There’s a t-shirt–you may have seen it– that says, “I do whatever the voices in my head tell me to do.” My guess is that the person who decided that particular expression should be screen printed on cotton had never experienced auditory hallucinations, just as the person who came up with the “Kiss me, I’m Irish” t-shirt was probably Latvian.
We quip about hearing voices because we don’t think it’s normal. You’ll never see a t-shirt that says, “I respond when asked a question,” or “I sleep laying down.” If we’ve never heard voices, though, then who are we to deem it (and damn it) as abnormal?
In my last mental health post, I wrote about empowering the mental health consumer by engaging them and their families more meaningfully in decisions around their treatment protocol. When working with those who deal with psychosis, however, if we pathologize the experience of hearing voices, we’ve instantly set boundaries on the discussion–and attached a certain stigma–as we dive into contemplation of ways to eradicate the voices.
A different philosophy bears consideration. Started 26 years ago as the Hearing Voices Movement and now operating as INTERVOICE, it holds that voice hearers can develop their own personal narrative around the experience, including tools for accepting and coping with the voices. Instead of labeling voice hearing as abnormal, it applies recognition of voices as meaningful and related to the hearers’ lives, possibly even linked to unresolved trauma or a difficult event. Thus, an environment is created where voice hearers are encouraged to talk about their experiences without shame and stigma.
The approach is supportive and respectful. The result is empowerment.
While many voice hearers are leading the way in changing perceptions around voice hearing (take the wonderful Eleanor Longden, for example), I’m also thinking about this with a more all-encompassing mental health shift in mind. Movement toward more meaningful mental health care, for any symptoms and illnesses, require that we approach with an open mind and suspension of some of our usual labels for what’s normal and what’s not. Stay human-focused. Try new things. Engage in deep dialogue with mental health consumers to come up with new policies. And then, one happy day, the t-shirt designers will have to respond to a savvy market and retire some of their classics.
What do you think about this philosophy? And are there any risks or other considerations that I’ve missed?