The International Hearing Voices Movement (InterVoice) seeks to normalize, depathologize, and destigmatize the experience voice-hearing, and also provide support to people who hear voices, see visions, etc. InterVoice is based in the UK. There are also 28 national networks, including the Hearing Voices Network in the UK and Hearing Voices Network USA.
The movement believes that recovery is possible. The UK network’s website says:
“At the Hearing Voices Network, we use the word recovery to mean ‘living the life you choose, not the life others choose for you’ (whether those others are family, friends, workers or voices). Many people who hear voices simply don’t need to recover – they are already living lives that they love. The voices might enhance their wellbeing, or their experiences may simply not detract from it.”
The InterVoice website identifies several basic assumptions on which they operate, including:
- “Hearing voices is a normal though unusual and personal variation of human experience.
- Hearing voices makes sense in relation to personal life experiences.
- The problem is not hearing voices but the difficulty to cope with the experience.
- People who hear voices can cope with these experiences by accepting and owning their voices.”
Hearing Voices mutual support groups aim to demystify voices and “build up a relationship and acknowledge the voices as part of ordinary life” (Intervoice), and develop coping skills to relate to voices more effectively. The InterVoice website includes a Practical Guide to Hearing Voices.
InterVoice also puts on an annual congress. They have a research committee, which is chaired by Dr. Eleanor Longden, a psychosis researcher who herself has a diagnosis of schizophrenia (she’s also given a TED Talk on voice-hearing).
Hearing Voices and Psychiatry
The UK Hearing Voices Network has a Position Statement on DSM 5 & Psychiatric Diagnosis. They criticize the DSM-5 as being “scientifically unsound” for reasons like lack of objective tests and drug company involvement, which is basically the old GlaxoSmithKline creating social anxiety disorder to market Paxil kind of argument. The lack of objective tests is a common anti-psychiatry criticism, but try telling that to people with conditions like fibromyalgia and ME/CFS, who have to fight to get their conditions taken seriously because there aren’t objective tests for them.
They oppose the emphasis on antipsychotic medication in treating psychosis, saying that “medication does nothing to address underlying difficulties.” Except the nature of chronic conditions is that medications, or any other form of treatment, don’t provide a cure, they manage symptoms. That doesn’t mean you should throw treatment out the window. The position paper also suggests that being labelled with a diagnosis leads to discrimination. At the same time, though, the behaviour of some people with untreated psychosis, such as verbally responding to their auditory hallucinations, can be seen as stereotype-consistent, so that’s not particularly helpful either.
In a separate area of their website, they identify the UK-based Critical Psychiatry Network as being sympathetic to their approach, and acknowledge that medications are helpful for some people. I’m guessing it’s different people writing on different areas of the website more than a truly united front.
How helpful are they likely to be?
The impression I’ve gotten from the various things I’ve heard about the movement is that they’re made up of a fairly wide range of people, from those who are actively engaged in mainstream psychiatric treatment to those who are pretty strongly anti-psychiatry. Even the mix of materials on the UK network’s site seems to reflect these differences in perspective.
I can definitely see this being helpful for a certain subgroup of people, but it does seem to skim over the fact that voices can be extremely distressing and unwanted for some people. Also, while the content of voices may be meaningful for some people in terms of pointing to unresolved trauma or other issues, to suggest that’s the case for all voice-hearers kind of reminds me of the line of thinking that all/most mental disorders are the result of trauma. Overgeneralizing probably isn’t helpful for those people who don’t experience their voices as being reasonable in some way.
Have you ever come across the Hearing Voices Movement? What’s your impression?