I recently spoke to someone who hears voices. She prefers that her name not be used and that she be identified by the pseudonym: West Coast Girl. She was diagnosed with schizencephaly, an extremely rare developmental birth defect characterized by abnormal slits, or clefts, in the cerebral hemispheres of the brain and which, in her case, has lead to the experience of hearing voices – voices that no one else can hear. The voices left her questioning what was real and what was not.
She also felt isolated by the experience and was thrilled to find a group made up of other voice hearers. She told me she was “so happy from the first meeting”. Everything people were saying related to what she was experiencing. She felt a sense of security in the group. She was not alone. People were saying things that “really clicked”.
She learned a new coping strategy: take a problem and put it in a box. Put the box out of reach. Keep it closed. Then, when you are ready, bring it out and deal with it.
She’s also developed her own strategies. She prays to St. Jude, the Patron Saint for impossible situations: the saint to pray to when things just look like they won’t turn out well. When she’s struggling she prays every day for 9 days. She tries to keep her mind focussed on prayer when she is stressed. She tries to get her brain calmed down through the process. She says she does it at bed time and it really helps. It’s the strongest coping tool she’s found so far. When things work out, she gives thanks that the problem was solved.
She’s shared this approach in the group and also heard about how others cope. She looks forward to going. When I asked her if she’d recommend it to someone else, she said she would.
The group West Coast Girl attends is a North Vancouver support group based on the International Hearing Voices Network. Similar groups have sprung up in Vancouver Community and in Tertiary Mental Health Services. The Fraser Health Authority is also looking at starting a group as is Victoria.
The Hearing Voices Movement that lead to the development of Hearing Voices Network Support Groups was begun by Dr. Marius Romme, a professor of social psychiatry, science journalist Dr. Sandra Escher and voice hearer Patsy Hage in 1987 – after Hage challenged Romme about why he couldn’t accept the reality of her voice hearing experience. As one voice hearer, Ron Coleman, has said, if someone is hearing voices, something real is happening. The Hearing Voices Network began in 1988 with the support of Romme and has since expanded to countries and regions including Wales, Scotland, Switzerland, Sweden, Austria, Germany, Norway, Denmark, Japan, Israel, New Zealand, Australia and Canada.
Hearing Voices Groups support people in learning ways to live well with their experiences, share strategies, make connections and know that they are not alone. The reputation of the Hearing Voices Network is growing as the limitations of a solely medical approach to voices become better know.
For information about the North Vancouver Hearing Voices Group call: 604-984-5000 extension 5167
For information about Vancouver Hearing Voices Network Groups call: 604-708-5276