Monday, 17 December 2007

Hearing Voices: Suppressed and displaced positive or meaningful actions, desires, and intentions.

Some months ago, after a fairly heavy drinking session a previous night, and whilst in the middle of writing my thoughts and perceptions down in the pub the next day in-between a few pints of beer, following some thoughts and desires, I became aware of some anxious or strong feelings of needing to do something - a desire for positive activity or meaningful action; but having this intention or urge displaced in my mind, it led to a voluntary perception or shift, and which led to, or was, the slowed-down stages, of the creation or manifestation of auditory hallucinations/hearing voices.

I just about felt the intention and mode-switch, for the voice to manifest itself, and caught the midstream area between an intention, desire, and a voice-creation or perception. I then tried to repeat or push this activity, mode, or method further, and the voice I deliberately created, this time got a bit louder, and the third and fourth time around, a bit more displaced or fragmented. The second, third, and fourth time around, the method of it was verifiable and repeatable in this discovery and experiment.

The content of the voice, what it was saying, was at first exactly what I was thinking, or wanted to think, and then the third and fourth time, it was pretty meaningless and unimportant - I think the content of it then said my name after a while, or asked me a short and simple, banal, and meaningless question. I'm sure that the manner of questioning, interrogation, and assessment, that goes on by some social workers and psychiatrists towards diagnosed patients, and some of the defence or provocation involved in some of it, actually gives some of us as diagnosed people, a bit of a complex or fear, about other answer-and-question situations and dialogues, and which is part of the causes of hearing voices. Perhaps finding strategies for dealing with these situations, is one way of preventing auditory hallucinations, or one way of diminishing or coping with them.

I was in full awareness and control of this discovery and experiment, although I didn't keep on doing it more than three or four times, for fear that the created-voice might become completely displaced or fragmented. Why and how the content of the voice changes, from what we're thinking, to what we're not deliberately thinking, I also think I know the reasons for, and will write about in the future.

It was as if I willed, experienced, and perceived all this happening in slow-motion, whereas 8 years or so before, it had been too fast or instantaneous to realise what was happening, and with too many distractions to be in control of or understand this activity, experience, and behaviour. Because the volume, consistency, and content of the voices has decreased, sometimes if I think hard, I can actually voluntarily create the voices in my head. In my pub experience, I became aware of the behaviour or process, personally and collectively, that leads to hearing voices, and felt the evasion of my will and mind, to switch into a 'different intention' or modality, and as this happened, I scribbled it down in my notes.

This slowing down of the voice hearing experience, was not due to psychiatric medication, which in anything but a very low dose, would have most probably blotted-out and slowed-down that awareness and realisation completely, and I was medication-free at the time of this discovery, although I was medicated by alcohol I suppose. I'm also older now, freer or free from cannabis misuse and discrimination, and in a different social situation and stage of my life.

I agree with The Hearing Voices Network, that hearing voices, are actually a behaviour, comparable to other different behaviours in the past, such as homosexuality, which have up until fairly recently, been falsely, one-sidedly, and discriminatorily labelled as mental illnesses by psychiatry. These days, when I hear voices, it very occasionally takes the form of a faint whisper, or very rarely a short loud radio transmission type-noise, from inside my ear and head, which usually happens when I'm tired or half awake, and is made worse by some constant drinking or over-drinking. Alcohol, is in my experience, and from what some other voice-hearers have said, an anti-psychotic drug in moderation; but like any drug, if taken too much, it distorts the mind, and actually induces psychosis or severe depression.

I went through three stages of hearing voices, over 8 years up to the present day: 1. An involuntary onset of voices beyond my understanding or control, 2. A phase of some of the content of the voices becoming less negative, and a more intelligent narrative, (one voice was very positive, of a female counsellor I knew, describing the root of my problems to the nasty voice, and jumping to my defence), and 3. A diminishing of both the volume, consistency and content, and an ability to voluntarily self-create voices, which might be dangerous or foolish to keep on doing this, but which has on that odd occasion, helped me to understand what voices really are, and how they are actively created.

The Hearing Voices Network
in their booklet The Voice Within by Paul Baker, describes these phases as: 1. The startling phase, 2. The phase of organisation: coping with voices, and 3. The phase of stabilisation. Originally the nasty voices were mostly female, but during the second phase, I suppose about 5 or 6 years ago, this gender structure was added to or reversed - the nasty voice this time was male, and the positive or supportive voice that newly manifested was female.

So it is clear to me from my awareness of how voices are self-created, or become split-off from conscious activity or control, that voices are displaced meaningful intentions, desires, or actions, that have been twisted or distorted in the past or throughout our lives, and that perhaps this behaviour and mechanism has been internalised or transformed. Some of the contradictory behaviours and methods we are subjected to in the mental health system, combined with a narrow and rigid authoritarian plan of action, that disregards and ignores our desires and intentions for meaningful action, also resembles and primarily creates this behaviour and experience of hearing voices in ourselves.

Medical psychiatry has a deterministic habit of over focusing on isolated perceptions, psychological metaphysics, or abstract states of mind, at the exclusion of acknowledging volition, and the social consciousness and intentions behind the desire for positive or meaningful activity.

Hearing Voices - Our relationships with others speaking through us

I recently started attending a local Hearing Voices Group, facilitated by an occupational therapist, a community psychiatric nurse, and a social worker, and more or less following the Romme and Escher model or philosophy of a hearing voices group. I'd missed the first session, but as not much was said in the first session, other explaining the basic principles and agreed ground-rules of the group, I hadn't missed much, and we were given a couple of articles on the Romme and Escher approach to hearing voices; which is the original philosophy of the national and international Hearing Voices Network.

Romme and Escher's approach to hearing voices does not regard hearing voices as an illness, but regards it as a human variation like sexual differences, or being left-handed. It accepts that the voices are real to us as an experience, and encourages us to accept our voices, learn the meanings in them for ourselves and others, and share and develop effective coping-strategies. I agree with the Romme and Escher model, that voices are often about people's life-experiences and situations, and that hearing voices are about people's past and present relationships with others speaking through them.

I also see voices as a disability or positive ability - whichever way you look at it - at experiencing the various relationships we have with different people in different contexts and situations, and how those experiences and situations might delude or enlighten us by being experienced as mutli-contextual or overlapping. I'd like to see the constructive use of this recognised as a cultural and literary style, which is used constructively by poets, playwrights, and artists, and used by such novelists as E. L. Doctorow, who gave factual historical events a personal, interpersonal, social and human meaning, by creatively mixing historical fact with fiction; and I think this aspect of hearing voices is better understood as something that might get stuck in a creative process, or get stuck within the three phases of understanding and coping that Romme and Escher's philosophy and approach describes. The three phases of understanding, accepting, and coping with voices are: 1. The startling phase, 2. The organisational phase, 3. The stabilisation phase.

It came out in the local Hearing Voices Group, from one persons experiences, that negative voices could be about the defences, social pressures, or inadequate social or work roles that have been imposed upon us; about our past or present life-changes; and in terms of our social interactions or relatedness with other people. It also came out that negative voices could be about social alienation, powerlessness, feelings of hopelessness, and how we see ourselves in terms of self-esteem or in relation to other people.

It was suggested by one of the facilitators of the group, that if we get negative or aggressive voices, telling us to harm ourselves or others, then this could be due to the fact that others haven't accepted or believed us about the voice hearing experience, or if they've responded negatively or aggressively to our voices experiences, making it harder for us to accept, understand, and positively cope with it. She said that accepting the voices is about accepting your actual self in that sense, that this is what the group is partly about, and it brought up issues in relation to negative voices, of how we respect ourselves in relation to others, and whether we should respond aggressively, assertively, or passively to the ways in which how other people treat or mistreat us.

If a person has been abused or bullied, for example, and they have been pressurised or forced to fight back aggressively or violently, then they might have been continuously caste in that passive, victim, or aggressive role in their life, occupation, or identity with others, due to those pressures and defences, and in terms of social and self-identification. In that sense then, how we interpret or respond to the voices, might be a displacement of those feelings and problems, which we otherwise need to deal with and look at.

Using that as an example, hearing voices might also be about how we communicate or express our feelings or problems to other people, perhaps in a situation or context where we would otherwise not be understood or listened to, and how this is made problematic if others are superimposing the defences or negative identities that have been imposed upon us, or if they are incapable or unwilling to understanding these realities and experiences.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Hearing Voices - The Romme and Escher model as an Organisational Phase

Hearing voices can be a creative way of thinking about or experiencing other people, situations, or events, as interrelated or overlapping, as if other people are watching you, or with you, in different places or situations, and as if different situation contexts are re-arranging or overlapping. No one finds this strange within the fields of creative writing, fictional writing, drama, psychotherapy, dream analysis, advanced mathematics, national or global historical interpretation, or lateral thinking, and yet it seems strange to anyone who hasn't experienced it or doesn't understand it as a voice hearing experience. The fictional writer E. L. Doctorow, and author of the excellent novel and film Ragtime, had a writing style that used this method of inter-relating historical events of his time with fictional events and narratives, and he used this to integrate a personal, interpersonal, social and human dimension to historical events and happenings.

There are three phases to hearing voices as described by the Romme and Escher model: 1. The startling phase: the initial onset of voices experienced as startling and anxiety-provoking. 2. The phase of organisation: strategies for ignoring, listening to, entering into willing dialogue, or making appointments with voices. 3. The phase of stabilisation, where the voices are accepted as part of ourselves, and are able to become a positive influence upon our lives.
I don't agree that the so-called initial onset of hearing voices, as described in Romme and Escher's startling phase, that this is necessarily startling and anxiety-provoking, because if hearing voices is a human variation like left-handedness or sexual differences, then it might just be social prejudice and discrimination that makes the experiences of it negative or disturbing, along with the negative view of some professionals that we are either hallucinating or lying. We also can't rule out the fact that there might have been a prior existence or process to it, similar to what R. D. Laing described in his first book The Divided Self, and again that this becomes subject to prejudice and negative discrimination - cut off from its creative and learning potential, and stunted from its positive influence, as described in Romme and Escher's stabilisation phase. Laing described this splitting or dividing of the self, as he called it, as both an internal process, and something which is caused or influenced by bad family and social environments.

Experiencing persons, situations, and events, within re-arranging or overlapping narrative or situational contexts, through hearing voices experiences, might come under the area of the organisational phase under the Romme and Escher hearing voices model and approach, because willing dialogue with the voices is often very much a part of it, and it can be part of a stabilisation phase as well. The stabilisation phase may be understood in terms of the content or structure of voice hearing experiences, in context to the personal, interpersonal, and social problems that are related to it, but I think it's much better understood if we also look at the creative and learning process of it, and the Romme and Escher model describes it in terms of a creative process or phases, and that we are perhaps misled if we just focus on the structure and content of the voices.

The initial onset of voices, or the startling phase, is not always startling or negative, unless others respond aggressively or negatively to our experiences of it, and hearing voices are not always an involuntary experience, or brought about by external events out of our control. To assume these causes, is to regard hearing voices as an effect, and not a cause or human variation subject to effects, and it takes away our experiences as both responsible and unique in terms of hearing voices being a human variation like left-handedness. Whilst I agree with the basics of the Romme and Escher model, to simply refer to the Romme and Escher research and methods as an approach or a philosophy, rather than a model, is in some ways misleading, because it abstracts the methods or philosophy from the Hearing Voices Networks or organisations, and doesn't allow challenges or progressions of the pre-existing Romme and Escher model. This is also detrimental to the actual approach or philosophy of Romme and Escher, which is still quite new or in its early phase, and which is supposed to be a very progressive approach, involving discussions, and being inclusive to a wide range of knowledge, research, and experiences.

There's also the Joan of Arc syndrome, where if our hearing voice experiences are in line with present social and cultural myth, dogma, and the established powers of authority, then our experiences will be understood or accepted, but if they're not in conformity with pre-existing myths and explanations, then our experiences will be invalidated, undermined, misunderstood, vilified, or regarded as an illness. Joan of Arc's voice hearing experiences where initially in line with the local oral tradition of rural and illiterate people spreading knowledge, and fulfilling prophesies by means of hearing voices, story-telling, myth-making, and so on, and her voice hearing experiences were initially in conformity to the male authority and powers she made a pact with. When her voices went against those male powers and authorities and their outdated myths, she was then accused of heresy, treason, and demonic influence, and she was executed by a quite evil method of burning her alive. 

Whilst it's necessary to have a basic model for a local hearing voices group, in order for it to be easy and accessible, it seems to me that whatever model or approach is presented, that there's a danger it could be used in a manner that's dogmatic or which abstracts its progressive forms and principles, and that this is counter-productive to the actual philosophy of the hearing voices network as an inclusive, progressive, and diverse network of organisations. Joan of Arc is an historical example of discrepancy, negative discrimination and oppression within fundamentalist or dogmatic interpretations, and Joan of Arc's fate is a case which should never be forgotten.

A Summarisation of the book Understanding Voices by Marius Romme

I just managed to read Understanding Voices by Marius Romme. It was easy to read, and the claims and conclusions in it were backed-up by much social research and statistics. One of the main points in the book were that people who coped better with their hearing voices experiences, were those who identified the voices as coming from themselves, rather than coming from an external source.
Marius Romme also said that biological psychiatry wasn't helpful, because it interpreted the voices as being beyond the persons control and grasp (as a result of illness), much like very delusional thinking does about voices coming from an external source like technology. Biological psychiatry was also seen as unhelpful, because it suppressed hearing voices with psychiatric drugs, instead of allowing the person to work through the problems brought out by the voices with their messages and meaning.
The book said that people who coped better with hearing voices, were those who felt less powerless, more supported, and less threatened in their environment, and those who felt less powerless after traumatic events or circumstances. The book also said that as voices are often the result of personal and social problems in the persons lives, that gaining self-determination and control over problems in daily living were conducive to recovery from hearing voices. It was also concluded that in order to cope with voices and to overcome confusing problems, it is important to be allowed to develop one's own identity, making choices, solving dilemma's.
The book listed the three phases of hearing voices: 1. The Startling Phase: This is when the onset of the voices are frightening and anxiety-provoking. At this stage, the voice hearer often goes into denial of the experience. 2. The Organisational Phase: This is where the person accepts the voices, and tries to understand them. 3. The Phase of Stabilisation: This is where the voices are accepted as a part of oneself, where they have a positive influence, and when the voice hearer is able to choose between following the advice of the voices or his or her own ideas. These people are able to say "I hear voices, and I am happy for that".
I thought that it was a good book, but my main criticism of it, was that it was too much of a social or group approach and analysis, and it didn't focus enough on the actual individual psychological process of recovery. The social and group research was interesting and enlightening, but I would have liked to have read more personal approaches and perspectives.

Friday, 14 December 2007

How I cured myself of Negative Hearing Voices

I first started hearing voices when I was 23. At least that was when I started hearing negative voices, as I have vague memories of being lonely as a child of 5 years of age, and of sitting outside and talking to a positive and friendly female voice in the sky who responded to me. If I thought hard, I could hear a positive female voice, and to me this was like a trick I could achieve with my mind. I didn't think that the voice was God/Goddess or any supernatural force.
The voices I first heard when I was 23, were brought about and triggered by abuse, harassment, and stress, and after I had been using cannabis quite heavily, and I heard negative voices, one of which was a junior school teacher who used to pull my hair and shout at me for no reason. I took Stelazine for the hearing voices, but it didn't do much to alleviate them. When I told my social worker that I was hearing voices, she said that I was lying. Then when I did convince her that I heard voices, she said that I was psychotic, and she told me to go onto a very high dosage of Stelazine, and which I did for a few years.
There were no hearing voices groups available at that time, although if there had of been they would have been a great help to me. Some years later, I wrote my voices down to analyse the content and structure of them. One negative voice was of another child at secondary school who used to bully me. Previous to experiencing this I'd had counselling, and the negative voice existed alongside two positive voices, and which were of the counsellors standing up for me and defending me against the child who bullied me.
After writing the voices down, I was able to separate the negative from the positive voices in my mind, and after this I only heard positive voices. I'm not sure exactly how this process worked for me, but it did work. I achieved it mostly by ignoring the negative voices, and talking with the positive ones and developing good loving and respectful relationships with them. Maybe this was my way of achieving good self esteem, or of establishing good relationships with the opposite sex, and which didn't exist in my social life in terms of having love-relationships.
Now I only hear positive voices, and which are always one, two, or three female voices. The voices don't have names and wish to remain anonymous to me in that respect, but they are very intimate and friendly with me. One female voice is quite assertive, although not domineering, but a bit questioning and sceptical, and another female voice is softer and more receptive and reassuring, but they all make suggestions and ask questions. The voices speak both separately, and in unison at the same time.
What is interesting to me, is that the positive voices are intelligent, but not intellectual voices, although they are more down to earth and pragmatic, and they ask me more practical questions in terms of my thoughts, writings, and articles. Maybe this is a side of me which is unconscious, or which I have suppressed with my more lateral and intellectual thinking.
I received a year of psychotherapy from two different female counsellors, and their voices became internalised and which I heard as positive voices too. This is why I am convinced that positive therapeutic relationships, with professionals or non-professionals such as family, friends, or lovers, are essential to changing voices from negative into positive. Good friendships and relationships are essential to some kind of recovery.
For a few years, I actually stopped hearing voices altogether. This was not a good thing for me though, as my voices care for me and help me to think about things more practically and clearly. Without positive voices I would be devastated. So I had to focus my mind, in order to re-create the voices. I still don't know exactly how I did this, other than setting up a dialogue in my mind, and talking to my own thoughts, and then imagining hearing them (like thinking of a tune or music), and then I could hear them with my ears, and they became somewhat independent of my conscious thoughts. Thus, I combined my thoughts and integrated them with my imagination and senses.
I would like to know more about how the mind creates hearing voices, and more importantly teach others how to hear positive voices, because I believe that hearing positive voices is a gift, and that it is hugely beneficial to having good thinking and good mental health.

Changes to the Mental Health System

In the past ten or fifteen years, the mental health system has improved. I'm glad that the old asylums, out in the middle of nowhere, were closed down, and replaced with modern mental health units in more or less every local area.

Now every psychiatric patient has their own room, and doesn't have to sleep in a shared dormitory. This change was very much needed. Also, t is good now that we have hearing voices groups, and that there has been a shift of change in the mental health system how voices are interpreted and understood. I still feel that more psychiatrists could learn from different approaches to hearing voices, and that a hearing voices group should exist in every local area. The nearest hearing voices group to me is eight miles away, but I don't have any transport and it's difficult for me to get there and back.

The mental health system needs to change more for the better. For one thing, we need trained counsellors in psychiatric hospitals, because often the psychiatric patients need to talk to somebody whilst in psychiatric hospital, but the psychiatric nurses are not talkative or communicative. Maybe counselling and listening and communication skills could be part of their training.

When I was a psychiatric patient in an old asylum in 92, I was in pain, suffering, and in distress, and very much needed to talk to somebody for understanding and reassurance, and just to make contact with another human being, to bring me out of my self and keep my mind and emotions in action. I asked to speak to the psychiatric nurses, but they said 'Go away and we'll talk later', then I went away and came back in ten minutes and they'd say the same thing again. When a psychiatric nurse did finally agree with me she was very defensive and just sat in silence, saying yes or no.

I got so desperate that I actually phoned the Samaritans from the phone booth in the corridor and spoke to them, and they helped me tremendously. What I needed was someone to talk to in psychiatric hospital, and who was a trained therapist and listener. We now have CPN's and Occupational Therapists in psychiatric units, but it's high time we had trained counsellors too. This very much needs to change within the mental health system.

There should also be a day centre in every local area, and every patient should have a social worker or a CPN. My GP promised to get me a CPN, but he did not keep his promise. There is a day centre in town, but there should also be one in my local area. The day centre in town is very badly run, and when I went there a few years ago, none of the activities that were supposed to be running were actually running. People were just sitting round drinking tea or coffee, or watching television. Annother day centre thirty miles away is a much better day centre, as they have art, reflexology, and counselling there. Every day centre should have free counselling available too.

These are the changes that are needed to make the mental health system better and more conducive to recovery.