What is the Hearing Voices Network?

Introduction

Hearing Voices Networks, closely related to the Hearing Voices Movement, are peer-focused national organisations for people who hear voices (commonly referred in western culture as auditory hallucinations) and supporting family members, activists and mental health practitioners. Members may or may not have a psychiatric diagnosis.

Networks promote an alternative approach, where voices are not necessarily seen as signs of mental illness. Networks regard hearing voices as a meaningful and understandable, although unusual, human variation. In themselves voices are not seen as the problem. Rather it is the relationship the person has with their voices that is regarded as the main issue.

Development

Twenty-nine national Hearing Voices Networks have been established worldwide. There are also regional networks in Australia (Western Australia, Victoria, Tasmania and southwest Australia), Quebec, UK (Greater London, southwest England) and the United States. The National and Regional Networks are affiliated to the international umbrella organisation known as INTERVOICE (The International Network for Training Education and Research into Hearing Voices) and often referred to as the Hearing Voices Movement. Within these international networks, the combined experience of voice-hearers and professionals have overseen the development of ways of working with people who hear voices that draw on the value of peer support and which help people to live peacefully and positively with their experiences.

Purpose

The principal roles of Hearing Voices Networks are as follows:

  • To support and develop local Hearing Voices Support Groups.
  • Raise awareness of the hearing voices approach.
  • To campaign for human rights and social justice for people who hear voices.
  • To provide information, advice and support to people who hear voices, their family, friends.
  • To provide training and education for mental health services and practitioners.

Description and Philosophy

The first hearing voices network was founded in the Netherlands in 1987 by the Dutch psychiatrist Marius Romme, the science journalist, Sandra Escher and voice hearer, Patsy Hage. This was followed by the founding of the UK network in 1988 based in Manchester, England. Subsequently Networks have been established in 29 countries over the world, including Australia (2005), Austria, Belgium, Bosnia, Canada, Denmark (2005), England (1988), Finland (1996), France (2011), Hungary (2013), Germany (1998), Greece, Ireland (2005), Italy, Japan, Kenya, Palestine, Malaysia, New Zealand (2007), Netherlands (1987), Norway, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania, Uganda, USA (2010) and Wales (2001). The first 15 years of the development of the global networks is outlined by Adam James in his book Raising Our Voices (2001).

These networks provide support to voice hearers specifically through the establishment of local hearing voices support groups, where people who hear voices are afforded the opportunity in a non-medical setting to share their experiences, coping mechanisms and explanatory frameworks. These groups are run in different ways and some are exclusive to individuals who hear voices, whilst others are supported by mental health workers.

National networks have developed considerably over the years and host websites, publish newsletters, guides to the voice hearing experience and workbooks where individuals can record and explore their own experiences with voice hearing.

Dutch psychiatrist Marius Romme, the co-author of Accepting Voices, has provided an intellectual basis for these group. He advocates a view that the hearing of voices is not necessarily an indication of mental illness, and that patients should be encouraged to explore their voices and negotiate with them.

Hearing Voices Groups

The development of peer support groups for voice-hearers, known as “hearing voices groups” (HVGs), are an essential part of the work of Hearing Voices Networks throughout the world. For instance there are over 180 groups in England, 60 in Australia and growing numbers of groups in the USA. The groups are based in a range of settings including community centres, libraries, pubs, churches, child and adolescent mental health services, prisons and inpatient units.

Hearing Voices Groups are based on an ethos of self-help, mutual respect and empathy. They provide a safe space for people to share their experiences and support one another. They are peer support groups, involving social support and belonging, not therapy or treatment. Hearing Voices Groups are intended to help people to understand and come to terms with their voices and begin to recover their lives.

Members are encouraged to talk about their experiences, to learn what the voices mean for them and how to gain control over their experiences. In voices groups, people are enabled to choose the way they want to manage their experiences. Voices groups assist people to access information and resources so they can make their own choices. Furthermore, voices groups allow people to explore the relationship between their life history and their experience of hearing voices, should they want to do so.

Studies have found that after attending hearing voices groups, members’ hospital bed use decreased. There was also a trend for less formal admissions. People used far more coping strategies and were able to talk to far more people about their voices after attending groups. Learning coping strategies was something people valued about groups and one of the common topics was to explore and experiment with different coping strategies. After attending groups, self-esteem increased. User empowerment also increased. Feeling more empowered is one of the aims of groups particularly valued by voice hearers and may be associated, not only with the voices themselves, but also with other aspects of recovery and getting better. People’s relationships with the voices were mostly improved. They heard the voices less frequently. The voices were perceived as less powerful (omnipotent) relative to them. People felt much better able to cope with their voices, and there were trends towards people feeling less controlled by their voices and feeling less alone. Perhaps most importantly, evaluations show that people improved in relation to what they had identified as their own goals for the group.

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