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The Personal is Political

Telling Stories Book CoverTelling Stories? explores the contemporary state of affairs in the understanding and treatment of psychosis. An inclusive approach to mental distress requires that in order to truly understand psychosis we must begin by listening to those who know this from the inside out; the voices and narrative of those who have been condemned as “unanalysable” and mad.

Far from being fantastical, the complex stories that are being articulated communicate painful truths and the myriad ways in which the human psyche survives overwhelming trauma. This book is the culmination of an integrated and creative alliance between those on the cutting edge, experientially, in research, diagnosis, and treatment; this multidisciplinary dialogue proposes a new relational and attachment orientated paradigm for the 21st century. In contrast to the containment model that is currently favoured, this advocates listening and talking therapies, and the healing power of a loving relationship, offering those with psychosis the possibility of more nourishing engagement with the world.

Recovery From ‘Psychosis’

In making sense of what has been deemed as ‘psychosis’ it is essential that we see so called symptoms as profoundly meaningful attempts to survive overwhelming and distressing life experiences.  There is inherent meaning in madness which is inextricably bound up in unresolved, traumatic experiences. These meanings may be communicated in a number of highly symbolic, metaphorical and literal ways and need to be untangled, teased out and examined within the context of the person’s life history. Each voice is an echo of the person’s experience so an attitude of curiosity, understanding and compassion towards all voices is the best stance as it will encourage and support internal communication and ultimately, self acceptance.

This work demands seeing the world and human experience in new ways including an understanding that reality is shaped by experience. This, combined with a willingness to view life through the lens of the person’s subjective experience enables the co-creation of a shared meaning to emerge, deepening mutual understanding and leading to increasing acceptance of self and other.  To support and nurture healing from ‘psychosis’, faith in the possibility of recovery is vital.

Living With Voices: An Anthology of 50 Voice Hearers Stories of Recovery

Living With Voices Book CoverA new analysis of the hearing voices experience outside the illness model resulted in accepting and making sense of voices. This study of 50 stories forms the evidence for this successful new approach to working with voice hearers.

At the heart of this book are the stories of fifty people who have recovered from the distress of hearing voices. They have overcome the disabling social and psychiatric attitudes towards voice hearing and have also fought with themselves to accept and make sense of the voices. They have changed their relationship with their voices in order to reclaim their lives.

All the people in this book describe their recovery; how they now accept their voices as personal, and how they have learnt to cope with them and have changed their relationship with them. They have discovered that their voices are not a sign of madness but a reaction to problems in their lives that they couldn’t cope with, and they have found that there is a relationship between the voices and their life history, that the voices talk about problems that they haven’t dealt with – and that they therefore make sense.

Survival Techniques

Being proud of my experiences and being able to share them with others, challenges the stigma of having what are considered to be mental health problems, and means becoming a part of a collective voice to improve mental health services for all. This is both empowering and liberating, in itself.

Reclaiming Experience

Many of us who have received psychiatric treatment have found that it’s ‘blame the individual and blame the brain’ emphasis, has limited the way we can think about ourselves and our potentials. We are expected to be the silent recipients of treatment for disorders, and often, medication is the only option.  No-one asks, what do you think would help? – Our own expertise and wisdom about our lives is denied or ignored. Like naughty children we are told what to do, and then given contradictory opinions – that the only way to get better is to take medication, but that actually, we wilI never really get better anyway.

The bad brain emphasis in contemporary mental health ideology is that distress and confusion are best explained as unhealthy conditions, products of brain and cognitive faults. For example, personality disorder diagnosis implies that the chaos we can experience is due to a character fault and schizophrenia is presented as a terrible disease that we are passive victims of. We have progressed from blaming the behaviour of the child who is bullied and withdraws to blaming his brain and mind. Our attempts to find meaningful ways to live in an often distressing and confusing world, are not understood as creative, human responses to be valued and shared. Instead, the individual is pathologised, labelled and medicated.

Collective Voices

The Hearing Voices Movement was founded more than 20 years ago, following the ground-breaking research of Professor Marius Romme and Dr Sandra Escher who have advocated for a radical shift in the way we understand the phenomenon of Hearing Voices.  Rather than taking the traditional approach favored by biological psychiatry, which views voices as a product of brain and cognitive faults, their research has firmly established that voices make sense when looking at the traumatic circumstances in life that provoked them. As the improvement in people who are encouraged to talk about their voices becomes apparent, an increasing number of voice hearers and mental health professionals are beginning to see that the key to making sense of these experiences lies in understanding the content of voices. Voices are meaningful and for some, an experience to be celebrated.