From a mental health perspective the diagnosis of schizophrenia is probably the most feared, misunderstood and maligned. The stigma that has arisen is further promulgated by the media and entertainment industry that perpetuates urban myths that keep this mental health challenge firmly in the dark ages. For example, the stereotype that schizophrenics are dangerous and out of control is actually contrary to reality as they are more likely to be victims of violence. For those who have been given the label of schizophrenia it’s more distressing and damaging than the condition underlying the condition.
Hearing voices is a relative common experience, for example, 4% of the population can hear voices during any 18 month period. When someone hears voices it doesn’t mean that person is having a psychotic episode. Many famous people have the experience of hearing voices such as Plato, Beethoven, Shelly, St Francis, Winston Churchill and Isaac Newton to name a few.
Voices can be of either gender, any age, have an identity or could just be sounds such a birds chirping. Voices can be positive and therefore have a transformative capacity. But there is no doubt that some people who hear voices can go through a torrid time in learning to integrate the voices into their lives. Unfortunately, it’s the negative voices that are most misunderstood and generally feared. Within clinical mental health services the general response to hearing voices is medication and these do serve a purpose. However, there are some within this field and the hearing voices community that are working with the voices directly to facilitate healing and integration that allows people who hear voices to lead lives they wish instead of being bombed out on medication and possibly have repeated admissions into psychiatric services.
What’s becoming apparent is that negative voices are still serving a purpose, so by exploring the needs of these voices a reconciliation can occur between the individual and the voice. In essence, voices are disowned aspects of self and these disowned parts are given an outlet that can form very negative patterns. For example, anger becomes murderous rage; or a voice that tells someone to kill themselves could be due to that person feeling alone, disconnected or feeling hopeless. The voice that probably generates most fear in the broader communities is the one that has the message to kill another. This could be due to the person being betrayed in the past and this voice is trying to stop the hearer from trusting others or its trying to protect them from perceived danger.
Many people who have been given the label of schizophrenia or hear voices have had trauma in their past. It could be argued that voices are created as the mind/body’s way of managing the intensity of the trauma. In Gestalt this is called a creative adjustment which allows the individual to adapt according to the circumstances at that time and place. We have all creatively adjusted in our past relative to the context of that time, for example, learning to be quiet when the family home isn’t safe or being noisy in order to get heard.
May this day find you well