Study Finds Hearing Voices Groups Improve Social and Emotional Wellbeing

Hearing Voices Network self-help groups are an important resource for coping with voice hearing


A new study, published in the Community Mental Health Journal, explores the impact of attending English Hearing Voices Network self-help groups on social, emotional, and clinical well-being. The results of the survey suggest that attending voice hearing groups provides a venue for meeting other voice hearers, support that voice hearers do not receive from other services, and a safe and confidential space where voice hearers can talk about difficult experiences. The researchers, led by Eleanor Longden from the Institute of Psychology, Health, and Society at the University of Liverpool in the UK, write:

“It is intuitive that providing a safe, communal forum in which individuals assemble to share coping strategies, validate one another’s stories, and exchange wisdom and insights, can reduce shame and isolation and expedite a greater sense of acceptance for an experience that is both distressing and highly stigmatized.”

Seven young voice hearers, aged 14-19, collaborated with artist Hannah Hull to create a significant body of artwork that comments on the theme ‘THIS IS A VOICE’. (Photo Credit: Wellcome Collection)

According to the researchers, “The English Hearing Voices Network (HVN) is a psychiatric service-user/survivor led organisation that promotes the needs and perspectives of individuals who experience voice hearing.” The English HVN was established in 1988 and based on work by Marius Romme and Sandra Escher. It is part of a global Hearing Voice Movement that, the authors report, “identifies itself as a reformative social movement that privileges narrative and lived experience as a primary evidence source.”

Self-help groups, or ‘hearing voices groups,’ are an important part of the HVN. The groups are user-led as members are considered experts by experience. Also, the goal of hearing voices groups is not to stop voice-hearing, but to understand and make meaning of the experience. These spaces are important as stigma around voice hearing can increase distress in voice hearers.

Despite the increasing prevalence of HVN self-help groups, there has yet to be a systematic evaluation of these groups. Therefore, the researchers sought “to provide the first quantitative survey of HVN self-help groups in order to assess members’ perceptions of their impact and effectiveness.”

The researchers designed the Hearing Voices Group Survey self-report questionnaire to be used in this study. The survey collected information on participants’ experiences in the group, impact of group membership on participants’ lives, and the effect of the group on participants’ emotional well-being. The researchers recruited from 62 community-based English HVN groups and received survey responses from 101 individuals. The majority of respondents were White British (82%), had received a ‘psychotic disorder’ diagnosis (89%), and were receiving mental health services (95%).

“In addition to coping with voice hearing itself, groups were also credited with helping to improve a variety of social, emotional, and clinical outcomes as well as providing a safe communal space in which to share experiences and meet others who have endured similar difficulties.”

Respondents most highly scored the statements: “(1) that it is useful to meet other voice hearers in the group; (2) that groups provide support around voice hearing that is unavailable elsewhere; and (3) that groups feel like a safe and confidential place to discuss difficult things.” Just over a third of respondents (35%) stated that the group was distressing at times. However, this did not seem to impact the positive gains they attributed to the group. Medication use was not found to be affected by group participation.

The researchers found associations between statements about the group experience and life experiences outside the group: “The group feels like a safe and confidential place to talk about difficult things” was associated with feeling more confident in asking for help, “The group has given me helpful information about making sense of my voice hearing experiences” was associated with more confidence during social situations, and “The group has helped me to cope with my voices” was associated feeling more hopeful.

The authors emphasize that, while more research is needed on HVN approaches, it is important that this research avoids “clinicalization” of voice hearer experiences “by emphasizing outcomes that voice hearers themselves value and identify as relevant” and aiming to understand “the broader socio-political issues of identity, citizenship, wellbeing, and empowerment.”

The researchers also call for more collaboration between HVN and healthcare workers. They suggest that this would improve referrals from mental health services to HVN groups, as well as improve professional’s knowledge and confidence in working with voice hearers.



Longden, E., Read, J., & Dillon, J. (2017). Assessing the impact and effectiveness of Hearing Voices Network self-help groups. Community Mental Health Journal, 1-5. Advance online publication. doi:10.1007/s10597-017-0148-1 (LINK)


  1. Since today’s “mental healthcare workers” believe the “voices” that voice hearers hear are “irrelevant to reality.” And this is, from my experience and I understand the experience of many other voice hearers, completely untrue. I’m sure the HVM would be infinitely more valuable to voice hearers than just being told “the voices are not real.”

    Absolutely, there is a need to “improve professionals’ knowledge and confidence in working with voice hearers.” I’ve never met dumber, more unhelpful, and unethical people in my entire life than the psych “professionals” with whom I dealt. Especially since my “voices” were actually caused by the psychotropic drugs, via anticholinergic toxidrome poisoning. And almost all “mental healthcare workers” are under the delusion that it’s 100% impossible that the antidepressants and/or antipsychotics can create “psychosis”/”voices.” It’s quite possible for the psych drugs to cause “psychosis,” apparently about 10% of children put on the antidepressants become “psychotic,” I’m quite certain via antidepressant induced anticholinergic toxidrome.

    Definitely, there is a need to properly educate the “professionals,” anticholinergic toxidrome should be included in their DSM, or really the DSM should be flushed down the toilet as one rouge psychiatrist suggested to me. I will add the “mental health professionals” desperately need to also be trained in how to treat other people in a mutually respectful manner. And they need to also be trained in how to actually listen to, and comprehend, what other human beings say to them.

    I do hope Hearing Voices groups gain credibility. I will say understanding how to control the voices is very helpful. In my case, I knew to ignore, and make fun of, the psychotomimetic “voices.” And when I was dealing with a drug withdrawal induced super sensitivity manic psychosis, where for a day I did hear “millions of voices.” All I had to do was to explain to those “voices” that I could not function that way. And I told them they were only allowed to speak in the form of a “voice of reason” or when speaking the “common sense.” Problem solved.

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    • I will point out that having a voice of reason or common sense is a nice thing, as opposed to being “irrelevant to reality,” or something that should be stigmatized. The “mental health professionals” might want to consider belief in the benefits of such a “voice of reason” and/or respect for the common sense.

      You know, like giving millions of children a drug chemically identical to cocaine is morally repugnant. Claiming dreams are “psychosis,” and proof of a “lifelong incurable genetic mental illness” is insane. Turning millions of American children into “bipolar” patients with the antidepressants and ADHD drugs is appalling, and a sin in need of repentance and proper amends to those you’ve harmed. Rather than utilizing the current DSM recommended treatments for “bipolar” on these children, which will create what appears to the DSM deluded to be the negative symptoms of “schizophrenia,” via what is actually neuroleptic induced deficit syndrome. And combining the antidepressants and/or antipsychotics will also create what appears to the DSM deluded to be the positive symptoms of “schizophrenia,” via what is actually anticholinergic toxidrome.

      I hope those “professionals” who claim to “know everything about the meds,” but know nothing about the drugs they force onto others, do some day choose to join the common sense. Lots of people on the internet are “waking up,” I hope the “professionals” do too soon. Please, “professionals,” adopt common sense. Wake up. Wake up. You are not actually God. No one with moral authority gave you the right to play judge, jury, and executioner to your patients, after you garnered unjust trust from them by hypocritically promising to “first and foremost, do no harm,” and because you have malpractice insurance. You need to make proper amends to all those you’ve harmed. Because you, too, will be judged by One who knows more than I.

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  2. I am a mental health nurse and am undertaking a systematic review on the effectiveness of psychotherapies that engage Voice Hearers with their Voices as the main focus of a Higher Degree by Research . The effectiveness will be measured by changes to quality of life, levels of distress, coping ,measures of ‘ recovery’. The protocol will be published in the next four weeks and hopefully the systematic review within the next 6 -8 months. I am hoping to use the systems language/ processes to evidence what I have heard over and over from people who hear voices, that is letting people talk about their lives and those who are within it is ok and not to be ignored….

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  3. Wis,

    good luck on your endeavor. I have engaged and validated the voices in my wife and though it’s still been a long and hard healing journey, I believe doing so has made all the difference in her/our experience.

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  4. Self-help groups will always be a minority pursuit. It’s just not what most people want to get involved with, however well-meaning.

    In fact pretty much all the main proponents of self-help groups do not attend self-help groups.

    The only truly meaningful purpose of self-help groups is to propel the career of a small minority of people that promote self-help groups, but do not feel the need to use them. Which is fair enough, all told.

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