Published in: Psychology Today, January 1, 2007, by William Lee Adams
Despite their association with mental illness, auditory hallucinations don’t always torment those who hear them. In fact, only one out of every three so-called “voice hearers” requires psychiatric help. The other two don’t experience difficulties and may even consider their voices supportive or inspiring.
“My voices know me better than anyone else, and they also protect and comfort me,” says Jacqui Dillon, head of a London support group for voice hearers. She and other group members report that voices can alert them to oncoming cars and suspicious passersby, provide encouragement during stressful times, and offer reminders to pick things up at the grocery store.
Whether they threaten or soothe, auditory hallucinations usually begin after trauma: Seventy percent of people who hear voices first detect them following physical or sexual abuse, an accident, or the loss of a loved one. “The emotion they feel about their trauma complicates how they interpret the voices,” says Sara Tai, a psychologist at the University of Manchester in England who studies why some hallucinators thrive while others end up in psychiatric care. Typically, the greater the trauma, the more likely voices will sound threatening.