Marian @ Krysan

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Planting Golden Seeds in Northumberland, Tyne & Wear, and Durham



I D E A S   T H A T   M A T T E R

from friends at



Sanctuary Knocker - Durham Cathedral

Reading time: 2 minutes 

20 October 2011

Dear Friends  


Yesterday, my husband and I were in the audience (front row) at a talk on the human experience of hearing voices.  The talk was given by Marius Romme and Sandra Escher in Durham University's Collingwood College.  The room was packed with around 200 people, most of them students studying (I suspect) psychology and related disciplines at the University.

Close encounters.  

From the look of eager curiosity on the fresh young faces around me, I also suspect that few in the audience would have had such a close encounter with 'voices that others did not hear' than I.  The last time I had my say on this subject, I finished with this bit of sound advice. 

"I've gotten used to ignoring them [the voices] and I think, as a result, they've kind of given up on me. I think that's what it's like with all our dreams and our nightmares, Martin, we've got to keep feeding them for them to stay alive."  JOHN NASH - A BEAUTIFUL MIND

This time round, the John Nash quote from A Beautiful Mind is seen as a good place to start.  Sound advice is always sound advice; a good start is always a good start ... 

Personal experience wins hands down!  

If there was a lack in this talk on making sense of voices, it had to be the absence of love and light from someone from the voice hearing community giving 'a patient perspective'.  

That aside, the talk in Collingwood College last evening was powerful and inspiring. For me, it gave the kiss of life to a tetchy subject not spoken of in polite circles and that might even include the psychiatrist's office.

Why is this?  

To my mind, the answer lies not only in the history of psychiatry, but also in entrenched beliefs, and in the stigma which follows those with courage enough to challenge the status quo. So it is that I (someone with a vested interest) celebrate the fact that voice hearers of NE England now have at least two professional allies with more (hopefully) to follow!  

What follows now is the impressive essence of the message that a world-renowned social psychiatrist called Marius Romme brought to Durham last night. It comes to you (with a tweak or two) via the pen of Angela Woods of the Centre for Medical Humanities at the University of Durham, the official scribe on this occasion. 

Ideas that matter. 

"It would be too great a challenge to summarise the ideas introduced in this double presentation, so here are some of the highlights, 

Adults who hear voices.

"Marius Romme outlined four core concepts in accepting and making sense of voices:

  1. hearing voices is not a sign of mental illness but points to other life problems;
  2. there are more healthy voice-hearers than patients (i.e. more people hear voices in the absence, rather than the presence, of a psychiatric diagnosis);
  3. people who hear voices become patients or service-users because they are not able to cope with distress, including the distress of voice-hearing; and
  4. the characteristics of the voices refer to what has happened to the hearer and his or her problems.

Empirical research.

"These points were expanded upon through descriptions of their empirical research.  And, Sandra Escher went on to explain, that they apply equally to the case of children.

Children who hear voices. 

"Presenting findings from her three-year longitudinal study of children who hear voices, Sandra suggested that while there was no measurable difference in the experience itself, the children who had become psychiatric patients before or during the course of her study were more likely (than children without a psychiatric diagnosis):

  • to have more triggers for their voices,
  • to have experienced greater childhood anxiety and depression,
  • to have more frequently a negative emotional appraisal of their voices,
  • to find their emotions and behaviour more influenced by their voices,
  • to adopt more passive coping strategies,
  • and to have experienced a greater number of traumatic events.

A paradigm shift. 

"All of this points to a paradigm shift in the way that voice are understood in the context of psychiatry and more broadly in our everyday lives. As Marius and Sandra so persuasively show, voices are:

  • meaningful in that they convey messages in their everyday presence (what do the voices actually say to me?),
  • onset (when did I first hear a voice, and why?),
  • triggers (do I hear voices when I feel abandoned, euphoric, humiliated, distressed?), and
  • characteristics (who is speaking to me, what sex and age are they, where do they come from and how do I relate to them?)."  ANGELA WOODS, (2011)

A peopled wound (Shakespeare).

William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616) referred to voices as 'the peopled wound', a shorthand description which sits well with the findings of the research mentioned above. But do bear in mind that voices are not always seen as distressing and 'there are more healthy voice hearers than patients'.

Here's something more on Shakespeare's 'peopled wound', a way forward for the many patients who suffer real distress because of the real experience of hearing voices triggered by real traumatic events in their lives.  

"I would thus like to suggest that we can understand the experience of hearing voices as a peopled wound.  Once we start to seriously consider this proposal, it will help us to re-conceptualise the meaning of hearing voices, and will in turn affect the way in which mental health services might try to help people distressed by their experiences.

"This might not be a wound that can simply be medicated away. Indeed, if feelings of shame or guilt are involved these might not be best treated with a pill."  SIMON McCARTHY-JONES, 2011

The above quotation must provide food for thought for both lay and professional people alike and, of course, it suggests more research is necessary into voice hearing - both quantitative and qualitative. Significantly, 'this might not be a wound that can simply be medicated away'. 

Point made.  Point taken? 

Please note that the McCarthy-Jones quotation above was also taken from the Durham University website, a site which is referenced below alongside information about the book, Accepting Voices by Marius Romme and Sandra Escher. So, for those with a vested interest (or even a burgeoning curiosity!) more details are just a click away. 


And, that's enough from me - for now.  I've done what I set out to do and reflected on a very interesting and enlightening experience at Collingwood College. I will return another day to:

(1) explore the history of madness as a social construct, and

(2) investigate new ideas emerging around 'mind', itself.  

Or at least that's 'the plan'!  Keep checking and keep asking questions. That's how we learn.

Hearing the Voice. 

Finally, I leave you with another extract from the Durham University website.  This is a very brief introduction to an important multi-disciplinary project called Hearing the Voice.  It is a project that has, in my view, got off to a good start - a very good start:

"Hearing the Voice is a multidisciplinary project being undertaken at Durham University. The project aims to help us better understand the phenomenon of hearing a voice no one else can hear (a phenomenon also referred to as auditory verbal hallucinations), its cognitive-neuroscientific mechanisms, its social, cultural and historical significance, and its therapeutic management.

"Academics from Durham University’s Departments of Psychology, Philosophy, English Studies, Theology and Religion, and the Centre for Medical Humanities are working in conjunction with clinicians, voice-hearers and an advisory board of leading experts."

At last, action research into ideas that matter.
Bravo!  Durham.
Marian Moore BA/BSc




DURHAM University website: http://hearingthevoice.wordpress.com/ - just a click away for more information from academia, together with details about the next hearing voices event in Durham ... see you there ... 

ROMME, Marius & ESCHER, Sandra (1994), Accepting Voices, London, pub. Mind Publications


*CHADWICK, Peter K (1997), Schizophrenia: The Positive Perspective: In search of dignity for schizophrenic people, Hove & New York, pub. Brunner-Routledge

*WILLIAMS, Paris, (2012), Rethinking Madness: Towards a Paradigm Shift in Our Understanding and Treatment of Psychosis, pub. San Francisco, Sky's Edge  



N E W S    F L A S H   2012-04-16


Independent inquiry into schizophrenia label.

NSUN is backing an inquiry into whether the label 'schizophrenia' is helping people or actually stigmatising them. You can read the full press release on our website

With many more poor and black and minority ethnic people labelled 'schizophrenics' than other groups, the diagnosis has been controversial for a long time.

Supported by 23 national and international organisations and 100 individuals, experts and those who have lived with the label are getting together to explore whether the label is useful or counterproductive.

The inquiry will investigate the impact the label 'schizophrenia' has on people's lives and collect evidence from mental health service users, carers and medical professionals among others.


- ENDS -

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