Research on Spirituality and Hearing Voices



Research articles on hearing voices and spirituality and related topics.



 Seeing the unseen, hearing the unsaid: hallucinations, psychology and St Thomas Aquinas

Simon McCarthy-Jones, Department of Psychology, Durham University, Durham, UK, Mental Health, Religion & Culture, Volume 14, Issue 4 April 2011 , pages 353 – 369

Abstract: Psychologists referring to St Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) in the context of hallucinations have neither accurately portrayed his conceptions of such experiences nor critically examined his alleged personal experience of them. This paper first examines Aquinas’ conception of what are termed auditory and visual hallucinations. It is shown that he allowed both natural and supernatural explanations for such experiences, with both accounts acknowledging an underlying physical cause. Contrasting explanations for his alleged personal experiences are examined, including a new Chestertonian interpretation. Critiques of the use of his canonisation documents as factual evidence are also considered. It is concluded that Aquinas had a sophisticated understanding of  these experiences, and although it is fundamentally unknowable whether he actually experienced a hallucination, nevertheless, the approach we take to understanding his experience is of importance. The implications of Aquinas for interdisciplinary dialogue between theology and psychology in the field of hallucinations are then examined.  Keywords: Aquinas; natural; revelation; spiritual; supernatural, visual hallucinations.


Re-expanding the phenomenology of hallucinations: lessons from sixteenth-century Spain

Simon R. Jones, Department of Psychology, Durham University, Durham, United Kingdom: Mental Health, Religion & Culture, Volume 13, Issue 2 March 2010 , pages 187 – 208

Abstract: The paradigm within which hallucinations are studied, and the explanatory frameworks employed, may bias the phenomenological analysis of these experiences. After introducing the new term, hallucination, this paper undertook an inter-disciplinary study of the phenomenology of hallucinations identified by the sixteenth-century theologians, St John of the Cross and St Teresa of Avila. It was examined whether the phenomenological properties they highlighted are identified and addressed by contemporary psychological research. Many of these properties were indeed found to be acknowledged and studied by contemporary research in psychiatric patients, as well as in healthy individuals during hypnagogia, near-death experiences and at times of stress. However, many experiences, such as “internal voices,” “soundless voices,” and “voices that save,” were found to be neglected by contemporary research, as was the potential for hallucinations to communicate novel/original information. Finally, it was examined how these phenomenological insights may be “front-loaded” into future experimental designs.  Keywords: Derrida; hearing voices; phenomenology; schizophrenia; St John of the Cross; St Teresa of Avila


Auditory and visual hallucinations in a sample of severely mentally ill Puerto Rican women: an examination of the cultural context

Sana Louea; Martha Sajatovica , Mental Health, Religion & Culture, Volume 11, Issue 6 September 2008 , pages 597 – 608

Abstract; The content, interpretation, and structure of hallucinations experienced by individuals with severe mental illness are influenced by the culture of the individuals who experience them. We analyzed the content of auditory and visual hallucinations of 53 Puerto Rican women in northeastern Ohio with a diagnosis of a severe mental illness (SMI) who were participating in a study of HIV risk among Hispanic women with SMI. Compared to non-hallucinators, hallucinators had lower global assessment of functioning scores and greater suicidality. Hallucinations reflected three themes: religious themes, command hallucinations, and unidentifiable voices. Hallucinators’ subjective experiences ranged from a sense of security to significant distress. Participants developed a wide range of strategies to deal with threatening hallucinations. Provider response to individuals’ experience appeared to impact the quality of the patient-provider relationship. We recommend the inclusion of religious history in the initial assessment of individuals. This will assist the provider in making an accurate diagnosis, distinguishing between religious beliefs and those that reflect underlying pathology, and in increasing the level of cultural competence of the care provided. Religious and spiritual beliefs that provide a source of hope and strength for the patient can be utilized to expand and enhance the patient’s coping strategies.  Keywords: auditory; visual; severely mentally ill; Puerto Rican; women; cultural context

Phenomenology of delusions and hallucinations in schizophrenia by religious convictions

Kausar Suhaila; Shabnam Ghauria,  Mental Health, Religion & Culture, Volume 13, Issue 3 April 2010 , pages 245 – 259

Abstract: This study was conducted to assess the impact of religious affiliations on the phenomenology of delusions and hallucinations. Fifty-three Pakistani Muslim patients with schizophrenia were interviewed using the Present State Examination and Religiosity Index. The results indicated that the more religious patients had greater themes of grandiose ability and identity. These differences were more obvious in groups divided on the basis of practice of Islam. Similar results were obtained in the content of hallucinations. More religious patients were more likely to hear voices of paranormal agents and had visions of the same. The results of this study have strong implications for mental health professionals who, without reinforcing threatening and pathological beliefs of patients, can utilise this knowledge to create and maintain a therapeutic alliance with the patients as well as to more effectively manage the disorder.  Keywords:  schizophrenia; Pakistan; phenomenology; delusions


Working with patients with religious beliefs

Simon Dein, Advances in Psychiatric Treatment (2004) 10: 287-294

Simon Dein (Princess Alexandra Hospital, The Derwent Centre, Hamstel Road, Harlow, Essex CM20 1QX, UK. E-mail: [email protected]) is a senior lecturer in anthropology and medicine in the Centre for Behavioural and Social Science in Medicine. He is the editor of the journal Mental Health, Religion and Culture, and runs an MSc course in culture and health. He has published a number of papers on religion and health, and has specifically studied the health of Hasidic Jews in London.

Abstract: Mental health professionals in Western societies are generally less religious than their patients and receive little training in religious issues. Using case studies, the author discusses issues involved in working with patients who hold religious beliefs: problems of engagement; countertransference; religious and spiritual issues not attributable to mental disorder; problems of differential diagnosis; religious delusions; religion and psychotherapy; psychosexual problems; and religiously oriented treatments. The article ends with a discussion of the various ways in which religious themes can be incorporated into mental health work, especially the need to involve religious professionals and develop collaborative patterns of working together with mental health professionals.


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