About INTERVOICE

All about INTERVOICE (the International Network for Training, Education and Research into Hearing Voices)

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Hearing Voices Network Cymru is a member of INTERVOICE, in this page we describe the aims, objectives and work of the organisation.

“What this work shows is that we must accept that the voices exist. We must also accept that we cannot change the voices. They are not curable, just as you cannot cure left-handedness – human variations are not open to cure – only to coping. Therefore to assist people to cope we should not give them therapy that does not work. We should let people decide for themselves what helps or not. It takes time for people to accept that hearing voices is something that belongs to them.”

Professor Marius Romme, President of the International Network for Training, Education and Research into Hearing Voices (INTERVOICE)

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Introduction

Contrary to conventional messages of pessimism and pathology, we believe voice hearing is a normal human variation which needs acknowledgment.

Therefore INTERVOICE aims to support the emancipation of voice hearers, promote acceptance, tolerance and understanding towards voice hearing experiences and stimulate the dissemination of information and the development of networks for voice hearers and their allies.

This way of working which we call the hearing voices approach has been developed over the last 25 years in Europe and is now practiced in 23 countries across the world. Essentially it involves engaging the voice hearer about their experience and determining the meaning the voices have for them in relation to their lived experience, with the objective of developing long term coping strategies.


What is INTERVOICE?

INTERVOICE is the International Network for Training, Education and Research into Hearing Voices.

INTERVOICE aims to

  • show that hearing voices is a normal though unusual variation in human behaviour
  • show that the problem is not hearing voices but the inability to cope with the experience
  • educate society about the meaning of voices so as to reduce ignorance & anxiety and to ensure this innovatory approach on voice hearing is better known by voice hearers, families, professionals and the general public
  • demonstrate the wide variety of voice hearing experiences and their origins, and peoples’ approaches to coping
  • increase the quality and quantity of mutual support available to all people and organisations involved in hearing voices work across the world
  • make our work more effective and develop more non-medical ways of helping voice hearers cope with their experiences

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Values

The network therefore focuses on facilitating relevant assistance and solutions that improve the life of voice hearers in the knowledge that these methods have been co-developed by voice hearers and professionals

The core values of of INTERVOICE are:

  • 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.
  • A positive attitude by society and its members towards people hearing voices increases acceptance of voices and people who hear voices.
  • Discrimination and excluding of people hearing voices must stop

It is most important to us that the network embodies these guiding principles and is structured in such a way that it safeguards and develops them amongst founding and future members.

Our network focuses on solutions that improve the life of people who hear voices, for those who are distressed by the experience.

INTERVOICE is a close and respectful partnership between voice hearers – who are experts by experience, their carers and mental health workers, academics and activists – who are experts by profession.

INTERVOICE is an international organisation that both promotes the emancipation of voice hearers and the development of best practice in working with those that hear distressing voices.

In order to reach these goals effectively INTERVOICE has founded a company with a board of directors and is registered as a limited company under the name International Hearing Voices Projects Ltd.

INTERVOICE seeks to:

  • Improve awareness of the civil rights of people who hear voices.
  • Emancipate voice hearers and people who support them.
  • Educate society about the meaning of voices so as to reduce ignorance & anxiety and to ensure the innovatory approach on voice hearing is better known by voice hearers, their carers, professionals and the general public.
  • Demonstrate the wide variety of voice hearing experiences and their origins, and peoples’ approaches to coping and recovering from overwhelming voices.
  • Increase the quality and quantity of mutual support available to all people and organisations involved in hearing voices work across the world.
  • Develop effective and respectful ways of helping voice hearers to cope with and recover from difficult voice experiences.
  • Have a strong impact on mental health practice towards positively supporting people hearing voices.
  • Train voice hearers and professionals in alternative methods that serve recovery

Within the network there are new interventions for voice hearers that have been developed in a collaborative way that can be described as groundbreaking work. This can be seen in areas such as how to relate respectfully towards people who hear voices, retrieve information about the relation between voices and personal life history, voice dialoguing, coping strategies and in recovery planning and outcomes.

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Can you hear voices and be healthy?

Can people who hear overwhelming and distressing voices be assisted to find ways to live successfully with their voices? Research and practice originating in Europe, developed in partnership with voice hearers and conducted over the last twenty years indicates that this is indeed the case. The hearing voices approach (also known as the Maastricht approach) was first developed in Maastricht, in the Netherlands by psychiatrist Marius Romme and researcher and science journalist Sandra Escher. A measure of the success of this work is that there are now networks and activity in over 23 countries across the world.

This empowering approach to assisting people (both adults and children) who hear voices has had a significant impact on the way voice hearers and mental health services regard the voice experience. This change in perspective has led to important changes in practice amongst service providers with respect to their interventions for people who hear voices, as well as the development of a vigorous peer support network.The approach has become progressively more influential and has led to:

  • voice hearers organising themselves into networks, empowering themselves and working towards recovery in their own ways
  • services changing their policies and practice in respect to supporting people who hear voices by engaging the voice hearer about their experience and determining the meaning the voices have for them in relation to their lived experience, with the objective of developing long term coping strategies.

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What is the hearing voices approach?

Research shows that this way of working reduces anxiety and isolation, reduces hospital admissions & remissions and most significantly enables voice hearers to move on with their lives. The approach has proved particularly effective in assisting clients who have not been responding to other forms of treatment and therapy.

It can be realised via membership of peer support and self help groups and/or on a structured, one to one basis with mental health care workers.

The hearing voices approach contends that people hearing voices can learn to cope with their voices and benefit from psychological and social interventions. It is based on three central tenets, that the phenomena of hearing voices is:

  • more prevalent in the general population than is generally understood by he mental health community,
  • a personal reaction to life stresses, whose meaning or purpose can be deciphered and,

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Working in partnership

INTERVOICE places a great emphasis on the development of an equal partnership between the voice hearer as an expert of their experience and the worker as an expert by profession working together to facilitate the recovery journey.

Sharing the experience of voice hearing not only reduces isolation but is also one of the most successful ways to reduce anxiety and distress. To address this, hundreds of self help groups have been established throughout the world, groups that meet regularly to enable voice hearers to share their experiences and to learn more about how to cope.

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Bridging the personal and professional

We believe that we do not need to maintain a worker/psychiatric survivor divide. This has been a very significant contribution to the success of INTERVOICE as an organisation and sets it apart from many other agencies and services working on mental health issues. The process is simple and involves the members (experts of experience and experts by training) committing themselves to bridging the worker/psychiatric survivor divide and developing real relationships with each other, as a result long term friendships have developed. This is more easily accomplished than might be imagined, having common cause and placing a stress on the equal value of everyones participation tends to breakdown the worker/psychiatric survivor user divide and gives space for a very different way of working and being together.

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Incorporating the knowledge of experts by experience

We recognise people who hear voices have significant knowledge, although often have few opportunities to disseminate their knowledge. A key function of INTERVOICE is to develop experiential knowledge and to disseminate this with the objective of transforming mental health care to recovery and resilience oriented support. In our view experiential knowledge is equal to scientific knowledge. Persons with “psychiatric histories” own this knowledge and its value, including financial value should be recognised. For example, when voice hearers speak at workshops and conferences, we ensure they are paid the same fees as professional speakers (for instance psychiatrists).

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Participation helps individual recovery processes

This, most especially, includes experts by training. Participation in INTERVOICE by experts by experience has proved to be beneficial to those involved including the experts by training, in effect the community development and educational approach has proved to have had unintended therapeutic value. For example experts by training have revealed that they have heard voices for the first time and experts by experience have been able to support them.

We repeatedly point out that we work together with people with histories of so called severe mental health problems, “the real patients”, in the language of mainstream mental health. This is significant for two reasons, firstly this is because articulate, coping voice hearers tend to be written out of the story as unlike “real patients” and secondly because, although people often join INTERVOICE with a “diagnosis” as their identity, the process of membership often leads to significant change in peoples’ perception of themselves as contributors and as whole people.

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Encouraging diverse understandings

A key approach of INTERVOICE is the focus on seeking to change societies attitudes about hearing voices and the belief that this will lead to a change in psychiatry (we use the analogy with homosexuality and psychiatry). The group considers personal, political and spiritual understandings re. voices as having equal validity and invite presentations from anthropologists, spiritualists, psychiatrists, psychologists, voice hearers etc. We use poetry, music, dance to instil a creative atmosphere at the meetings and enjoy a meal together at the end of meetings. We value and recognise participation in meetings with tokens of gratitude such as flowers and small gifts. We always meets in non-Medical settings, often in “valued” buildings, most memorably perhaps was a meeting held in the ancient Town hall in Florence.

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National Networks

INTERVOICE is an international movement, bringing together people who hear voices, their supporters and concerned citizens from across the globe.

  • Exchanges and visits
  • Training and meetings
  • Conferences
  • Mutual Support

There are national networks and initiatives affiliated to INTERVOICE in the following 35 countries:

Austria
Australia
Belgium
Bosnia
Brazil
Canada
Croatia
Czech Republic
Denmark
England
Finland
France
Germany
Greece
Hungary
Ireland
Italy
Kenya
New Zealand
Japan
Malaysia
Netherlands
Norway
Malta
Palestine
Poland
Scotland
Serbia
Slovenia
Spain
Switzerland
Sweden
Tanzania
Uganda
USA
Wales



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Campaigns and Information

INTERVOICE campaigns on issues that effect the lives of people who hear voices. We are particularly concerned to fight negative attitudes and false perceptions associated with the experience. We seek to change societies perceptions of hearing voices.

We regard the hearing of voices as an aspect of human differentness, rather than in itself a mental health problem. As, with homosexuality (also regarded by psychiatry in historical times as an illness), one of the main issues regarding voices is respecting differentness and that is about human rights.

We are an emanciapatory, post-psychiatric organisation, we intend to change the way society perceives the experience, and believe by doing so, psychiatry’s attitude will follow.

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Events

World Hearing Voices Day

Our main campaigning event is the World Hearing Voices Day, held every year on the 14th September. Groups celebrate the day throughout the world and raise the profile of the hearing voices movement.

Each year Hearing Voices Networks and Groups worldwide mark the occasion with an activity or event to:

  • Raise awareness of the phenomenon of hearing voices
  • Challenge negative attitudes towards people who hear voice
  • Challenge incorrect assumptions about voice hearing as a sign of an illnes
  • Raise awareness of the issues of stigma and discrimination faced by people diagnosed with a mental illness, and
  • Give voice to the call for dignity, liberty and self determination

In previous years national and local groups have organised information stalls in central locations; public meetings, lectures and informal drop ins: film shows; picnics and marches; book and poetry readings.

The World Hearing Voices Congress

At our annual congress (2009, 2010, 2011) voice hearers, researchers and therapists present key note speeches, run master classes and themed presentations focusing on important aspects of the hearing voices experience and the recovery process. The Congress also included discussion around difficult issues such as the disease concept of schizophrenia and the use of medication. The themes and stories heard at the Congress go beyond theory and engaged participants in the everyday lives of voice hearers and the possibility of recovery.

Annual INTERVOICE Meeting

We have been holding the INTERVOICE meeting every year since 1997. The meeting is an opportunity for members of INTERVOICE Networks and supporters from around the world to meet each and discuss the development of our work. The meeting receives reports from developing national hearing voices networks; share information; and discuss cutting edge issues and research. Each year the meetings are hosted by a different national network, with previous meetings taking place in the Netherlands, England, Scotland, Australia and Denmark.

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