Healing Voices Documentary Review in the Huffington Post

Bruce Levine, PhD
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A little background for MIA readers on the recently published Huffington Post review about the documentary Healing Voices (see below), which I got published so as to help get the film gain publicity and screenings. I’ve been a Huffington Post blogger since 2007, but I’ve routinely had pieces that run counter to the psychiatry establishment censored. The current review was published within a few hours of my submitting it, and I can only speculate as to why. Perhaps it has to do with what department I submitted it to (which may have permitted it to avoid the Huffington Post medical review board); perhaps it was the references to the mainstream TED and the NIMH; or perhaps our movement is making so much progress that the Huffington Post is less reluctant to shut me up on pieces like this.

The Huffington Post review is titled Healing Voices: Intriguing Documentary, Innovative Release.

Below is the review:

Healing Voices: Intriguing Documentary, Innovative Release

by Bruce E. Levine

The soon-to-be released documentary Healing Voices goes a long way to healing our fear of people commonly labeled as “schizophrenic,” “bipolar,” and “psychotic.” The message of this film is that understanding and love—not fear and stigmatizing labels—are what people who have experienced these altered states need.

Writer and director PJ Moynihan explores two question: What are we talking about when we talk about “mental illness”? What is truly helpful?

Over a five year period, Healing Voices follows Oryx, Jen, and Dan, all previously diagnosed with serious mental illness. Oryx, Jen, and Dan are each very different personalities but all are articulate, insightful, and fascinating in describing their return journeys from extreme states of consciousness to satisfying human relationships and meaningful work.

Healing Voices is not afraid to discuss aspects of our humanity that routinely terrify many of us, and Moynihan is also not afraid to make his movie fun and joyful—including playful music and animations. What is striking about Healing Voices is its combination of boldness and humility—its boldness challenging political correctness and its humility about its own assertions.

Unlike other documentaries that are critical of standard psychiatric treatment, Moynihan does not have an anti-drug agenda but instead seeks the truth regardless of where that might lead. Healing Voices confronts the damage done by the fear of our humanity and the fear of truth.

In 2013, the general public finally began hearing some truths—hopeful truths—about people who experience extreme emotional states, including voice hearers. Prior to this, ex-patients and dissident mental health professionals who attempted to depathologize and normalize extreme emotional states were mocked by the psychiatry establishment and not taken seriously by the mainstream media.

However, in 2013, Eleanor Longden’s TED Talk, The Voices in My Head, went viral (ultimately with over three million views). Longden—diagnosed with schizophrenia, hospitalized, drugged, and told that she would be better off having cancer than schizophrenia because cancer could be more easily cured—describes her recovery, which involved letting go of the fear of her voices.

Also in 2013, as I reported in the Huffington Post (“NIMH Director Rethinks Standard Psychiatric Treatment for Schizophrenia”), the director of the National Institute of Mental Health, based on two major studies, concluded that people diagnosed with schizophrenia and other psychoses are a diverse group who need diverse approaches. NIMH director Thomas Insel acknowledged: “For some people, remaining on medication long-term might impede a full return to wellness.”

So, between Londgen’s TED Talk and the NIMH’s rethinking, the time is ripe for a full-length documentary that fearlessly examines a topic that for so long we have been socialized to be frightened of.

The producers of Healing Voices have announced an innovative plan to release the film via community screening partners in a coordinated one-night global event on April 29, 2016.

Moynihan tells us, “What we refer to as ‘mental illness’ in our culture is widely discussed and debated, but not very well understood. These screenings are an opportunity for a range of demographic audiences to come together and engage in a dialogue about a very complex social issue.” Moynihan describes his plan as a “grassroots, non-theatrical release.”

The documentary is a must see for anyone who has been touched by mental health issues in their life. For more information about the film and how to be involved in its release, see http://www.HealingVoicesMovie.com.

 

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30 COMMENTS

  1. This is really good Bruce. I like how it is presented as an event which is publicized ahead of time and then the movie is screened on a certain date.

    The trailer is good, although I was wishing for a few more teasing details of the recovery stories/hopeful outcomes of the people like Oryx to be in the trailer.

    I wonder when you say censored, about the articles that didn’t get published, does it mean they just didn’t get selected/you didn’t hear back, or were you told that the content was too non-mainstream?

    Only critique would be that the trailer is featuring the term mental illness, but then again, if it doesn’t use that, most of the public who only know that term might not come to the film in the first place.

    • Margaret,

      I’m still at a loss as to why you are so invested in this site, given how invested you seem in promoting the Murphy Bill and all… But that said, I’m going to respond to this at least briefly:

      Lots of people have thoughts about things that they never do, and aren’t even remotely considering following through on. I, for example, frequently think, “What would happen if I pulled the hair of that woman sitting in front of me?” when I’m stuck in some boring conference… You know, just give it one good yank and see what happens! That’s just one example. In fact, I have all sorts of thoughts about things to randomly say, yell or do all the time. (Don’t you?) Some of them are more persistent and invasive than others. But they’re just thoughts. Passing ideas.

      At one point in my life, however, it became more than just a thought. I was having visions that I took to mean I should hurt my baby girl. I didn’t understand why, but they came to me repeatedly for the first couple of years of her life, sometimes more strongly than others. I had nightmares about it. But I didn’t ever come close to acting on it, and eventually I learned that it was connected to the two miscarriages I’d had before I was able to carry her to term, and that when the visions were at their strongest, I was in the building where one of the miscarriages had started.

      Not unlike me (both my visions and my thoughts), many hear voices telling them they should do something to themselves or others. However, instead of suggesting they should automatically be feared, perhaps we’d do better to understand how these experiences are often just another variance of the thoughts I mentioned earlier. Instead of perpetuating such a negative response, perhaps we should suggest that people ask questions like, “Do you feel you need to do what that voice is telling you to do?”

      There’s so much between hearing voices and fearing them, and you seem to have lost that sense. Unfortunately, it’s the people who lose that sense who often do the most harm.

      -Sera

      • Sera,

        Thank you so much for this response. Speaking of resisting acting on negative thoughts, when I saw that post by Margie, I wanted to flame her big time even though I knew it would be removed. I have felt extremely angry and frustrated in feeling that none of her remarks on this site or others are supportive of our cause.

        But I waited and hoped that someone with more sense than me would respond and you came through. Thanks again.

        • Sure thing, AA. Glad to respond. I am having a hard time with Margie’s responses, as well, given the content on her Facebook page and that it’s hard for me to see her responses here as not designed to specifically be unsupportive and upsetting… But I guess it’s her right to post here just as much as anyone else.

          -Sera

          • Sera
            I agree with your assessment of Margie’s post.

            Having thoughts/hearing voices is not equivalent to taking action and should not be treated as such. That a person working in the mental health field appears to have no appreciation of the difference is really quite scary.

            Too often people are locked up and drugged after being honest and courageous enough to disclose and trying to work through what’s happening for them with a mental health “professional” who does not understand this and acts from a position of fear, prejudice, and ignorance.

            I no longer read Margie’s posts as they upset me, but this was a one-liner that slipped under the radar.

          • I disagree with Margaret but do not question her motivation. I assume that Margaret advocates for the “mental health” of prisoners and those they have harmed; I believe that her perspective is important. Advocating for good people who have committed horrible acts often leads to supporting a mythical concept of “mental illness” and all of the harmful repercussions (including the “catch 22” of “anosognosia”). Similarly, losing a loved one or friend from suicide after ignoring “warning signs” often lends support to mythical “mental illness” and harmful repercussions. Margaret’s experiences seem to be focusing on a “minority report” based on an inconvenient truth; some people do act on their voices and cause great harm to the community. This does not negate a “majority report” about how harmful it is to deny people their civil rights based on innocent thoughts. As correctly stated, the vast majority of people who hear voices directing harm have no intention of acting on the voices. Voices are a natural, meaningful reaction to distressful experiences; it is the common misconception about voices being a sign of “non compos mentis” that harms emotionally distressed people.

            Best wishes, Steve

    • It is a very general thing to say, “when the voices are commanding you to harm yourself or someone else there is reason to be fearful.”

      And I think there is truth to this in most cases: Murderous voices are often scary, being often driven by strong emotions or memories of rage and fear which control the semi-autonomous self-image fragments that generate the voices (in my theory). I’ve briefly had these voices during periods of overwhelming stress – voices telling me I deserved to die or that I should kill others.

      I was never close to acting on these voices, but it’s still scary.

      Although, I’m not exactly sure how this phrase from Margaret relates to the article more than superficially. It could be interpreted as rejecting the notion in the video that the voices can be helpful or good. Or it could just be.

      Sera, I think you interpreted this in light of the somewhat limited knowledge of Margaret you hold from earlier conversations; but you can’t be sure what she meant by it unless she explains more.

      I also think the notion, When one has harm-advocating voices there is reason to be fearful, is a bit narrow and general. If one has much experience with such voices and is feeling stronger, one could begin to be curious about why they occur, and to explore that. Fear is not the only response to such phenomena.

      • Bpd,

        I suppose you’re right that I can’t be *sure*, but actually my opinion of her is based largely on her Facebook page… which is *full* of stuff about ‘anosognosia,’ E. Fuller Torrey’s messages, the Murphy Bill, Involuntary Outpatient Commitment, her perceived limitations of respites as an alternative to hospitalization, and so on…

        So, while I can’t be sure… I feel kinda confident that I’m not too far off the mark.

        Sure, people can and often are afraid when they experience those types of voices… But even if she meant what you suggest, I still wouldn’t go as far as to say *should* be afraid. Often and for so many people, these sorts of voices have *meaning* and many people who come to see them as such and look for and understand their meaning don’t necessarily need to fear them forever…

        -Sera

        -Sera

      • I also believe that the phrase was posted to be creepy and plant seeds of doubt.

        BPD Ms. Altman’s off-site hostility to MIA is a matter of record. She has never forgiven MIA people for exposing her affinity for coercive psychiatric procedures and has gone from writing an MIA article opposing the Murphy Bill to being a staunch supporter. She has also taken to joining the reactionary side of any debate. It feels like spite. While she may not be telepathic Sera’s observations do have a basis in reality.

        I hope this doesn’t end up diverting the whole thread because the more I think about it I do believe that was the intent of the “fear the voices” post.

    • I have to disagree with you also, Margaret. Like most abuse victims, my “voices” were those of the “abusers,” people who’d abused my children, then had me gas lighted by the psych “professionals.”

      The incessant voices bragged about murdering their own first born, said everyone should kill children. Talked about child abuse incessantly. They tried to come up with elaborate schemes to get me to kill myself, one after the other, when that didn’t work, they schemed to get the pastor character in my head murdered. It was all just stupid, incessant voices trying to get me, or anyone murdered. It was inane, and obnoxious, but not remotely “fearful.”

      And my doctor had insisted the voices weren’t real, so I figured, fine ignore them. Sometimes the most disgusting voice was sort of funny though, in just how grotesquely ridiculous his remarks were, so I’d accidentally laugh. And tell him he was stupid. Then he’d laugh, and agree.

      Stupid, psychotomimetic “voices” are very annoying, but nothing to be afraid of, Margaret.

    • Hi,

      I hope my contribution isn’t off track:

      Hearing Voices: I went to MIND, Willesden, London for ‘counselling’ (in the late 1980s) and the organiser said they didn’t usually offer counselling to ‘diagnosed’ people. He said for example if I was to hear a voice telling me to kill myself how would counselling help. I told him that I had never heard a voice in my life. Later on I got a call from the organiser who told me that he had arranged sessions for me. The counsellor was a young guy who was very good.

      What worked for me ultimately was a ‘CBT’ /Buddhism Type Approach – I had been disregulated as a result of neuroleptic exposure (and withdrawal), and I needed to straighten out.

      Strangely enough I had been told in the early 1980s by a psychologist that all ‘diagnosed people’ could make full recovery through a psychology method similar to what worked for me!

      (My normal social thinking ‘inside my head’ had been translated as voices ‘outside my head’ in hospital. But the ‘dysregulation’ itself was enough to cope with)

  2. I was interviewed for about 45 minutes by Mr. Moynihan one afternoon. I was struck by what I would call his even-handedness in the way that he deals with issues. He’s a very intelligent and likeable young man who I believe has our movement’s best interests at heart. I suspect that this film will help move things forward for us.