Last week I was lucky enough to be invited along to attend the ‘Second Meeting of the International Consortium on Hallucination Research’ at Durham University where researchers from all over the world discussed hallucinations of all modalities. Through this I was able to meet some rather interesting and inspiring individuals connected to the Hearing the Voice movement (HtV) (more of this in my next post). Although I felt quite out of my depth speaking to experts in the field it was really exciting to get a chance to talk to those people who, up until this point, I could only refer to as citations in one of my essays. As a psychology geek I was truly in my element, even if my courage to talk to the more eminent researchers failed me several times before success started to set in… Admittedly it was ‘slightly’ overwhelming to be surrounded by so many experts in the field, but as a student I was able to learn so much about not just hallucination research but the scientific process in action.
My interest in the work of the ‘Hearing the Voice Network Durham’ has existed since its genesis nearly two years ago in 2011, and the conference reinforced many of the ideas the Durham network had already advocated. The ‘HtV’ movement in Durham is a multidisciplinary group that aims to consider auditory hallucinations (voice-hearing) from different perspectives and to understand these complex phenomena as more than a symptom of schizophrenia and other psychiatric and neurological disorders. Through a volunteering with this group, I have become influenced by their work and gained some hands-on experience with some rather cool equipment (fMRI is oddly cosy when you get used to the noise…). It has sparked the notion that hearing voices need not be considered pathological or tied to psychosis.
My first introduction to hallucinations being so much more than a symptom of schizophrenia came through a talk by Marius Romme and Sandra Escher. These two social psychiatrists from the Netherlands who have worked with voice-hearers and been instrumental in changing the way we look at auditory verbal hallucinations (AVHs). The aspect of their talk back in 2011 that caught me and still intrigues me the most today is that ‘hearing voices’ is not by itself a sign of mental disturbance. On the contrary, it can have a beneficial impact on an individual’s life and almost as many as 10-15% of the population experience the perception of hallucinatory voices while still being regarded ‘healthy’. Admittedly, this is by no means the majority, but the fact that this classic symptom of madness could be seen as a positive force in a sizeable number of people fascinated me.
Ultimately, the conference captured this ethos, and although there was considerable talk about alleviating distress in clinical voice hearers, there was also the prevailing opinion that an individual and their voices can reach harmony. This point is clearly shown in the case of Eleanor Longden, a voice-hearer who suffered with voices and face institutionalisation only to gain full control of her life again. Her recently published TedTalk describes this better than I could attempt to:
I realise I have touched on quite a few issues in very brief detail (and I haven’t touched on about the part students can play in this arena yet), but that shall be a job for my next few posts.
- HtV Research Showcase & Futures Meeting and Second Meeting of the International Consortium on Hallucination Research, Durham University, 11-13 September 2013 (hearingthevoice.org)
- What’s Schizophrenia Like? A Woman Who Hears Voices Explains It Beautifully. (upworthy.com)
- Everything you ever wanted to know about voice hearing (but were too afraid to ask) (ted.com)
- Neurologists report unique form of musical hallucinations (esciencenews.com)