The sanity of talking to yourself – Part Three

April 23rd, 2009

Continuing my blog on Dean Smith, the paranoid schizophrenic who is not a knife wielding murderer, but a nurse trainer in the National Health Service teaching nurses how to help those who are labelled ‘mentally ill’. Dean Smith learnt how to deal with his condition, not from the doctors, but from a speaker at a mental health seminar he attended who put him in touch with the Hearing Voices Network.

If you google them you don’t find out much about what they are about. And their helpline is only available on Tuesdays from 1 til 4, so at any other time callers are urged to ring the Samaritans. Which is a great pity because the thinking behind the Hearing Voices Network is worth looking at, by ‘normals’ as well as by schiztsos and the other legions of the ‘mentally ill’.

You’ll do much better if you go in to Wikipedia and follow this link to the Hearing Voices Movement. Then you will discover that the thinking behind it comes from a husband and wife team in the Netherlands. Marius Romme is a professor of Social Psychiartry at the University of Limburg in Masstricht. His wife, Sandra Escher, is a science journalist, who was challenged a voice hearer to accept the reality of the voices she heard.

As you will see they have written lots of academic papers since they started this movement in 1987. Their research has led them to believe that hearing voices is not necessarily a symptom of mental illness. Many people hear voices who do not betray any of the other symtoms of mental illness. And even amongst mainstream psychiatrists there is huge disagreement about what paranoid schizophrenia is, what causes it, and whether the people who get landed with this diagnosis are more like each other than they are like people who are labelled ‘normal’.

Romme and Escher have found that quite often hearing voices begins following a severe traumatic life experience, such as divorce, bereavment, sexual or physical abuse, pregnancy or love affairs. This fits in with my own thinking which has been nurtured by a variety of academic disciplines as well as journalism.

What strikes you, if you are not a medical specialist, is that although many people are labelled mad, because they hear voices, there are others who are labelled saints, going right back to St Paul on the Road to Damascus. We lock ordinary folk who hear voicies in the loony bin. But, even the sceptics are quite happy for their children to read all those stories about Moses popping up the mountain to chat to God, and Jonah agonising about the contradictory messages he is getting, from the Voices he hears in his head.

The majority, who are neither saints, nor schiztsos, don’t usually hear voices in their heads when they are awake. But we all do in our dreaming lives. Which should surely give us pause as to whether the mad are quite as mad as they seem and whether the saints really do have a direct line to God, who talks to them but not to the rest of us.

(For those interested in learning more there is a long article published in the New York Times last year which can be read here. )

2 Responses to “The sanity of talking to yourself – Part Three”

  1. Svetla Says:

    Hi Bob,
    I heard an interesting interview on the World Today (BBC World Service morning programme). It was part of a report from the Global Mental Health Summit, currently in Athens. The man interviewed, from North England, had been in a mental health hospital, diagnosed with schizophrenia and put under strong medication because he was ‘hearing voices’ all his life until one day he just snapped and went into a stupor. The voices in his head were shouting abuse ‘like a football crowd’. It appears he had had a childhood trauma he never spoke to anyone about. Yet, the interesting thing is that it’s not the medication that helped him – he was even less in control of himself – but Hearing Voices Network you mention. They taught him how to accept and even benefit from his voices. Now, he says, he hears them less but he does not want to ged rid of them completely – he thinks they are something positive in his life and have actually helped him to cope with his childhood trauma.

  2. Dean Smith Says:

    Hi bob a freind of mine link me to your site and iam pleased that you noticed things which i did yes the Photo was the worse one they took that day which to me was to draw attention to the artical and not the recovery which later i moved on from my past issues the person i talked to at the conferance was aman called micky de valda who saley has past away about 5 years ago,i class my self as a voice hearer now Bob and iam mainly intrested in the human rights around people who are classed as mentaly ill”but do not have a voice to speak out as i see many today treating those who hear voices as a symtom of an illness instead of something which has happened but i agree how far do we take the issue as voice hearing to madness or to some holy person or saint,i feel the issue should also be at psychiatry and there own fear of what they see is madness or insanity.take care bob and thank you for the open diolouge of my artical,please keep in touch
    KInd Regards
    Dean Smith

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