Four Decades of Allying to Make Safe Spaces for All Voices: The Hearing Voices Network

Kermit Cole
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In 1987 Patsy Hage said to her psychiatrist, Marius Romme, “You believe in a God we never see or hear, so why shouldn’t you believe in the voices I really do hear?” This was a reasonable question, Marius realized, and they—along with Sandra Escher—started what became the Hearing Voices Movement. Today the Hearing Voices Network (HVN) is creating safe spaces for people and their voices—and other experiences perceived as “anomalous”—in 35 countries, expanding the frontiers of meaningful human experience around the world. In recent years the network has begun to support people who wish to ally with their families and social networks to redefine the crises they face together. This “Dialogue in a Time of Crisis” Town Hall will explore how the Hearing Voices Movement, like Open Dialogue, has been building the resources the world needs at this pivotal moment of in our collective history.

Our “Dialogue in a Time of Crisis” meetings have been a way to gather the experience of so many who have searched for the best ways to respond to people in times of crisis. Our choice has been to create a safe space for dialogue, rather than to try to fill the time with as much information as possible, or to arrive at a definitive “answer.” Panelists have been encouraged to leave space between each other, to allow thoughts to develop, and to allow the participants in the chat room to interact with each other and reflect on the discussion as it evolved.

We believe that the choice to have as unhurried and unstructured a dialogue as possible has paid off in the vibrancy of the conversation in the participants’ “chat room,” which has proven to be an equal—if not more important—part of the dialogue. People from around the world have been greeting and meeting each other, as well as providing reflections and questions for the panel to ponder. The most consistent comment so far has been appreciation for the respectful space the panelists give each other. Some have found it reassuring to witness how being “dialogical” can be helpful even in times of crisis, when the desire for certainty and ready answers can seem so alluring—yet lead to so much trouble.

The Hearing Voices Movement is as fully informed by this ethos as Open Dialogue and other “dialogical” practices. It has been building from its grass-roots beginnings in living rooms and church basements since the mid-1980’s, when Open Dialogue started as the municipal mental health system response of Tornio, Finland. The two have been growing toward each other in many ways, with the addition of peer advocates to network meetings, and Peer-Supported Open Dialogue, to HVN’s work supporting people to bring families into the HVN perspective on Voices and other “non-mainstream” experiences.

Please come join us for our discussion on June 5 with Caroline Mazel-Carlton, Cindy Marty Hadge, Ronda Speight, Rufus May, Paul Baker, and Chackupurackal Mathai. We will explore the history of HVN’s work to make its unique support available online, and how that experience has developed further in the age of Covid. Registration is available here.

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Kermit Cole
Kermit Cole, MFT, founding editor of Mad in America, works in Santa Fe, New Mexico as a couples and family therapist. Inspired by Open Dialogue, he works as part of a team and consults with couples and families that have members identified as patients. His work in residential treatment — largely with severely traumatized and/or "psychotic" clients — led to an appreciation of the power and beauty of systemic philosophy and practice, as the alternative to the prevailing focus on individual pathology. A former film-maker, he has undergraduate and master's degrees in psychology from Harvard University, as well as an MFT degree from the Council for Relationships in Philadelphia. He is a doctoral candidate with the Taos Institute and the Free University of Brussels. You can reach him at [email protected]

5 COMMENTS

  1. I was talking to a friend last night about this movement. Her cousin/friend hears voices. The drugs bring some relief but wear off. She frequently quits them and those around her blame the return of her voices on “non compliance.” As someone who fully “complied” religiously from 1992-2016 I know why she goes off the drugs (they make life miserable) and they really don’t stop the voices long term for most.

    I went to Day Treatment. A lot of the “rebel” types would stop drugs cold turkey–frequently drink or use street drugs and act weird so they’d get locked up again. But there were many others who swore by their “meds” yet found no long term relief. “Despite” faithful obedience of swallowing the vile stuff they’d hear the same voices after a month or two. The smart ones learned not to complain. Doctors didn’t like it and would just lock you up again and put you on more drugs that made you feel worse.

    Woe to you if the Sacred Neuroleptics did not quell the voices or amplified them. Telling this to anyone in “mental health” was blasphemy. It was either dismissed as an unfortunate fluke–your fault for being “resistant” or you were accused of lying to get out of taking these life saving pills that “never had that affect on anyone.” They also claimed Haldol doesn’t cause seizures and Risperdol doesn’t cause weight gain. Grrr.

    Posting this article on FB where my friend and her cousin can read it. Thanks for writing it Kermit!

    • So frustrating and very sad for people when they are so dismissed. It makes me angry.
      One would think that “being right” would not be that important to the powerful ones,
      yet, for some inexplicable reason, it is.
      I have not been able to wrap my head around this phenomena, except that it has something
      to do with the upbringing. Perhaps they were taught that others were beneath them, or perhaps
      they actually felt beneath others.
      I know there is something psychological going on, but not as if mere lay people can point out LOL.

  2. I missed the town hall of june 5th. Time is something that seems to have become less of a priority for me in some ways, so I missed the meeting I was so looking forward to.
    Each time, I enter with a curiosity but also a community.

    I am glad it is made available on video, which I just now watched and of course the beauty is that I can pause it for a moment here and there. A bit like silencing voices I guess. Put them on hold, to be heard later. Or to be interpreted after the professionals ponder, give them a moment to come up with explanations.
    Life does not work like that, we can walk away, but the voices are still there. They are not wanting to be interpreted by others.

    I so very much appreciated this town hall, wish I could thank everyone that was on the panel and behind the scenes, for expressing so eloquently such important matters.

    And thanks to MIA, for making this a “free” space.

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