Thu Aug 27, 2009 7:49am.
New support groups are offering help for people who suffer from auditory hallucinations . Hearing Voices network launched in Victoria (AM) Mental health researchers estimate that about 4 per cent of people experience auditory hallucinations, where they hear voices. In Australia, the problem has typically been treated with medication. But a network of self-help groups that has been successful overseas is now gradually being rolled out around the country.
Janet Karagounis started hearing the voices of her imaginary friends when she was 8, but by her late 20s the voices were more sinister and she ended up in a psychiatric unit. “Basically I had aliens, I had government conspiracies, every couple of years I basically was put in a psychiatric unit and I was first diagnosed chronic schizophrenic,” she said. “That wrote me off so to speak. I had no hope, no future, no chance of working. And yeah, now my life is glowing.” Ms Karagounis credits a Hearing Voices group for turning her life around and she’s now a group facilitator. “When I discovered that actual past events in your life and trauma are associated with hearing voices, once I made that connection, everything started to become clearer,” she said.
“You discovered whether your voices were male or female. They asked you questions about your voices. They made you feel like a person. And the other people, every time someone would come, you would see people nodding and that acknowledgement gave you power and gave you power over your voices.”
Hearing Voices groups are being set up in Western Australia and New South Wales and a Tasmanian network has just received funding. The Voices Vic network is being rolled out in Melbourne and the regions by community service organisation the Prahran Mission. It is working with mental health services, community groups, voice hearers and carers and is being funded mainly by philanthropic trusts. Indigo Daya is the project manager. She says that although the latest research suggests about 4 per cent of people hear voices, less than a quarter of them are actually diagnosed with schizophrenia. But hearing voices can still be a distressing experience and that’s what the groups help people handle. “We are not interested in getting rid of people’s voices, which is a key difference for us,” she said. “Our approach is to say that hearing voices can be a very normal human experience. What is not so great is the distress that can be associated with it. So we are interested in working with the distress. “What we do is teach people to listen, but listen selectively. To recognise that they have just as much power as the voices, and in fact more. And to set boundaries.