Voices, Then & Now


As we approach world hearing voices day 2013 Karen and I are in Canada. We have just enjoyed running a preconference workshop for about 100 people in Winnipeg. I am sitting in my room before breakfast writing this piece and as I sit I am thinking back twenty-three years ago; I am in a psych unit in Manchester and I have a new support worker called Lindsay. By then I had been a psych patient for almost ten years and was fast approaching spending the rest of my life in the system. My support worker had convinced me to go to a new group that was starting in Manchester called a hearing voices group.

Going to that group changed my life. As someone who had been tormented for years by negative voices, being part of the group gave me the hope to go forward. It allowed me to see my experience as something real, and therefore something that could be understood.

Sitting here now twenty-something years later I can see the beginnings of our movement. We would be sitting in an office in Manchester making phone calls on our one telephone – that was coin operated. I can hear Mickey Devalda shouting ”has anybody got some money for the phone? I’m talking to a voice hearer in distress and we’re running out of credit.” His wife Sharon would also be in the office putting information packs together and getting them ready to post. Now I hear John Williams’ voice cracking some one-line joke that would get us all laughing even though sometimes it wasn’t so funny. John just had that effect on us. I can feel Terrence McLaughlin beside me even now; his ever-reassuring presence one of the great stabilizing influences of the movement in those days. In would walk Paul Baker, the one who always answered a question with a question and in answering his question we became a team. Then sitting in the corner was Julie Downs, a woman who was there for us through every crisis we had as individuals. She made us face ourselves and as a consequence was a real mother for the UK movement.

Though it might seem quaint and romantic now, there was nothing quaint and romantic then. Mickey and John both died of sudden heart failure. Real cause of death; neuroleptic medication. Hannalore – one of the founders of the German voices movement – died of sudden heart failure. Real cause of death; neuroleptic medication. For myself I got away with it by having a heart bypass. Real cause of surgery; neuroleptic medication. I have watched with sadness many people die over the last twenty years of sudden heart failure. The cost of this movement should never be based on finances, but based on honoring the memory of those who have gone before us, who have led by example and have died working for our freedom.

Now some twenty years on there are groups all over the world. Networks in twenty-seven countries and new networks springing up all over the world. The hearing voices network is here to stay; a new leadership is emerging that is allowing us oldies to step back, and to them I say “go for it.” Go and create our future but please don’t forget our history. John, Mickey, Terrence, and Hannalore created their time. Learn from it and go forward to create yours. As for me, well, I will continue to do my own thing in the future.

So enjoy your journeys — I intend to enjoy mine.

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Ron Coleman

Ron is a Director of Working to Recovery, Ltd., an innovative mental health training , consultancy and publishing business. He is also a director of ICRA our on line recovery training and practice site. He has designed training packages to enable voice hearers to gain ascendancy over the negative aspects of the voice hearing experience. His own route to recovery, after spending 13 years in and out of the psychiatric system came from being a founder member then national co-ordinator of the then UK hearing voices movement, his own journey has given him many insights into the many difficult issues facing today’s mental health services.

Ron has published several books including Politics of the Madhouse, co-authored Working with Voices and Working to Recovery and also wrote Recovery an Alien Concept? – His newest publication is co-written with Jim Campbell-reclaiming our lives a workbook for male survivors of sexual abuse. he is also patron of the Australian hearing voices network. Ron as a world wide reputation for training, writing and conference keynotes  in both recovery and working with voices. Currently he is introducing his methods to enthusiastic audiences across the USA. Find out more on www.workingtorecovery.co.uk


  1. Thank you RON COLEMAN for sharing the beginnings of Hearing Voices UK with us. I am grateful you clearly write how survivor-peers could not life a full and long life as fully recovered indivuduals. Having rebuild their own personalities and living an active life in the survivor/Hearing Voices movement could not save them from the slow metabolic death brought to them by harmful and finally murderous psychotropic ‘medication’.

    I have taken from my shelf the book ‘My voices – terrorizing spirits and guardian angels’ written by German Hearing voices pioneer Hannelore Klafki. I swallow my tears and will use the rage against the medical-industrial complex – characterized ‘organized crime’ using methods like Stalin or the mob in Peter Gotzsche’s new book – Deadly Medicines and Organized Crime – to build my courage in speaking out against the muderous abuse of psychotropic overdosis and the chronic prescriptions of psychotropic drugs which are always inherently harmful to the regulatory networks in the brain-environment interaction and the organism-embodied interactions called LIFE.

    Instead of being a shameful survivor of psychotropic drugs I quickly came off from against the will of all psy’s, I will be grateful to have the chance to speak clear words against legalized abuse and murder by prescribing and often coercing people to take harmful drugs for years and years. Being furious and feeling hatred against such practices does not exclude the gratitude and love for the Hearing Voices/ Survivor activists slowly murdered by overdoses of psychotropic drugs. It is part of the gratitude and honor they deserve – in my view.

    I dedicate this commentary to Hannelore KLAFKI – RIP – (co)founder of the German Hearing Voices Network. With tears in my eyes; gratitude and strength in my ‘heart and mind’. You and many others being murdered by harmful psychotropic drugs legalized and positioned in Mental Health Guidelines must inspire our survivor speak out against all who are knowing liers and betrayers in this harmful medical-globalized system.

    Thank you pioneers of the Hearing Voices movement, all dead and alive. Thank you for remembering your friends and allies, dead and alive, Ron Coleman.

    Kind wishes (with tears and furious, loving strength)

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