“I don’t know. It sounds daft, but sometimes he says things that are really funny.”
The speaker is Margaret, a woman in her seventies with a bright, open face and a gentle smile. She has come along today with her daughter, who is desperate for advice on helping her mother to cope with her frequent voices. There are around 20 of us in the room. Apart from a couple of clinical psychologists and a few of us from the academic team, everyone gathered here in a conference suite at Durham University on a cold, sparkling spring afternoon, is a voice-hearer. We are hosting the event with our special guest Jacqui Dillon, chair of the UK Hearing Voices Network and an old friend of our project.
“Yeah, mine say funny things, too.”
Before Margaret came into this room, she had never met another voice-hearer. Now she is surrounded by them. I see her deep in conversation with Julia, a writer of a similar age who has come to talk to us several times about her experiences. Two elderly ladies, sipping tea and chatting about the voices in their heads. Julia is an old hand, but Margaret is in entirely new territory. She looks radiant, transformed. I have the sense that a life could be changing in front of my eyes.
Groups like this come together around a starting assumption that voices are meaningful, and that they convey valuable emotional messages. The idea that voices can have profound human significance has deep roots, featuring, for example, in the psychoanalyst Carl Jung’s argument that hallucinations contain a “germ of meaning” which, if identified accurately, can mark the beginning of a process of healing. The idea is antithetical to the traditional biomedical view from psychiatry, which has tended to see voices as neural junk, meaningless glitches in the brain – yet many people are now finding solace in this approach.
Read more here!