As we view what many of us perceive to be the wreckage of our political system in the USA, it’s interesting to reflect on what this means in terms of “hearing voices” and “extreme states.”
Last month I attended the Hearing Voices Congress in Paris. A common emphasis in many workshops was on the importance of actually listening to the voices in a friendly way, with an eye to getting to know the emotions and the wants and needs behind the voices, while also getting better at not being taken in by what the voices might literally be saying when that happens to be a lie or something really destructive.
I also heard talk about how it can be really scary to listen to voices, because of the fear that they will gain too much influence and might get us believing things that aren’t true and taking destructive actions. So it’s understandable that we often feel like it’s the wrong idea to listen, even though listening in the right way is key to healing.
It seems to me that the same dynamics apply to a divided nation. We need to learn to listen and respond in a caring way to the disturbed and disturbing voices within the population—to really engage with them, while also not believing any lies or distortions or letting destructive forces take over. Here in the US, unfortunately, we have done too little of this deeper kind of listening, while there has been way too much of the shallower listening to and believing in lies and destructive actions.
I do agree with those who have framed what we are going through as something like a “collective psychosis.”
So, since we are all “in psychosis” now, maybe it’s even more important to think about how to work through psychosis to some kind of “other side?”
Some of the most promising approaches involve some combination of love or compassion and dialogue. I recently had the opportunity to hear Charlie Heriot-Maitland speak about how to combine compassion-focused therapy with voice dialogue methods to best reach people troubled by disturbing voices, within an individual or group therapy context.
I have been very impressed with his approach, which seems to get right to the heart of what must happen for healing. He emphasizes first helping people center themselves in a strong and compassionate place, and then doing outreach to the most disturbing voices, in a way that overcomes polarization by exploring the concerns of extreme voices while also not letting them run the show.
If you want to learn more about this approach, you can view this recorded webinar featuring Charlie, on the science and application of the compassion for voices approach:
Charlie of course is focusing on how to help individual voice hearers, not whole nations. But I think some of the same principles apply to national healing: we need to organize first around principles like compassion, wisdom, and strength, within ourselves and our support groups, and then reach out and dialogue with extreme and even overtly destructive voices, individuals and groups. This dialogue can help us find and even ally with what is good in these voices, and reduce the current polarization, while we also hopefully get better at finding ways to resist letting bad ideas “run the show.”
This isn’t easy, on either the individual or collective level. But it does seem to be heading in the right direction, and just getting started in the right direction can sometimes be a very big thing!
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.