Hearing distressing voices is highly correlated with traumatic experiences, and many people report that their first experience with distressing voices occurs after a trauma. Making the connection can be a vital step in the recovery process. In this interview with UK psychologist and advocate Eleanor Longden, I learned Eleanor’s personal story with voice hearing and her harrowing encounter with a mental health system that only made things worse.
It wasn’t until the Vietnam War and the women’s movement that psychological trauma became widely recognized as a social issue and responsible for ongoing emotional wounding. At that time addressing trauma meant challenging the social and political forces that cause violence; to look at trauma was to look at the injustice of war, the oppression of women, and the social costs of violence of all kinds. As I interviewed Eleanor and heard more about her work to understand dissociation and the psychological dynamics of trauma, I realized that ‘trauma’ itself is now, as a result of being widely recognized, itself undergoing challenges. New neuroscientific and biology oriented approaches have emerged for trauma theory, and we are seeing pharmaceuticals being used more and more as part of trauma treatment. Trauma as a human experience is being lost as researchers are focusing on trauma as a brain condition.
Eleanor’s story underscores the importance of seeing dissociation and trauma not as malfunctions of brain chemistry, but as natural processes of coping with and recovering from violence and mistreatment. Dissociation and voices may be fundamentally creative acts that reflect the health and vitality of a person, not damage and dysfunction. To understand them this way means putting the story of a person’s experience first, rather than categorizing in terms of neurological and behavioral events isolated from their context and human meaning. As we emphasize the role of trauma in extreme states that get called psychosis, it’s crucial to beware of these new contested meanings for trauma, so that the person and their life doesn’t get lost to another wave of neuroscientific and biological reductionism.
Check the show on Madness Radio here: http://www.madnessradio.net/madness-radio-meaning-voices-eleanor-longden
Here’s the show summary:
Hearing voices is strongly connected with traumatic experiences, but are voices a brain malfunction or a creative strategy for protection? UK psychologist Eleanor Longden survived a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia and went on to be a leading researcher around voice hearing, trauma, and dissociation. She is a pioneer in the movement to understand voices as a normal human experience — and truly help people by healing trauma.
A first-class recovery: From hopeless case to graduate
The terrifying ordeal of a brilliant student who started hearing voices and then fell into the abyss of insanity
How I tamed the voices in my head
Eleanor Longden – Knowing You, Knowing You
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.