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The Whisper Whisperers


Sep 25, 2012
Planet Lunatic Asylum

Newsweek covers the Hearing Voices Movement

In October, Waddingham and more than 200 other voice-hearers from around the world gathered in Thessaloniki, Greece, for the sixth annual World Hearing Voices Congress, organized by Intervoice, an international network of people who hear voices and their supporters. They reject the traditional idea that the voices are a symptom of mental illness. They recast voices as meaningful, albeit unusual, experiences, and believe potential problems lie not in the voices themselves but in a person’s relationship with them.

“If people believe their voices are omnipotent and can harm and control them, then they are less likely to cope and more likely to end up as a psychiatric patient,” says Eugenie Georgaca, a senior lecturer at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and the organizer of this year’s conference. “If they have explanations of voices that allow them to deal with them better, that is a first step toward learning to live with them.”

The road to this form of recovery often begins in small support groups run by the Hearing Voices Network (HVN). The first group formed in the Netherlands in 1987, and, since then, others have cropped up in 30 countries, including Bosnia, Canada, Japan, Tanzania and the U.S. Members share their stories and coping mechanisms—for example, setting appointments to talk with the voices, so the voice-hearer can function without distraction the rest of the day. Above all, these groups give voice-hearers a sense of community where they can be seen as people rather than patients.

A central premise of HVN is that these voices frequently emerge following extreme stress or trauma. Research bears that out: At least 70 percent of voice-hearers are thought to have experienced some form of trauma.