A Poem on Hearing Voices by Chris

My friend Ying, was at a poetry evening, and one of the guys read an amazing poem on hearing voices. She kindly asked Chris, if we could share it here and he agreed. So here it is. Hope you find it as powerful as I did.


Having mental illness in family can be hard but the rewards for over coming them are so much greater then overcoming simpler things.
When i was 17 i had my first psychotic episode, and since then iv’e been diagnosed with psychosis, schizophrenia, bi-polar and depression, i hear voices, i have hallucinations and I have delusions
ahh Life is just a dream, woawo, lucky you, lucky lucky me

These days it starts with a gaze into the outer world, a blank stare into realms I’m not quite sure exist,
I can be staring at anything, such as, the alien species that hides trees
their limbs and their faces moved by the wind in such a way that they come to life
their waving hands simply stating “I see you, and I know you see me”
or I could be watching how the curtains breath at the pace of mother earths breath slowly hypnotizing me into a trance where I start to believe god himself has the curtains on strings or maybe
I’ll just be staring at the boring ground, where spiritual life reaps like you wouldn’t believe
as i walk with my head down i flow through a river of damned and tortured faces
lost souls trying to find peace and banished spirits trapped in purgatory trying to claw their way into me until
“Hey chris, got a spare smoke?”
“uh, uh yeah bro, help yourself”
Life is just a dream, woawo, lucky you, lucky lucky me

The voices that i hear aren’t as bad as the media will have you believe, but theyre pretty bad.
Imagine having no privacy because the people sitting next to me can read your mind
They don’t tell you your thoughts to your face tho, they tell you outside and down the road a little bit.
Imagine having no secretes because i feel like I’m under constant inspection, I’m to scared to even think a bad thought because something listening
Imagine trying to go to sleep and somewhere outside, you can hear people talking about you..there’s
whispers in the wind and vocal cords seemingly attached to passing cars
ambient noises vocalized into the voice of fear,
rustling trees like gossiping woman
and people in the distance speaking my thoughts
and then i hear about people who say that they can hear gods voice, or that they heard demons or angels telling them things…
Life is just a dream, woawo, lucky you, lucky lucky me

The problem with mental illness is that the people who know most about it aren’t the doctors who’ve spent a life in school
it’s not your psychiatrist or the leading team of psychologists..
It’s the people, that are living with them, its the people, who hear voices, it’s the people who believe theyre being followed and that their lives are at stake,
It’s the people who at this very moment are suffering from diseases that should of be labeled gifts a long time ago its those people…
it’s those people that hold the answers, not someone who’s lived a straight edge life and only knows what the text book says cuz no matter how smart you are
and no matter how much you have studied, until you lose your mind and believe that you’re Jesus, you only know half the story
Life is just a dream, woawo, lucky you, lucky lucky me.

Hearing Voices considered normal

Here is an excellent article. Hopefully it shows that slowly perceptions about hearing voices is changing!  Below is only an excerpt, see the whole article on the link here:


In this article, Marika Ciuffa discusses proposed changes in the way psychiatrists understand and interpret auditory hallucinations.

“Have you ever heard voices or sounds that no one else can hear?”

We are in the middle of a clinical interview at an ordinary hospital, it doesn’t matter which one. A while passes before any answer. Suddenly the man in front of the doctor starts to look down and his voice begins to tremble.

Fear of being judged; concern about consequences. With this simple question comes an emotional load that hinders communication and sometimes makes it difficult to find the correct diagnosis. It is frightening to speak about voices, but the thing that scares the most is the mark of mental illness.

The standard classification of mental disorders used by mental health professionals around the world is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The fifth edition (DSM-5) will be published in May 2013. It has been in development for a number of years and a few but significant potential changes seem set to break with the past and bring a breath of fresh air to many people’s lives.

Hearing voices – that is, the perception of voices in the absence of auditory stimuli – can be normal. This is one of the ground-breaking changes to have emerged from the advance publication of the DSM-5 Status of Psychotic Disorders. In contrast to the previous edition (DSM-IV), hearing voices will no longer be considered sufficient and specific for the diagnosis of schizophrenia. It is a big step forward for people who live with voices every day but do not intend to give up their right to be called “normal”…

…But symptoms like auditory hallucinations, taken alone, are not necessarily a sign of schizophrenia. In fact, they can be found in other diseases such as brain tumors and epilepsy, and also occur in around 10 to 15 per cent of the general population. They are an example of phenomena called “out-of-the-ordinary” or “psychotic-like” experiences, which do not always lead to psychiatric conditions and can sometimes be a positive part of human experience.

Hallucinations are also very common in people who experience trauma, loss or other stressful events. It is important, therefore, to evaluate them in the appropriate context, relating their meaning to the individual’s underlying problems (for example, there is a strong association between psychotic-like experiences and severe childhood sexual abuse).

A part of normal life?

How can people manage with the unusual experience of hearing voices? A study conducted by Dr Heriot-Maitland and colleagues, published this year in the British Journal of Clinical Psychology, evaluated the nature and context of psychotic-like phenomena in people who did (clinical) or did not (non-clinical) go on to use mental health services. People in both groups experienced these phenomena during periods of significant negative emotion, sometimes associated with isolation and concern about the meaning of their existence. However, the non-clinical group showed greater ability to make sense of these experiences in their lives, considering them to be transient and enhancing, not dangerous.

International associations like Intervoice (International network for training, education and research into hearing voices) share this non-pathological vision of the phenomenon, fighting against prejudice and the stigmatisation of mental illness. They aim to support people to manage this “normal though unusual variation in human behaviour”, underlining that “the problem is not hearing voices but the inability to cope with the experience”.

However, while it may be true that hearing voices does not necessarily imply mental illness, particularly in childhood, in other cases we could risk underestimating a considerable problem if people choose not to seek help or advice. It shouldn’t be forgotten that individuals with psychotic-like experiences are at significantly increased risk of clinical psychotic disorders, which can have severe effects on health and quality of life.

See the whole article at the link above.

Long Term Antipsychotic treatment and brain volumes- published research,

This is an interesting but disturbing research paper that was featured in the latest NZ Psychiatry review.
Here is the link to the  study online here
To follow is the synopsis.
Long-term Antipsychotic Treatment and Brain VolumesA Longitudinal Study of First-Episode Schizophrenia

Beng-Choon Ho, MRCPsych; Nancy C. Andreasen, MD, PhD; Steven Ziebell, BS; Ronald Pierson, MS; Vincent Magnotta, PhD

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2011;68(2):128-137. doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2010.199

Context  Progressive brain volume changes in schizophreniaare thought to be due principally to the disease. However, recentanimal studies indicate that antipsychotics, the mainstay oftreatment for schizophrenia patients, may also contribute tobrain tissue volume decrement. Because antipsychotics are prescribedfor long periods for schizophrenia patients and have increasinglywidespread use in other psychiatric disorders, it is imperativeto determine their long-term effects on the human brain.

Objective  To evaluate relative contributions of 4 potentialpredictors (illness duration, antipsychotic treatment, illnessseverity, and substance abuse) of brain volume change.

Design  Predictors of brain volume changes were assessedprospectively based on multiple informants.

Setting Data from the Iowa Longitudinal Study.

Patients  Two hundred eleven patients with schizophreniawho underwent repeated neuroimaging beginning soon after illnessonset, yielding a total of 674 high-resolution magnetic resonancescans. On average, each patient had 3 scans (≥2 and as many as5) over 7.2 years (up to 14 years).

Main Outcome Measure Brain volumes.

Results  During longitudinal follow-up, antipsychotic treatmentreflected national prescribing practices in 1991 through 2009.Longer follow-up correlated with smaller brain tissue volumesand larger cerebrospinal fluid volumes. Greater intensity ofantipsychotic treatment was associated with indicators of generalizedand specific brain tissue reduction after controlling for effectsof the other 3 predictors. More antipsychotic treatment wasassociated with smaller gray matter volumes. Progressive decrementin white matter volume was most evident among patients who receivedmore antipsychotic treatment. Illness severity had relativelymodest correlations with tissue volume reduction, and alcohol/illicitdrug misuse had no significant associations when effects ofthe other variables were adjusted.

Conclusions  Viewed together with data from animal studies,our study suggests that antipsychotics have a subtle but measurableinfluence on brain tissue loss over time, suggesting the importanceof careful risk-benefit review of dosage and duration of treatmentas well as their off-label use.

Author Affiliations: Departments of Psychiatry (Drs Ho and Andreasen and Messrs Ziebell and Pierson) and Radiology (Dr Magnotta), University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, Iowa City.

I sincerely hope that the view that higher doses, and lifetime use of these strong drugs will be thought about more carefully, as it is causing irrepareable damage.

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

James King Exhibition- Paintings give an insight into a troubled mind

There is an excellent interview with James in the Weekend Herald today.
James King’s exhibition,  is Tapu Kehua, opening on Saturday 7 May at 3pm at The Depot Artspace, 28 Clarence Street, Devonport.
An emerging artist from Auckland, James has been attending Toi Ora Live Art Trust over the past few years.  This is his first major solo exhibition.
The exhibition will run until Thursday 19 May 2011.
Here is the article in the newspaper

Paintings give insight into troubled mind

By Sally Webster

10:15 AM Saturday May 14, 2011
 It was sad that as visitors pondered James King’s first major solo exhibition when it opened last weekend, the artist couldn’t be there.

While the former radio talkback host and producer waited months for the chance to fill Depot Artspace with his emotive paintings, he has waited a lot longer to get better. King has been plagued by mental illness for years and his recent secondment to Dunedin’s Ashburn Hall precluded his presence at the show.

So while he was busy working on his health, visitors to Devonport’s gallery were sipping wine and reading the emblazoned words: “The Anzacs died for your iPad.” Political commentary is strong in King’s work and he confronts his inner demons too, as depicted by dogs’ gnashed teeth in many colours. A propensity for softness comes through trickling lines that creep over clouded backgrounds of orange and aquamarine. Lashings of red play a pivotal role.

While some pieces were painted in Dunedin, most of the work was accomplished at Toi Ora Live Arts Trust in Grey Lynn. What was a haven that unveiled King’s artistic talent is officially “a unique shared creative space … for adults who have come in contact with mental health services”. Toi Ora general manager Erwin van Asbeck says it has been fascinating to watch King work.

“Together with his other areas of treatment, even just the discipline of coming and going at set times to a place to work on art has been a hugely healing and balancing process,” he says. “What’s been produced during James’ journey towards mental health is exceptional and it stands on its own two feet.”

On his last day of painting before heading south, King cut out the shapes of the Tapu Kehua for the exhibition. Absorbed with shaping the right curves of the “sacred ghost or spirit”, King offered his usual comic scepticism on the next few months in a “therapeutic community”.

“I might be back up within a week if I have to pass a hacky sack around the room as part of a group therapy practice. Seriously, I’ve encountered this once before and it was just too much.”

King, who was adopted, did not meet his birth mother until he was in his 20s. He says he always knew something was brewing inside him and certain things made more sense when he discovered his mother was schizophrenic. He was not fiercely beset by dark moods and voices until his radio career had taken off in his late 20s. Then-general manager of Newstalk ZB Bill Francis recalls meeting him as he started out.

“He came to me around the early 2000s and asked if I’d give him a chance on air. He clearly had a strong political leaning and could talk knowledgeably about it as well as a large range of social issues of the day. He showed empathy and could relate to a wide range of people.

“I saw him about once a week for more than three years and what was quite obvious was his considerable talent, rationale, curiosity and ability to think. What I also saw in him was a good person.”

But King began to develop difficulties with alcohol, sleeping and generally dealing with working at night. He left the company and moved to Wellington to do a journalism degree and produce more radio shows. But with personal issues including family bereavement to deal with, he was finally overwhelmed and hospitalised. There ensued a pattern common to many with mental illness who, like King, did not have a supportive family nearby at the end of a period of treatment in hospital. Without a place of further healing, the streets became home instead.

“You see the really ill people wandering the streets, picking cigarette butts from the ground. They’ve got dirt under their fingernails,” says King. “Mental illness at its worst can be people rifling through rubbish bins in the dead of night. It’s scary. I understand that. I don’t like those people … and I was one of them.”

King wanted to come out about his illness to make a concerted recovery and alter perceptions of the condition. Last year he worked on a Planet FM mental health radio show and during October’s Mental Health Week he held his first exhibition, MC’d a fundraising gig in Karangahape Rd and contributed these words to a poetry anthology:

This should not be my only option,

I will not live here; you must give me a room in the heart of life,

I will not survive under a bridge, at the dump, in a park,

at the margins in the dark.

I challenge you to come to me, to hold my hand, embrace my heart.

I challenge you to tell the truth, cast aside the angle, cut the hook, search for the marrow.


What: New Works by James King

Where and when: Depot Artspace, Devonport, to May 19 2011

Anger at police after Aborigine dies in hospital- NZ Herald Aug 5 2010

This is a sad and disturbing article. A man tries to get help and ends up dead. With no questioning of witnesses? Why not?

The original article can be found on the NZ herald site here

Police investigating the death of a mentally ill Aboriginal man in a Queensland hospital failed to interview staff who physically restrained him before he suffered respiratory failure.

An autopsy has established that Lyji Vaggs, 27, suffered asphyxia after being handcuffed, held down and injected with anti-psychotic drugs in Townsville Hospital in April.

But according to the Australian newspaper yesterday, none of the six to eight hospital orderlies and security officers who restrained him have been questioned by detectives.

It has also emerged that the hospital has no CCTV footage of the incident.

Vaggs’ family are dismayed by the way he was treated, and by the police handling of the case. His aunt Gracelyn Smallwood, a leading indigenous activist and an associate professor of nursing, has compared it to the death in custody of Mulrunji Doomadgee on Queensland’s Palm Island, which was followed by a botched police investigation.


“When I heard of Lyji’s death, the first thing I did was pray to God that nothing was covered up,” she said.

“We didn’t want key witnesses not interviewed, or security videos suddenly not being available – and what do we get? It is just so disappointing for Aboriginal people seeking justice and answers that this is the result we get all the time.”

According to the Australian, the post mortem examination found that “restraint asphyxia” contributed to the death of Vaggs, a father of three who suffered from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression.

The day before he died, he tried several times to admit himself to hospital, saying he was “hearing voices”, but was allegedly told there were no beds and he should go home and take his medication.

When he became agitated, hospital staff called police, who handcuffed him. While being held face down on the floor, Vaggs became “limp and lifeless”, and although he was revived, he had suffered irreversible brain damage. His life-support machine was switched off the next day.

A police report to the state coroner says no hospital staff have been interviewed apart from the doctor who administered the injections, for “privacy reasons” or because they were “unavailable to be spoken to”.

By Kathy Marks 


Mobile Phone apps for hearing Voices?

There is an interesting article on Mobile phone and therapy by Michelle Trudeau here

Here is a small excerpt on Hearing voices from it

One of the most intractable mental illness afflicting one percent of the population is schizophrenia. It’s for these patients that University of Pennsylvania researcher Dimitri Perivoliotis is developing innovative mobile technologies.

Palm-sized computers that chart a patients moods and activities, for example. And a digital watch that has personalized scrolling messages. The messages on the watch, for example, can instruct the patient on stress reduction exercises, like deep breathing or muscle relaxation, in order “to reduce the stress triggered by their voices,” Perivoliotis says.

“One of our patients came in with chronic, constant auditory hallucinations (i.e.; hearing voices) that really controlled his life,” Perivoliotis recalls. “The voices would threaten him that if he would go outside and do fun things, then terrible, catastrophic things would happen to him. He felt really enslaved by them. He felt no sense of control whatsoever.”

So the therapist taught the patient a few simple behavioral exercises to reduce the severity of the voices. It’s an exercise called the ‘look, point, and name technique.’ Perivoliotis explains. “When a patient starts to hear voices, he applies the technique by looking at an object in the room, pointing to it, and naming it aloud. He repeats this until he runs out of things to name (e.g., “phone, computer, book, pen…”).

Perivoliotis reports “the technique usually results in reduced voice severity (i.e., the voices seem quieter or pause altogether), probably because the patient’s attention is redirected away from them and because speaking competes with a brain mechanism involved in auditory hallucinations.”

So the mobile therapy watch that this patient wore was programmed to remind him a few times a day to practice this technique to control the voices.

“It really did the trick,” Perivoliotis says. The voices were dramatically reduced. “It kind of broke him out of the stream of voices, and his internal preoccupation with them.”

Exercises like these not only give the patient temporary relief from distressing symptoms, but importantly, Perivoliotis adds, “They help to correct patients’ inaccurate and dysfunctional beliefs about their symptoms — from, ‘I have no control over the voices’ to, ‘I do have some control over them.'”

As a therapist treating patients with schizophrenia, Perivoliotis finds the mobile technologies extremely useful.

“It gives me an additional source of rich information of what the patient’s life is like between sessions,” he says. “It’s almost like an electronic therapist, in a way, or a therapist in your pocket.”


Out Of our Heads- NZ Herald 13th May 2010

There is a great article today in the New Zealand Herald today written by Chris Barton, an interview with Rufus May who is here , and running a workshop for us next  week.

Here is an edited excerpt – – To read the whole article- see it here

Former psychiatric patient-turned-psychologist Rufus May has been shaking up the treatment of mental illness by talking to the voices people hear.

 Rufus May’s recovery from delusions – that he was an apprentice spy for the British secret service with a device in his chest that was being used to control him – took time.

He was 18 when he was admitted to Hackney psychiatric hospital in London, diagnosed as schizophrenic and not allowed to leave.

Initially, he believed he was in a place for burnt-out spies. “Eventually I thought people are being treated too badly for it to be a place for burnt-out spies.”

Surely burnt-out spies wouldn’t be humiliated, degraded and forcibly medicated – pinned to the floor while their trousers and underpants were pulled down to their ankles for an injection in the buttocks with mind-altering drugs?…

May had been getting messages about his mission from the Bible and the radio. Between the age of 15 and 16 he was a heavy cannabis user, but he wasn’t smoking at 18 when his troubles began – his first girlfriend left him after a nine-month relationship.

Instead of getting depressed, May drifted into a dreamlike reality, where he was spied upon and felt he had special spiritual powers. In hospital he still thought he could communicate with his girlfriend via the Bible. When he stopped getting messages back, he cried. The dream was over.

“I realised that actually I wasn’t that important and that I was in pyjamas in a psychiatric ward, dribbling. And then I started to think, ‘well, you’re in the pit of society now – the only way is up’.” Coincidentally Yazz’s 1988 pop hit The Only Way Is Up was playing on the radio.

Over 14 months May was admitted to hospital three times. His recovery began with going to church.

“I was religious with a capital R, then. I was trying to be a nicer person. I thought, ‘I need to find a way to be of value to society so they don’t lock me up again’.”

When he was discharged, he was put on two-weekly injections for about six months, as an outpatient. He decided to become a clinical psychologist. “I transformed, maybe not intentionally, but I found my mission – to try and change society’s approach to mental health. In a way he did become a spy. “For a while I infiltrated mental health services.”

It was cloak and dagger – when training in the East End, not far from where he had been sectioned, he was recognised on a couple of occasions by nurses. Fortunately they didn’t blow the whistle.

He didn’t tell his university about his illness until he was qualified. “I separated from my delusions and they became metaphors that I could use symbolically.”

May is in New Zealand doing some teaching with Hearing Voices Network Aotearoa NZ – a group dedicated to providing a better understanding of what it is like to hear voices and have visions and to reduce stigma around the experience.

During his mental illness, May didn’t hear voices. He had delusions and unusual beliefs. But that didn’t stop him being diagnosed with schizophrenia. “I was given that label when I was 18 and I had a psychotic episode.”

May argues the diagnosis of schizophrenia is a meaningless construct – a catch-all that does little more than label people with incurable hopelessness.

Is the label “psychotic episode” any better? “A bit. I had a breakdown. I quite like the lay terms: ‘I went crazy’ or, ‘I was mad’ – I don’t see them as any less scientific as saying ‘psychotic episode’.”

Though May can unpick the nonsense of psychiatric diagnoses, what’s really radical about what he does is his therapy. He talks to the voices that schizophrenics hear.

The idea developed from Accepting Voices by Marius Romme and Sandra Escher. It also builds on the work of people like Dirk Corstens, a psychiatrist and psychotherapist from the Netherlands, who runs voice dialogue workshops.

“I believe people’s voices are beings from their unconscious,” says May. “We all hear voices in our dreams. We all meet other people in our dreams – sometimes people we know, sometimes they’re not known to us or they are other creatures.”

He says people who hear voices are able to access their dream world when they’re awake. “They’ve got these characters talking to them.” He talks to the voices through a kind of role-play adapted from couples’ counselling techniques where different “parts” or personalities speak verbatim from a selected chair.

May says initially the voices often find him very threatening and do tell the person to hit him or worse. But so far, having spoken to hundreds of voices, it’s never happened. “I guess because I’m there to help the person and I’m being respectful. The first thing I teach people is that they don’t have to do what the voice says.”

The other thing May does is the opposite of what happens in exorcisms. He tells the voices he is not trying to get rid of them. When that message gets through he finds the voices often calm down.

Though the voices are like nightmare figures, mostly May finds they’re trying to protect the person – albeit in a macabre way. “So I don’t see them as the enemy. I’m just saying we need to have peace talks with those experiences, not have a war trying to shut them down with medication.”

May regards most mental health problems as some kind of post-traumatic reaction – be it the trauma of being alone, not having meaning in one’s life, or be having been abused. If voices are part of a person and the therapy is designed to get people to accept and understand their voices, how does May go about integrating an evil voice?

“It’s a destructive voice. I would define evil as causing harm. A destructive energy is a very frightened energy coming from some place of fear. So I don’t want to demonise it, I want to understand it.”

He describes the case of a placating and gentle man who had a an angry, commanding voice telling him to harm himself.

“I asked him to ask his voice why he wanted him to harm himself. The voice said, ‘to show people how powerful you are’.” The man then asked the voice whether, if he was powerful in other ways, he would still have to self-harm.

Would the voice be happy if he was powerful in other ways? “The voice said: ‘That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you for years’.” On face of it, the voice was evil, but what it represented was the man needing to reclaim power in his life.

In another case, May spoke to a person’s voice which was claiming to be a demon – an incubus. It said to him, “When you go home, take a long good look in the mirror”. May was a little threatened, but a few weeks later the person had a memory of her adopted mother saying, “look in the mirror, look at the evil in your eyes”. Here the voice was an echo from the past of a time of oppression.

“I see them as messengers,” says May. “They may appear as evil, but they’re messengers about injustice. Evil is part of life. Destruction and violence are part of our lives and we need to understand it, not cast it out.”

May believes people have different coping mechanisms for stress in their lives – “different ways of retreating from the world, or looking after ourselves that can sometimes turn into problems”. Problems we don’t really understand and which we call schizophrenia or bipolar disorder or manic behaviour. It’s a view that flies in the face of the “chemical imbalance” theory of mental illness that sees patients medicated to redress chemicals supposedly missing from their normal functioning.

May is not against the use of drugs in treating mental illness, but he does think they are used with too heavy a hand. “We are over-convinced of their value.” He is a fan of combining body therapies – running, walking, swimming, Tai Chi, dance or boxing – with other treatments.

“A lot of psychiatric therapy is moving to the idea that we should work with the body as much as the mind – we’ve probably got to get out of our heads.”

In in his own case, an obsessive preoccupation with his problems didn’t help. “The more one obsesses about something, the more real it can get.”

Yes, he agrees providing scientific evidence for his approach is difficult. “But we didn’t need an evidence base to show that slavery was wrong. We know people’s sadness or confusion is related to their lives. We also know that pills aren’t the final answer.”

What helped in his recovery was people accepting him and not giving up on him. “I think we could have brilliant mental health services, but still people would struggle because the community gives up on them and says, ‘We can’t help you, go to your doctor’.”

May says his work is about building an emancipatory social movement that frees people to help each other more.

“I am idealistic,” he says. “What I try to teach people with their voices is how [they can] appreciatively separate from these experiences and use them, but not be used by them .”


What a great article. We  at the HVN are grateful to Rufus for all his support for our organisation.



Another inspiring story. Another highly intelligent genius among us! See the full article on the LOS ANGELES TIMES

Artist Mark Bradford, USC’s Elyn Saks win MacArthur grants

They are among 24 who will each receive $500,000 in the next five years. Bradford specializes in collages with found objects. Saks’ schizophrenia has informed her advocacy for the mentally ill.

A Los Angeles artist who specializes in incorporating found objects into his pieces and a USC law professor whose own battle with schizophrenia has informed her advocacy for those suffering from mental illness are among the 24 winners of this year’s “genius” grants from the MacArthur Foundation.

Mark Bradford, Elyn Saks and 22 other winners will each receive $500,000 over the next five years to spend any way they please…

Saks, 53, suffered from schizophrenia all her life, but kept it hidden while excelling in her academic studies, receiving a philosophy degree from Oxford University and a law degree from Yale University before joining the faculty at USC. She is also an adjunct professor of psychiatry at UC San Diego, where she does research about society’s rejection of the mentally ill and how high-functioning schizophrenics cope.

Saks came out of the mental health closet with her 2007 memoir, “The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness.” The book described the night terrors she had suffered throughout her life, her earlier beliefs that she had mentally caused the deaths of thousands of people, and the often-inhumane treatment she had received at mental health facilities.

Saks said in an interview Monday that she would use at least some of the prize money to extend her memoir by interviewing other people with schizophrenia who are doing well.

“When I’m traveling, people always say, ‘You’re unique.’ Well, I’m really not,” she said. “I would just like to tell other people’s stories as well to further give people hope and understanding. . . . Some of their stories are just so inspirational.”

The awards have been given for nearly three decades by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation “to celebrate and support exceptional men and women of all ages and in all fields who dream, explore, take risks, invent, and build in new and unexpected ways in the interest of shaping a better future for us all.”

It is pleasing to see more and more people standing up to change the perceptions abound on hearing voices.