Conversation with ourselves- an interview with Ron Coleman NZ Herald.

The following is an excellent interview conducted by Chris Barton in today Saturday 4th Junes Weekend Herald in New Zealand. Chris interviewed Ron Coleman here in Auckland and attended one of the workshops the Hearing Voices Network held there.

You can see the article on the New Zealand Heralds website here.

Here is the article below:

“You have voices telling you to kill yourself. Do you ask them why?”
No, they don’t listen.

“If I told you to go and stand in the middle of the road, you wouldn’t do it.”
No, if you told me to I wouldn’t.

“If I asked you to do it you would want a reason, but you don’t want a reason from the voices.”
Yes I do.

“Then ask them.”

This is not one’s idea of a normal conversation, but for the participants it makes perfect, potentially life-altering sense. Ron Coleman has just begun a workshop at Western Springs Community Hall on a radical self-help technique called voice dialogue.

In a five-minute conversation with a young woman he draws out, to her considerable surprise, an outline of her situation. She hears two negative middle-aged voices – one male, the other female. The male voice is worse.

She is also dealing with drug addiction, but that’s not the cause of her voices. They began when she was 10.

She has never asked what the male voice is called.

The woman is clearly astounded by Coleman’s revelation that she can ask her voices for information. “Nobody’s suggested that to you before,” he tells her, “because we are caught in the world of voices rather than having dialogue about it.”

Coleman, diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1982, should know. He spent 10 years in and out of British psychiatric hospitals, including six as a mostly compulsorily “sectioned” in-patient. During that time he was heavily medicated with a range of antipsychotic drugs and given 40 sessions of ECT.

Today he lives happily with his wife, family and seven voices. The workshop at the Western Springs Community Hall is part of a global grassroots organisation known as the Hearing Voices Network.

“What we try to do,” he tells the Herald, “is help people live with their voices.”

Born in Dundee, Scotland, Coleman turned his life around in 1991 when the Hearing Voices Network was just getting under way in Britain. He’s since gone on to become a key figure in the network and travels the world spreading its message and governing principle: “It doesn’t matter whether we conclude our voices are coming from ourselves or whether they are the voice of God or the voice of demons. We accept the diversity of everybody’s experience,” he tells another voice hearer.

“Do you hear a lot of voices?”
I hear angels.

“Are they all positive?”
Yes but sometimes my voices worry me because I worry about whether I’m saying it or whether the angels are saying it.

“So what is the purpose of angels?”
To guide me.

“So how do you test what they are saying is from the angels themselves?”
I say, ‘Is that the angels there?’

“And they say yes?”
Yes. But sometimes I don’t hear at all. I get scared because of some of the things I hear. I get scared because I don’t know if the devil can lie to me.

Coleman points out that that the devil was an angel – “an archangel and he was tossed out of heaven”. A good test as to whether an angel was talking, he suggests, would be if it asked her to do something to harm herself or anybody else. If it did, he says, that would be inconsistent with angels.

“See, I’m not going to change your mind whether there are angels or not. The only thing I’m interested in is whether it’s good for you. That it works for you.”

The network believes that auditory hallucinations or “voice hearing” shouldn’t be seen as something pathological that needs to be stopped, but rather as something meaningful and tied to the hearer’s life story. This tends to be at loggerheads with conventional psychiatry. Support groups around the world run by voice hearers for voice hearers openly challenge the standard psychiatric relationship of expert physician and psychotic patient, but increasingly some psychiatrists and other mental health professionals are seeing merit and logic in the Network’s approach.

Coleman says his recovery began when, at his first Hearing Voices group, someone told him his voices were real. “What I’d been told in the psychiatric system was that they weren’t real, they weren’t really there. That I had to ignore them and I couldn’t get involved with them. When they’re real it means you can do something about them.”

Hearing voices is like reading a really good book when you can hear the author’s characters. “As you read you can create the characters in your head. Imagine that externalised. That’s how it is with voices. You actually hear them.

“They have different characteristics. They speak with different accents. They are male or female. They are positive and negative.”

Hearing voices isn’t as unusual as we think. Many will have experienced it in the threshold consciousness between waking and falling asleep. There are also numerous examples of well-known and accomplished voice hearers throughout history.

“The Bible is written by voice hearers,” says Coleman. Think Moses and the burning bush and Jesus wandering for 40 days and 40 nights, hearing the devil’s temptations.

The roll call of other voice hearers is as variable as Winston Churchill, Socrates, Galileo, Pythagoras, Carl Jung, Gandhi, Joan of Arc, Teresa of Avila, Mohammed, William Blake, Zoe Wanamaker, St Francis of Assisi, Leonard Cohen and Sir Anthony Hopkins.

Voice hearing, as Coleman’s own story demonstrates, is often linked to unresolved personal trauma. In his case he was sexually abused by a Catholic priest when he was 10 years old.

“My explanation for voices is that I created them because I needed to deal with what was going on.”

Coleman’s voices didn’t actually arrive until he was adult. Prior to that he had a different coping mechanism – rugby. “I played as prop and when I went into the scrum I’d put the face of the Catholic priest who abused me on to my opposite number and I’d just try to kill the guy.”

Then he broke his hip and couldn’t play rugby anymore.

“I ended up not having the outlet, but still having the priest in me as a constant reminder of everything and no way to get rid of my anger. Eventually it came out as voices.”

One of the first voices he heard was the priest telling him it was his fault. “That I led him into sin and I should burn in hell”.

Another voice was his father. “I felt like I’d failed my family so I had my father’s voice saying things like: ‘You’re no good. You’re f***ing worthless. You’re a failure’.”

Then there was the voice of first wife Annabelle who died suddenly. “She used to tell me to kill myself so we could be a family again. It was more about the fact that I missed her so much.”

Negotiating a way to cope with his voices took a year. With Annabelle he realised he could be with her as a voice. “I said: ‘I don’t need to die to be with you. I can be with you now – let’s talk’.” He’s since remarried and now has agreement with Annabelle only to talk to her on anniversaries.

His father’s voice changed from negative to positive after his family finally learned what happened to him as a child through a 1995 BBC Horizon documentary, Hearing Voices. His father asked why he never told him about the abuse. Because, said Coleman, he didn’t think anyone would believe him.

“My dad said yes he would, and he would have killed the priest.”

Coleman says he still hears the priest’s voice from time to time when he’s overworked and tired. What does the priest say now? “But I still think it was your fault.”

Coleman takes it as a sign that he needs to take time out and go fishing. “As soon as I hear him I tell him to f-off. ‘I’m not going to listen to you. I don’t need you. You have no power any more’.”

Getting to that point – where he could refuse to hear the priest – required dealing with his own guilt and shame. “I can’t change the past, but I’ve resolved my feelings about my own abuse.”

Another voice Coleman calls teacher. “That was my own voice – a voice trying to keep a bit of sanity in my mind. It’s always a voice of reason. In a funny sort of way I was externalising my own self rather than having inner dialogues. I tend to externalise it now, because I’m so used to hearing voices.”

There are three other positive voices – one called Dave who was someone he knew who died, and two other he keeps to himself. “The reason I don’t talk about them is I share an awful lot of my life and those are voices just for me.”

As well as providing support for voice hearers, the Hearing Voices Network is also a human rights movement – to protest at the way those diagnosed with schizophrenia are treated and to reduce the stigma attached to mental illness. Coleman says he’d like to see professionals in mental health systems spend much more time listening to people before treating them.

“I would like acknowledgement when the treatment is not working that we do something different rather than give them other drugs or just increase the drugs.”

He wants proper informed consent too – people told about the reduced life expectancy downside of antipsychotic drugs before they are given them.

He believes that if there was a properly controlled test – comparing outcomes for voice hearers engaged with the network and those using the mental health system – the network would come out on top. “We’re saving lives.”

Coleman wears his diagnosis on his skin – a tattoo on his arm reads “Psychotic and Proud”. He did it to have a constant reminder of where he came from.

“It says I refuse to be ashamed about what happened to me. I refuse to be ashamed of my diagnosis and I refuse to be ashamed of the fact I was a psychiatric patient.”

Voice of reason

* The Hearing Voices Network, founded in Britain in 1988, developed from the research of Dutch psychiatrist Marius Romme.

* It has since grown into a global self-help organisation, active in 20 countries, for people who hear voices.

* Members advocate the use of techniques employed by those who have successfully coped with their voices. This can include acceptance and negotiation with the voices.
* Hearing Voices Network Aotearoa NZ has about 100 members and holds support groups in West Auckland, Grey Lynn, Glenfield, Hamilton, Palmerston North and Wellington.

* Approximately 75 per cent of patients diagnosed with schizophrenia, 20 per cent of patients with mania and 10 per cent with depression hear voices.

* About 30,000 New Zealanders are affected by schizophrenia.

Find out more on Hearing Voices Network Aotearoa NZ

www.hearingvoices.org.nz  part of international organisation Intervoice, www.intervoiceonline.org

The fragrance of an Angel and Helpful voices.

I am currently going through all my Aromatherapy notes and books as I am preparing for my presentation on Aromatherapy for Hearing Voices at our September 18th 2010 seminar ( see our website www.hearingvoices.org.nz)  In mental health circles, seeing or hearing angels is usually considered delusional. Yet in many circles, many sane and respected people report similar occurences and often write about it. The difference of course is that they lead successful lives.

Here is an excerpt from a book called ” The Fragrant Heavens” By Valerie Worwood. I met Valerie when she came to New Zealand many years ago to hold an Aromatherapy workshop. She is a veritable aromatherapy expert and very well regarded in her field. 

 Pg 102

Some people believe in Angels because they have seen them, even in some cases before their eyes beheld them. Other people believe in angels because they have heard their voices, or smelt their sweet fragrances and known they were near. When these things happen, there is no turning back… you believe in angels…

… I met an angel twenty years ago and so have no doubt they exist. The light and peace that angels emanate is so profoundly different from anything on earth, it s impossible to confuse it with everyday reality. The light I saw was an overwhelming luminescence, shining in rays from every pore of the figure, who was beautiful  in the extreme. The sense of peace that settled upon me was amazing and it was alive in every molecule of my being…

… I know I have been helped many times by angelic beings, like when driving along, one whispered ‘pull over’ in my ear – which allowed me to avoid a collision and turned out to be excellent advice.

On experience I’m particularly grateful for happened on holiday some years ago. A group of us were sitting on a beach which was some distance away. The red flag was up, and we’d been advised that the sea was dangerous that day. With my three-year old playing with friends and their parents nearby, I lay on my front put my head on my arms and drifted off to sleep. I was awakened by a voice that said just one word “Sea”. It was  not a loud voice, nor a particularly insistent one, but it had me on my feet in an instant and flying like the wind to the seashore. I reached the water just as an enormous wave poised itself over my little girl, who stood there watching the watery crest above her, oblivious to the danger. I grabbed her in my arms, pulled her away, and thanked the voice from the bottom of my heart.

I’m inclined to think an angel whispered into my ear, rather than it being intuition, because I have seen a shining being standing in my own living room and that wasn’t intuition! Angels are very physical when they want to be and very etheric when they want to be. They straddle the two universes. This experiencing of them accords with the current theological position which, according to Canon Emeritus of Ely Cathedral, describes angels as ‘spiritual beings intermediate between God and mankind’… Pope John Paul II has stated that angels do exist and that they ‘have a fundamental role to play in unfolding of human events’.

pg 105

…Angels have a fragrance which in my experience at least, precedes their ‘appearance’ , or remains after they ‘disappear’. Perhaps the fragrance was also there when I actually saw the angel, but was ‘cut out’ as my senses focused intently on the vision in front of me. I tried really hard to remember each visual detail, and was mesmerised by what appeared to be wings. Each ‘feather’ seemed to be a center or vortex of energy made up of light – the spine in particular being a source of great light-yet also a route to the infinite, while each delicate strand coming off it was a chain made up of many sparkling lights. Each sparkle on each strand had its own energy field, and together they made the form of a superluminous ‘feather’, which was less a material feather than an arrangement of light in a feather shape. The overall effect was extremely powerful and ‘awe inspiring.

I’ve found the fragrance of angels elusive in the sense that it seems to have no source. It just suddenly appears and suffuses the whole body and mind. I can recall two aromas quite distinctly, neither of which I have encountered before. One was fairly similar to a heavy , deep, rose maroc. The other was a light fragrance that was sweet and floralish, but not just floral, also a resin- imagine frankincense as a flower but without the same aroma. Sometimes I will smell and angel without seeing one, and I know it’s the fragrance of angels because it’s so pervading and fills my nose even to the point that I feel I can’t inhale any longer.

After such powerful aromatic experiences I always have a good look and sniff around to see if there was any other possible source for the phenomenon. I check my clothes for perfume; my essential oil store for any open bottles or spills; I sniff all the plants and flowers; and run through my mind who has been in the house, possibly wearing scent; but no source for the strange scent has ever been found. Others in the house have smelt it too- and the mystery remains long after the fragrance has gone.” 

I think it is important to know that – sane people can hear voices and experience other beings, and tactile sensations and also that there are also good voices. For people who hear only distressing voices this can be a source of comfort.