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22nd August 2015

Hearing Voices – Finding out about the experience

Hearing Voices

Research studies have shown that more than 4% of the population have the experience of hearing voices that others cannot hear. It can be very distressing, can be as a result of a number of factors, and can be a symptom experienced by people who have schizophrenia. But it is important to remember that’s not the only explanation.

Many of us may have had the experience as a one-off, perhaps when you are extremely tired.  The Hearing Voices movement has been established in the UK since the early 1990s, and local branches of the network provide a lot of support to people to help manage and cope.

Care staff often feel awkward about exploring the voice hearer’s experience. This might be for a number of reasons.

  • How we can explore something we cannot experience ourselves?
  • Might we make things worse by somehow encouraging the person to think about the voices more?

Struggling with the experience

A project run by the University of Chester and funded by Health Education North West has made use of new information technology to develop a downloadable application to promote awareness about what it’s like to hear voices when there’s no else around.

This app is aimed mainly at people working in health and social care , and one of its features is to simulate the experience of hearing voices and how distracting and upsetting this can be. Often staff struggle to know what to say to someone who has these experiences.

It’s difficult for others to comprehend it, so what we do say about it? At least this will allow staff to have some idea of what it’s like, and will contribute to a more collaborative way of working, perhaps in working out coping strategies.

Finding a frame of reference

The Mental Health Foundation website has some very useful guidance on working with people who hear voices. They say that people may actually find it helpful to discuss voices, and how they might cope with them.

Of course not everything experienced by the voice hearer will be distressing, it may be positive. So it’s important to get what the Hearing Voices network calls a ‘frame of reference’. How does the person explain their experience?

Before doing that we need to find out more about the history of the voice hearer’s experience, perhaps by trying to understand their first experience when they heard a voice. All of this can be done as part of the assessment and care planning process.

You can find out more about the Hearing Voices app here.

David Beckingham – QCS Expert Mental Health Contributor

Topics: Mental Health

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