Hearing Voices Research & Development Fund
The Hearing Voices Research and Development Fund has been established to advance the development of the Hearing Voices Approach in the U.S. The Project was created by Gail A. Hornstein, Professor of Psychology at Mount Holyoke College, and Jacqui Dillon, National Chair of the Hearing Voices Network in England, who have been working together for 10 years to bring new approaches to understanding and coping with voice hearing.
People who hear voices, see visions, or experience other extreme states often end up being diagnosed as psychotic (usually with schizophrenia) and a poor prognosis. The medications which have routinely been prescribed for such patients since the 1950s are effective for some but not for others, and even when they do work, their benefits typically diminish over time, while destructive physical and psychological side effects become increasingly problematic. Hearing voices in particular remains a challenge for many, many patients even after they have been tried on every possible medication over many years, and continues to be seen by many psychiatrists as a “treatment-resistant” symptom.
Hearing Voices Approach
For the past 25 years, the Hearing Voices Network – an international collaboration of professionals, people with lived experience, and their families and friends – has been working to develop an alternative approach to coping with voices, visions, and other extreme states that is empowering and useful and does not start from the assumption that people who have these experiences suffer from a chronic illness. A large body of research data, published in major professional journals, now provides support for key aspects of this approach (see references below), and the hundreds of peer-support groups that have developed in 20 countries around the world are enabling voice hearers – even those who have been chronically disabled – to learn to cope more effectively or rid themselves of the negative effects of their voices. These groups are now starting to spread across the US, but the lack of a systematic program for training potential facilitators and others interested in incorporating HVN’s work into their research or teaching is holding the United States back from being able to offer this effective, community-based psychosocial alternative to the current risky practice of large-dose, long-term treatment with (usually multiple) medications.
Hearing voices peer-support groups offer a safe place for people to share their experiences of voices, visions, tactile sensations and other unusual experiences and perceptions. People meet together to help and support each other, to exchange information, and to learn from one another’s coping strategies. Groups also offer an opportunity for people to accept and “live with voices” in a way that enables them to regain some control over their lives.
The situation in the US stands in striking contrast to that of other countries. For example, England (a country with a population of 60 million) has 180 hearing voices groups, and Denmark (a country of 5 million) has several dozen, whereas the US, with its population of over 300 million, currently has only about 15. The fund will support the development of HVN groups across the US by providing a systematic program of training that will create a network of hearing voices peer-support groups in key centers in each region of the country. Participants will be selected using a rigorous model in which mental health professionals and voice hearers collaborate in an intensive shared learning experience that equips them to apply HVN’s concepts and methods to the creation of positive alternatives for people diagnosed with psychosis.
Hearing Voices Research
The fund will also support a research study to provide the kinds of basic phenomenological descriptions of the voice hearing experience that have become increasingly essential to other research in this area.
Even though more and more researchers have become interested in investigating the complexities of voice hearing in and of itself (as opposed to treating it simply as one of a number of so-called “positive symptoms” of schizophrenia), the lack of a clear identification of the defining characteristics and significance of the experience for voice hearers makes it difficult to compare results across different studies. In addition, as colleagues from HVN have highlighted in their work (see references below), there is no evidence for the standard assumption that patients who hallucinate cannot articulate the triggers, contextual variability, or meaning of their experiences. The few phenomenological studies that have been conducted thus far demonstrate clearly that understanding the subjective experience of voice hearers themselves is essential to the ultimate effectiveness of any intervention designed to help them.
The Foundation for Excellence in Mental Health Care
We are a group of scientists, psychiatrists, researchers, public policy analysts, users and providers of mental health services, philanthropists, and community members that formed The Foundation for Excellence in Mental Health Care to find and promote the best ways to achieve long-term recovery and help people with mental health challenges to thrive.
The Foundation was established in response to nationwide interest in Robert Whitaker’s book, Anatomy of an Epidemic, and the desire to examine existing research, create support for new innovative research and programs, and sponsor symposia to build a new paradigm of care that focuses on long-term recovery and wellness.
Strong evidence demonstrates that our 25-year long over-reliance on a purely medical model has not advanced mental health recovery. The number of individuals diagnosed with “chronic mental illness”, disabling enough to place them on the Social Security roles has tripled since 1987.
The Foundation has established a Scientific Advisory Committee and Community Advisory Committee to guide our activities of mental health reform.
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Dillon, J. (2006, November). Collective voices. Open Mind.
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