Hearing Voices groups provide a safe place to talk about your experiences. You may feel that sometimes these experiences are very distressing and overwhelming, but sharing this can help.
Hearing Voices can be both an attack on personal identity and an attempt to keep it intact. The solution does not lie in suppressing the conflict but in accepting it and to keep in mind that it is normal to be different. We do not all respond to situations in the same way and getting to grips with the context is essential to understanding the behaviour and to facilitating support.
What do Hearing Voices Groups Do?
Hearing Voices Groups can be thought of as an addition to existing support, yet these groups do not mirror services. Instead, something new is offered which has already improved the lives of thousands of people who hear voices around the globe.
People attend groups to connect with others, to learn about their voices and seek to change some aspect of their life. In order for change to occur, one must be prepared to practice new coping strategies and learn about new ideas. Actively listening to others talk about their voices will help, providing one perseveres.
Hearing Voices Groups are having considerable success in helping people to understand and come to terms with their voices and begin to recover their lives. More and more, as people are encouraged to talk about their experiences, they are beginning to learn what the voices mean for them and how to gain control over their experience. In voices groups, people are enable to choose the way they want to manage their experience/s. For some, they will want to sit with their experience; for others, they will want to understand it and learn from it. Voices groups assist people access information and resources so they can make their own choices. Further, voices groups allow people to explore the relationship between their life history and their experience of hearing voices, should they want to do so.
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 centred 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 recognise the importance of being user-centred 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.
Different types of groups
Whilst all groups in our network should hold to these basic values, our network includes a range of different types of groups. The differences include, but are not limited to:
The membership of most groups is purely made up of people with lived experience of voices, visions and other unusual sensory perceptions. Some groups have open sessions that welcome family members and/or supporters too. Some groups focus on a particular group (people from specific cultural groups, genders or ages, for example). Others are open to all.
Our network includes groups in a range of settings, including: independent community groups; voluntary sector organisations; mental health teams; inpatient units; secure mental health units; prisons.
Whilst some groups are 100% user-led, with all facilitators having personal experience of voice-hearing, others are facilitated by people a combination of personal and professional experience. In some settings, groups may be facilitated completely by people with professional, but not personal, experience. Whilst these groups are no less valuable than any other, we would always encourage them to find ways of more actively involving people with personal experience in their running and facilitation.
Aims of Hearing Voices Groups
- Demystify the voices
- Build up a relationship and acknowledge the voices as part of ordinary life
- Finding processes of learning to cope with voices
- Keep in mind the idea that it is normal to be different
There are hearing voices groups in Wales. See our Hearing Voices Groups page to find out if there is a group near you.
About Hearing Voices Groups
Hearing Voices Groups are a social environment that encourage and promote:
- Self Empowerment
- Interdependence, and
- A view of members as ‘experts by experience’
- Acceptance and a sense that one is not alone
- A safe place to talk about visions and voices
- An opportunity to learn what the voices mean and how to gain control over the experience
- An opportunity to build stronger social networks and supports, and
- A springboard to step into voluntary and then paid employment
Voice hearers in Self-Help Groups:
- Share experiences with patients and non patients
- Explore different ways of managing and coping with voices
- Access information and resources and learn about the recovery process
Hearing Voices Group Guidelines
- Is a self-help group and not a clinical group offering treatment
- Accept that voices and visions are real experiences
- Accept that people are not any the less for having voices and visions
- Respects each member as an expert
- Sanctions the freedom to talk about anything, not just voices and visions
- Sanctions the freedom to interpret experiences in any way
- Sanctions the freedom to challenge social norms
- Encourages an ethos of self-determination
- Values ordinary, non-professional language
- Focuses primarily on sharing experiences, support and empathy
- Members are not subject to referral, discharge or risk assessment
- Members are able to come and go as they want without repercussions
- Members are aware of limits to and constraints on confidentiality
- Accept people as they are
- Make no assumption of illness
- Are a self-help group not a therapy group
- Can be a community to which people belong
- Work towards upholding equity in the group
- Decide on the limits to confidentiality not the facilitator
- Work out problems collectively
- Share responsibility rather than the facilitator solely
- Members join for as long as it suits them
- Are open to people from other geographical areas
- Facilitator is not under clinical pressure to report back to anyone else
- Encourages, supports and enables voice hearers to take a co-facilitator or facilitator role.
Hearing Voices Groups Resources
Self Help Groups User Manual (Produced by the Hope Hearing Voice Network NSW, Australia)
A preliminary evaluation (2004)
Sara Meddings, Linda Walley, Tracy Collins, Fay Tullett, Bruce McEwan and Kate Owen, Sussex Partnership Trust
The study found that after attending the hearing voices group,members’ hospital bed use decreased and there was a trend for less formal admissions. People used far more coping strategies and were able to talk to far more people about their voices after attending the group. Learning coping strategies was something people valued about the group and one of the common topics was to explore and experiment with different coping strategies. After attending the group, self esteem increased. User empowerment also increased supporting anecdotal reports of hearing voices groups which had not been formally examined elsewhere. Feeling more empowered was one of the aims of the group particularly valued by users and may be associated, not only with the voices themselves, but also with other aspects of recovery and getting better. People’s relationships with the voices were mostly improved. They heard the voices less frequently, the voices were perceived as less powerful (omnipotent) relative to them, people felt much better able to cope with their voices, and there were trends towards people feeling less controlled by their voices and feeling less alone. Perhaps most importantly, the evaluation shows that people improved in relation to what they had identified as their own goals for the group, their personal constructs.
Version of research study published as “The voices don’t like it…”, in Mental health Today, (September 2006)
Hearing voices groups have been shown to benefit members by reducing the power and influence of the voices and providing an important source of peer and social support. Sara Meddings and colleagues report the findings of the first ever study to use standardised measures to gauge the impact of attendance at a hearing voices group. Their study quantified statistically significant improvements in participants’ ability to live with and even control their voices, as well as collecting evidence of the qualitative benefits of knowing that others are also struggling with what can be a very isolating and alienating phenomenon.
If you are interested in starting up a Hearing Voices Group, please contact us via the Contact Us page for further assistance and resources.Note: This information is taken from the INTERVOICE , Hope Hearing Voices Network NSW and the Hearing Voices Australia websites