It matters what the voices in your head are saying
Have you ever been known or been with someone who was diagnosed as schizophrenic? Have they ever shared their experiences with you? Have you ever wondered what that’s like?
Hearing voices or “auditory hallucinations” is the one aspect that most people associate with schizophrenia – and indeed the minds of many schizophrenics are filled with a voice or even voices ever moment of their waking lives. This may seem more than unsettling to some of us – and at times it can be scary for them as well.
But in a recent article Dr. Rochelle Suri suggests that these voices may not always be malevolent. There are moments when the voices may actually provide useful insight and meaning in a way that can heal the schizophrenic ... without endangering others.
That’s a significant difference from the way most of us think of schizophrenia.
Suri argues that these voices are a very real part of the lives of schizophrenics. It could be helpful to take the time to encourage and empower those who hear voices to explore what they are saying.
Suri recounts the story of Jim who sought traditional treatments for schizophrenia, including pharmaceuticals, electroconvulsive therapy, and long hospitalizations. In his mind, he heard six or seven voices, three of which he was able to identify. One voice was his deceased father, the other his parish priest, and the other his deceased life partner. The medications couldn’t suppress these voices for long. They would rise up again over time despite treatment. Suri quotes him saying “they had nowhere to go”
Jim decided to he needed to take another road to wellness, and joined a hearing voices self-help group. Hearing voices network is an international movement for people who hear voices, and offers them support and the opportunity to share their experiences with others.
For Jim, part of his recovery involved taking the time to understand the symbolism of the voices, to understand what they were saying and how they ultimately helped him. He evidently discovered that the voices were saying “I had things in my life to sort out that I never dealt with.” Those things turned out to be an incredible amount of personal and physical trauma he endured and suppressed throughout his life.
Right – so Jim seems to have had a positive experience with his voices, but there is a still the stigma of schizophrenia that permeates not only the mental health services providers but in western society as well. The myth that Suri is countering is the one that tells us, especially clinicians, that hearing voices is just a sign illness. It may be that these voices are the psyche of the “hearers” telling them all of their internal stories – all of the fear and dread, pain, sorrow … and in Jim’s case hope. Suri provided only one case study in her paper.
Research like Suri’s is still in its infancy, primarily because the focus of research on schizophrenia has been on stopping, numbing, orsilencing the voices. But this type of research opens to door to helping all of us, including those who have been diagnosed, see other possibilities of “the voices” that may be helpful for everyone.
-- Makenna Berry