the researchers. We can discuss your experience of the interview and our understanding of your experience, and you will have the opportunity to ask any questions you may have.

Where will the interview happen?

The interview will happen online (using an online medium, i.e. Skype) at a time convenient for you. We can decide this together.

Is the study confidential?

Yes, the study is anonymous and confidential. This means that no names or identifying features will be revealed in the study. The interview will be recorded and we will ask for a photograph of your art product. Some direct quotes from the interview may be used in the study write-up (journal article), however, quotes will not be linked with identifying features or names. In order to ensure this, in the consent form you will be asked to state your pseudonym with which your quotes will be addressed throughout the study.

The recording will be solely for internal use by the researcher to analysis of the relevant information. Only the researcher, the research team and academics at the University of Derby will have access to the information provided, which will be kept absolutely secured in an electronic file accessible only by the researcher. The information provided will kept up to 7 years. After this time period, all data provided will be destroyed.

What if I am interested in taking part?

If you are interested in taking part you can discuss this with someone independent, or contact me by email (contact details below). We can then discuss any further questions you may have about the study. Once we have spoken you can decide whether you would like to take part in the study or not.

I am interested in taking part, what do I do next?

If you would like some more information about the study or are interested in taking part in the study, please get in touch via email. The research has been ethically approved by the Art Psychotherapy Center.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I hope that you get in touch soon.

Please note that this study is independent from Hearing the Voice. If you have any further queries, you should contact Loukia via email.

Philosophy of Mind: Podcast from Mind in Camden and Project PERFECT

 

We’re delighted to share the following post, written by our good friends from Mind in Camden about their fascinating ‘Philosophy of Mind’ podcast with Project PERFECT at the University of Birmingham.

Mind in Camden are really proud to share our ‘Philosophy of Mind’ podcast, which is based on a ‘Philosophy of Mind’ workshop series that we ran in October 2017. The group was open to everyone, ran once a week for six weeks, and focused on sharing and using philosophical tools and ideas to talk about mental health, including hearing voices and unusual beliefs. Based on these workshops, we have just launched a ‘Philosophy of Mind’ group in HMP Pentonville.

The first part of this podcast is an interview with Sophie Stammers, the creator and facilitator of the workshop series and a philosopher at Project PERFECT at the University of Birmingham – she tells us about her work and her experience of facilitating the group. The rest of the podcast (from 12.25 onwards) is a group discussion amongst several participants about their experiences of the group – what was most important, what the group felt like, and what has stayed with them… A huge thank you to Camden Community Radio who helped us produce this.

You can listen to it on various platforms:

  • The CCR channel on iTunes
  • canstream link on the CCR website
  • ‘Podcast’ apps on Apple smartphones and iPads – search ‘Camden Community Radio’, click on the podcast and it will show up as one of the most recent episodes.

All of Sophie’s materials for the workshop series are online.

McPin Foundation Information Session: Virtual Reality Therapy

 

9 November 2018 | 1.30-4PM | Newcastle University

We have been asked by Humma Andleeb (researcher with the McPin Foundation) to circulate details of the following information session on Virtual Reality (VR) therapy. Humma writes:

The McPin Foundation is hosting an information session about Virtual Reality (VR) therapy as part of the gameChange study. This will involve building a new therapy designed to help people who feel anxious in everyday situations (particularly people experiencing psychosis or paranoia).

The therapy immerses the wearer into simulations of everyday social situations using VR. Some VR scenarios will be available for people to test at the session.

When and where is the session?

Date: 9th November

Time: 1:30-4pm

Place: Newcastle University

What can I expect?

We will give people the chance to check out some games/activities on a VR headset. We will ask you a few questions about how you think the VR headset might be used and what you think the limitations are.

We are particularly interested in hearing from people who have experienced psychosis. We want to hear from people who are sceptical about VR as well as people who are excited about the possibilities.

Who do I contact?

Please contact Humma Andleeb via email or phone (020 7922 7872) if you want to come along. Places are limited so that everyone attending can have a go on the VR.

We provide tea, coffee and refreshments on the day. Participants will also be offered a shopping voucher as a thank you for their time. Reasonable travel expenses will be reimbursed (please bring receipts).

Please note that this study is independent from Hearing the Voice. All queries should be directed to Humma (McPin Foundation researcher) via email or on 020 7922 7872.

Aimee Wilson Reviews ‘Emily’s Voices’

Today’s post is authored by Aimee Wilson, a 27 year old mental health blogger. Her Blog is called ‘I’m not Disordered’.

Aimee writes:

In celebration of World Mental Health Day, I’m honoured to have been invited to write this book review. This new found emphasis on engaging with ‘Experts by Experience’ has resulted in a huge improvement of Services. Emily’s Voices is the epitome of capturing the importance and significance of working alongside people with lived experience.

The book begins with a forward by Dr Susan Shaw who talks about how ‘voice-hearing is a phenomenon which is poorly understood…’ and discusses the possibilities in voice-hearing and how an individual can experience the ‘phenomenon’ completely differently to another. With that in mind, it’s estimated that 15% of adults will hear a voice at some point in their life but not everyone will experience this as a frequent event and may not seek help for it.

The prologue (titled The Hospital) begins with quotes from Emily’s auditory hallucinations; I found this incredibly insightful. Hearing voices is something that’s very hard for others to understand – even those who have also experienced hallucinations – but to tell you what they are saying… well, it makes it easier to understand. Easier to empathise. Possible to empathise. Unfortunately, Emily hears more than one voice and expressed her fear that these voices belonged to real people who were following her: ‘Three people watching me. There’s no space of my own now to retreat to.’

The rest of the book is divided into chapters within ‘Parts’ – with Part One titled ‘Kent.’ Emily begins by talking about her early life and upbringing in a ‘leafy, picturesque village in Kent.’ She talks about being raised by a Mum who was constantly in volatile relationships, and, instead, spending more time with her Grandparents who were kind, and loving people. Towards the end of the Part, Emily talks about the difficulties she began experiencing with her weight after children at School called her ‘fatso.’ After being hospitalised for Anorexia, Emily was struggling to eat a meal when she heard a voice for the first time; it told her that she knew she had to eat.

Part Two is titled ‘London’ and begins with Emily hearing voices again whilst working as an au pair, which she later refers to as ‘the worst decision that I ever made.’ In this part, Emily discusses her experiences with talking to a friend and how she felt conflicted in whether to tell this person whom she’d trusted for years, or keep her voice hearing a secret for fear of him thinking she were ‘crazy.’ Emily talks about feeling unable to relax around two of her other friends and so she had to take ‘care to hide how frightened I felt at the voices.’ This, and her experiences with her employers when they questioned whether she heard voices really illustrated the stigma surrounding voice-hearing – as a fellow sufferer, it’s something that I think needs more attention as usually, the media only covers the stigma around mental health in general. And that is very different, and it’s great to have a book that recognises that.

Part Three is titled ‘Oxford’ and begins with Emily attending a Mind day-centre and finding another service user who convinced her to study her AS-level in Psychology. A few pages later, and Emily is referred to a therapist who begins their work together by discussing diagnosis as ‘labels’ and finding the absence of them helpful with them only really being useful to clinicians. A really positive sign when Emily is sat in the therapist’s office was that she could no longer hear the voices; something that’s often common when a person hallucinating enters a safe space. Emily’s question of whether the therapist can help ‘get rid of the voices’ really resonated with me and my desperation to do all I can to stop the hallucinations. Emily later discusses her own condescending worries about the fact that she was volunteering at twenty-five years old and saw the absence of having a ‘proper job’ as a stark reminder of her mental illness. I’ve often wondered what I’d done with my life whilst all of my friends are graduating from University and getting married and having children, but I’ve learnt to be kind to myself and recognise that I have still made some achievements. The therapist later points out that Emily’s recognition of the voices being repetitive in their trying to say that Emily is a ‘mental patient’ and needs to ‘take pills’ is a small achievement.

After a drunken talk with a fellow mental health sufferer, Emily sent her Mum a text that she wanted to end her life and was subsequently taken to Hospital by Police. In Hospital, Emily was told she has a Borderline Personality Disorder and spent three weeks attending Alcoholic Anonymous meetings where she met her Sponsor who taught her that alcohol makes problems worse.

‘I managed a smile. “I guess so,” I said. “I just wish that it felt easier than it is. Sometimes I feel that I’m in a power struggle with the voices. It’s them against me, and I have to win.”

“A power struggle is an interesting way of looking at it,” said Daphne, smiling at me.

“Well that’s what it feels like,” I replied. “I only hope that I’m going to win.”

A new discussion about one of Emily’s symptoms took place between herself and her therapist when they began discussing her fear of abandonment; particularly with male figures in her life. Having had her Father disappear, her step-father be violent and her loving Grandfather pass away, Emily seemed to have difficulties trusting men and was aware of becoming co-dependent on a man. Opening up about her childhood, and cutting out alcohol meant that Emily had better concentration for her Masters at University and she was offered the opportunity to get in touch with a Researcher conducting a project in voice-hearing. Through the research project, Emily’s confidence grew and she soon found herself meeting her Father. From personal experience, my back instantly went up when I read this and I was concerned that her situation might play out the same as my own and end in a deterioration of her mental health. In fact, the meeting was a ‘disaster’ but with her ongoing work to focus on and the support of friends, Emily got through the realisation that she didn’t want to know her Father.

Emily then goes onto discussing her meeting with ‘Angela’ who worked for the organisation Time To Change and their first conversation about the stigma that surrounded voice-hearing and the lack of people willing to speak up about their own experiences because of this. They talked about the fact that voice-hearing can be experienced with people with different diagnosis – a fact that I’ve recently experienced with an A&E Doctor assuming that it only happened to those with schizophrenia. “I wish the public knew that” Emily says.

In Chapter Seventeen, Daphne (Emily’s therapist) makes the statement that she no longer thinks that Emily is a Service User. Initially, this ‘throws’ Emily and she explains that she refers to herself as one during her research into voice-hearing and that she still hears voices, takes medication and has therapy. “But if I’m not a Service User, what do I call myself?” Emily asks Daphne.

When Emily’s Granny finally passed away, she learned that she can ‘feel fragile inside at times’ but that she can still maintain her equilibrium.

Note: Many of the names and identifying characteristics of people and places have been changed. Emily’s experiences are based on real life events.

You can buy Emily’s Voices (Emily Knoll) from Amazon, or from Blackwell’s Bookshop in Oxford.

Stranger things: how our expectations do (and don’t) shape what we hear

From time to time, all of us are likely to have an experience of seeing or hearing something and then finding that other people don’t share the experience. It’s quite common to think about those experiences as being a bit unusual – maybe like a hallucination, or an illusion – but actually these “individual differences” in perception can be quite common.

One thing that makes a big difference is expectation: how our expectations shape what we hear and see is a big topic in psychology right now. A good example of this is the “Brainstorm/Green Needle” clip:

In this example, most people can here both brainstorm and green needle depending on what they think about hearing – although some people can only hear one, or tend to hear something in between. It has been suggested that both ‘brainstorm’ and ‘green needle’ have similar frequencies so the brain is forced to take a best “best guess” at what is being heard. That “best guess” is thought to involve our brains building an internal model or simulation based on the language we know, and then using it work out what we are hearing.

But expectation can’t do everything. Expectation does not really shape what we hear in another recent example: ‘Yanny or Laurel’. Polls across the Internet suggesting approximately 50% of people hear Yanny and 50% of people hear Laurel, with a very small percentage of people can hear both. This may be due to differences in the frequencies that can be heard by different people. But we can’t easily choose to hear one or the other, however strong our expectation.

 

Why does it matter?

Understanding the differences in how people perceive the world is really important – for understanding more about how the mind works, but also for understanding more “unusual” experiences. For example, it has been claimed that expectation might play a role in why and how people hear voices that other people cannot hear. A key question, though, is where differences in perception come from: why are some people stuck on “brain needle”, and other people able to change what they hear at will?

One idea could be that some people are more imaginative and creative from an early age. For example, some researchers have suggested that having a childhood imaginary companion (IC) may be related to differences in perception. This was demonstrated in one study reporting that 4-8 year olds with ICs appear to be better at detecting words in jumbled speech sounds than those without ICs (Fernyhough et al, 2007). Other research has also found that children with ICs tend to score higher on measures of creativity than those without ICs (Hoff, 2005) which might also be playing a role in hearing or seeing something that others can’t (Rominger, Fink, Weiss, Bosch & Papousek, 2017). Another approach is to think about life experiences that shape our perception. For example, stress and adversity in childhood is often linked to hearing voices in some way (e.g. Kilcommons et al, 2008). If so, it could be that expectation plays a different or more influential role for people who had more exposure to adversity in their life.

There is much to explore in terms of different factors that might influence differences in perception. We are currently running a project to investigate some of these issues. If you are keen to help, we are looking for individuals over the age of 18 to participate in a study at Durham University lasting 40 minutes. We are particularly interested in hearing from people who had an imaginary friend in the past. Each participant will receive a £7.50 Amazon voucher for taking part.

If you have any further questions, or wish to participate in this study, please feel free to contact Sophie Denton, Yi Ting Leong or the project supervisor Dr Ben Alderson-Day.