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What is the Hearing Voices Movement?
The Hearing Voices Movement is an international movement that reframes how we think about experiences like hearing voices. The movement got its start in the Netherlands in 1987, with professor of social psychiatry Dr. Marius Romme, science journalist Dr. Sandra Escher, and voice hearer Patsy Hage – after Hage challenged Romme about why he couldn’t accept the reality of her voice hearing experience. As voice hearer Ron Coleman has said, if someone is hearing voices, something real is happening. Hage and Romme went on to appear on Dutch television together and seek responses from the public about their voice hearing experiences. Hundreds of viewers called in, and the first Hearing Voices Congress was held that year.
The Hearing Voices movement challenges conventional wisdom in a few ways, like the idea that hearing voices necessarily needs to be understood as an illness. The Hearing Voices Movement approaches unusual sensory experiences as just part of the spectrum of human experience, like feeling emotional – something that might be upsetting at times, but might be positive at others. These experiences can be personally or culturally meaningful. That said, Hearing Voices groups sanction the right to interpret our experiences in any way, including illness.
Although the Hearing Voices Movement recognizes that experiences like hearing voices can be a challenge for people in their day-to-day lives, it also recognizes that it is possible to live well with them. People who hear voices are encouraged to talk about our experiences openly and to share ideas and strategies. Acceptance, community, and celebration of the diversity of our experiences is at the core of the Hearing Voices Movement.
The International Hearing Voices Movement consists of the diverse conversations, initiatives, groups and individuals around the world that share some core values. As articulated by the UK Hearing Voices Network, these core values are:
Hearing Voices Groups are based firmly on an ethos of self help, mutual respect and empathy. They provide a safe space for people to share their experiences and support one another. They are peer support groups, involving social support and belonging, not therapy or treatment. However, groups do offer an opportunity for people to accept and live with their experiences in a way that helps them regain some power over their lives.
Hearing Voices Groups welcome the diversity of experiences and views of their members. Rather than seeing one belief system as more valid than another, all explanations for voice and visions are valued. There is no assumption of illness. Groups recognise that all members have expertise to contribute to the group, no one member is more important than another.
All Hearing Voices Groups are centered around the needs and aspirations of their members. Rather than being solely focused on voices and visions, group members are welcome to talk about any issue that is important to them.
Hearing Voices Groups recognize the importance of being user-centered and are working towards being truly user-led. Each member has an important part to play in determining the direction of the group, keeping it healthy and upholding its ethos.
All Hearing Voices Groups should be as confidential as possible, with members being fully aware of any limits to this. Wherever possible, what is discussed within the group should stay within the group.