I recently had the great pleasure of hosting a Hearing Voices workshop with Ron Coleman and Karen Taylor.
We had over 200 people in attendance. The participants included representatives of the majority of community mental health centers in Vermont as well as people who traveled from New York and Connecticut. We had members of peer organizations. We had family members and voice hearers. We had psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, case mangers, residential staff. The interest was striking and I deeply appreciate Ron and Karen’s willingness to address a larger group than is typical for them. Among the many striking aspects of the day was the intimacy that was created despite such a large crowd. From the outset, it was apparent that people were actively engaged. This was reflected by the participation of the group and the questions that were asked.
The response was overwhelmingly positive. Many people described this as one of the best trainings they had ever attended. Ron’s message is inherently uplifting – after all this internationally known educator was once a mental patient given a poor prognosis. But in addition, they offered pragmatic suggestions for how to think about voices and talk to someone who is experiencing them. He spoke directly to the voice hearers in our group and a number of them were brave enough to engage with him in front of this large group.
The core message is that voices have a meaning for people. By helping a person to understand the meaning of the voices, we may help the person to heal.
Since much of what I write here is about drug treatment for psychosis, I want to address that directly. For me, Ron and Karen’s message is not inherently anti-drug. So many of the people I know do not get a full suppression of the voices even when on drugs. If there is a way to help them that seems like a good thing. If using this technique allows people an alternative to drug treatment or a way to reduce dose, that seems like a good thing as well. I hope that among my psychiatric colleagues, it is not controversial to suggest that these drugs have some serious negative effects that we would all want to avoid or minimize.
But beyond that, I am going to refrain from summarizing what was covered. One conference does not make me an expert and I am worried I will misrepresent this work. Hearing Voices is inherently a program led by voices hearers and despite my deep curiosity about this, I have never had this kind of experience. I do find interesting overlaps between the Hearing Voices approach and both Narrative Therapy and Open Dialogue. I find it reassuring that people working in disparate locales have come upon overlapping ways of engaging with people in helpful ways.
Here is a brief video except:
I want to thank HowardCenter and Collaborative Solutions Corporation for the support of the workshop.