The Hearing Voices App

Between 4 and 15% of the population are estimated to hear voices – despite this, in many Western countries, hearing voices is a highly stigmatised experience.1 People who hear voices are often considered psychotic and treated with fear and suspicion. Ando et al2 suggested that hearing distressing voices is one of the most stigmatised experiences in psychiatry.

A number of studies have shown that qualified and student health professionals are influenced by commonly held stereotypes about hearing voices. For example, Llerena et al3 found that in a sample of medical and nursing students, 78% thought people with a diagnosis of schizophrenia were likely to be violent or dangerous, and 50% thought people with that diagnosis would not recover or live a ‘normal’ life.

I have been part of a project team, based at the University of Chester, developing the Hearing Voices App, which is aimed at health and social care professionals to enhance their understanding of the experience of hearing voices. The App may also be of interest and help to people who hear voices and their family members, friends and colleagues. The App can be downloaded for free from itunes and Googleplay. An introductory video about the App is available here.

The Hearing Voices App project team consisted of people with lived experience of voice hearing, academics, and health professionals from various backgrounds – nursing, clinical psychology and public health. A unique feature of the App derives from the collaborative approach taken which ensured that it is not predominated by the medical model but rather represents the wider spectrum of understanding, interpretations and approaches to managing hearing voices.

Podcasts of people who hear voices are incorporated into the text of the App, allowing a number of stories to be heard. Simulation of hearing voices is a central feature of the App – this aims to provide a deeper insight into the experience and to promote empathy and understanding. When using the simulation feature, users of the App can engage in a number of social and cognitive tasks while listening to recordings created by people who hear voices. This approach builds on previous research suggesting that simulation of hearing voices can develop understanding and empathy4 and that simulations must be sufficiently realistic to enable people to suspend disbelief.5

The Hearing Voices App was launched in April 2015 and is free to download. Evaluation of the App is still in its preliminary stages, but anecdotal evidence suggests that it has, and will continue to be, widely used by educators and clinicians regionally and beyond. A pilot study of the App involved student nurses who provided feedback in a focus group. This offered early indications as to the App’s efficacy – students appeared to have an enhanced understanding of hearing voices, and they expressed the view that using the App would positively impact upon their communication and attitude.

As the evaluation is still underway, it is too early to come to firm conclusions. However, the initial results suggest that the App can enhance learners understanding and attitudes towards hearing voices. Another, somewhat unexpected, finding is the breadth of the appeal of the App, as early indications suggest that it has proved beneficial in enhancing the understanding of hearing voices for relatives of people who hear voices as well as a wide range of professionals (e.g. police, service industry) beyond the health and social care arena.

I believe the App can be of value to people who hear voices, family members and friends of voices hearers, along anyone who works with people who hear voices. Please share the links to the App to help spread understanding about hearing voices!

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References:

  1. Longden E, Madill A, Waterman ME. Dissociation, trauma and the role of lived experience: toward a new conceptualisation of hearing voices. Psychol Bull. 2012 Jan; 138 (1):28-76
  2. Ando S, Clement S, Barley E, Thornicroft G. The simulation of hallucinations to reduce the stigma of schizophrenia: A systematic review. Schizophr Res.2011; 133:8-16
  3. Llerena A, Cáceres M, Peñas-lledó EM. Schizophrenia stigma among medical and nursing undergraduates. Eur Psychiatry. 2002 Sept; 17(5):298-299.
  4. Chaffin A. Creating empathy through use of a hearing voices simulation. Clinical Simulation in Nursing. 2013; 9:e293-e304
  5. McNaughton R, Ravitz P, Wadell A, Hodges B. Psychiatric education and simulation: a review of the literature. Can J Psychiatry. 2008 Feb; 53(2):85-93

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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.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. Looks cool, thanks for working on this. I’d personally appreciate if the medical community would also learn that today’s psychiatric industry’s “bipolar” drug cocktail recommendations can cause “voices,” via anticholinergic intoxication syndrome, aka anticholinergic toxidrome.

    In early 2002, I had the incessant and evil “voices” of the people who’d abused my children, materialize in my head. And these “voices” were created via anticholinergic intoxication syndrome (combining the antidepressants and antipsychotics, et al). Thankfully, these Satanic voices went away, once I was weaned from the drugs.

    I was left with a couple of drug withdrawal induced super sensitivity manic “psychoses,” which, for me, were awakenings to my dreams, or parts of my subconscious thoughts. Which was fine with me, it was some weird religious born again story, and the supposed calling of judgement day by Jesus, then God. And I was also left with a semi-lucid dreaming issue. A ‘God is with me,’ and I am ‘of the bride’ theology, which is what Christians are to strive for anyway, so it’s not problematic for me personally. Some so called “voices” / dream recollections are beneficial.

    But, for those doctors drugging people up for belief in the “Holy Spirit,” “God,” and belief in Jesus, in other words via “the dirty little secret,” I do worry for their souls. Since I do know such illegal behavior is part of “the dirty little secret of the two original educated professions.” And I highly doubt any of the doctors are actually God.

    And their “dirty little secret” way of covering up child abuse for the religions, and easily recognized iatrogenesis for the incompetent doctors, will land them in the “lowest depths of hell” as the hypocrites, that Dante warned people of long ago, if they do not repent, and use their malpractice insurance for what it was intended, IMO. And IMO does come from one who, according to 40 hours of unbiased psychological career testing, should be a “judge.”

    Drug induced “voices” of child abusers are appalling. Belief in a so called “voice” / dream query regarding the Holy Spirit, belief in God, and Jesus’ theology, and the progression of such theology, is not, too terribly problematic to Christians.

    Other than I’m living in a world with a bunch of well insured, but insanely delusional doctors, who are harming patients for profit, based upon known invalid DSM disorders, which is actually unacceptable human behavior. All people should have known torturing and killing people based upon made up, and scientifically invalid, “mental illnesses’ was unacceptable human behavior, since WWII.

    I hope the doctors wake up, millions on the internet already have. I hope you will also help to awaken the doctors to the impropriety of their recent behavior. They are not gods, and they will be judged by God. And repentance is required, since they only garnered undeserved respect because they had malpractice insurance.

    At least this is the opinion of one who believes she is “moved by the Holy Spirit” to try to save as many as possible, including the doctors.

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    • I worry how this “app” separates people into two different groups, and gives doctors an excuse to drug people to “help” them (the different ones), when the legal drugs cause the (serious) brain malfunction . Selling drugs and more drugs.

      Don’t stop the drugs right?
      Antipsychotic drug reduces the size of a brain region that controls movement and coordination
      “Within a day, volunteers’ brains returned to almost their original size as the effects of the single haloperidol dose subsided. Meyer-Lindenberg says this result should alleviate fears that the drug destroys brain cells. “We know it’s not killing neurons because the brain rebounds,” he says.
      http://www.nature.com/news/2010/100606/full/news.2010.281.html

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      • “To counteract those fears, he notes that the brain changes caused by the drug seem to be reversible and that the dose used in the study was a little higher than that usually given to patients who had not taken the drug before.”

        After one dose, maybe. But after years of being forced to take neuroleptics, even the “atypicals,” one is left with tardive dyskinesia (uncontrolled movements) that are known to last a lifetime.

        Plus, forcing anyone to take psychiatric drugs is “torture,” according to the UN, so should be illegal.

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