Self-help approaches to hearing voices

Rufus May and Eleanor Longden

in Hallucinations

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

Published in print June 2010 | ISBN: 9780199548590
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754623 | DOI:
Self-help approaches to hearing voices

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Because of their autonomous nature and resistance to traditional measures of evaluation and outcome, hearing voices self-help groups have not been systematically evaluated. However, hearing voices groups and the ‘hearing voices approach’ have now become more commonplace and accepted within mainstream mental health services (e.g., Wykes, Parr, & Landau, 1999; Coupland, 2000; Martin, 2000; Perron & Munson, 2006). Furthermore, their success can be measured by their popularity with voice hearers; in the UK, where there is a strong community development ethos, there are over 180 groups that have emerged over the last 20 years. Culturally, this phenomena is being increasingly recognized in newspaper stories and documentaries and dramas where the voice hearing experience is increasingly more accurately portrayed. There is also growing recognition of their efficacy in health care settings—for example, in the UK, a recent Healthcare Commission Report (2008) commended mental health trusts, which provided hearing voices groups in acute settings as offering ‘appropriate and safe interventions’ and advocated the wider availability of these resources in all psychiatric hospitals.

Self-help movements should not be seen as competing with therapeutic traditions, but complementary to them. Doubtless, some of the more personal dynamic work often required to integrate powerful emotions that voices represent is often something that cannot be supported by self-help initiatives alone and requires additional individual psychotherapeutic support. Nevertheless, the self-help ethos inspired by the hearing voices movement offers an emancipatory set of ideals where an individual can learn to see their voice hearing as an acceptable and meaningful experience. By embracing the experience through support from others and self-help approaches, voice hearing is reframed as both as an experience that one can live with and one that can inform us about our social lives and ways we can live together more peacefully. The ‘Maastricht Approach’, initiated by Romme and Escher, sees voices as a meaningful, interpretable experience originating within an individual's personal history and against a backdrop of overwhelming emotions in traumatic, threatening conditions. By working within this frame of reference, the purpose and meaning of the voices can be deciphered and communication with them promoted. Such a framework sits comfortably alongside spiritual frameworks that many voice hearers find helpful. Within the emancipatory approach, self-help techniques and personal narratives are seen as equal to academic and professional knowledge bases. Increasingly training events and resources are starting to reflect this power shift by increasing the involvement of people who hear voices more in their production. Thus, a new, more collaborative approach to therapy and ways of working to recovery is emerging. Within this equation, recovery and empowerment are the main objectives and self-help the guiding force. Integral to this is the promotion of social support through affirmative stories, positive information, and encouraging attitudinal change. Self-help movements can offer safe spaces for voice hearers to discover the power of mutual encouragement and creative ideas in order to reclaim control over both their voices and their lives. For professionals, we believe it is our duty to enable such cultures and opportunities through individual, societal, and political initiatives and support.

Chapter.  10965 words. 

Subjects: Psychiatry

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