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Although people who hear voices may dialogue with them, they are regularly caught in destructive communication patterns that disturb social functioning. This article presents an approach called Talking With Voices, derived from the theory and practice of Voice Dialogue (Stone & Stone, 198930. Stone , H. and Stone , S. 1989 . Embracing our selves: The voice dialogue training manual , New York , NY : Nataraj Publishing . View all references: Embracing our selves: The voice dialogue training manual, New York: Nataraj Publishing), whereby a facilitator directly engages with the voice(s) in order to heighten awareness and understanding of voice characteristics. The method provides insight into the underlying reasons for voice emergence and origins, and can ultimately inspire a more productive relationship between hearer and voice(s). We discuss the rationale for the approach and provide guidance in applying it. Case examples are also presented.
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Talking with voices: Exploring what is
expressed by the voices people hear
Dirk Corstens
, Eleanor Longden
& Rufus May
RIAGG Maastricht, Maastricht, The Netherlands
School of Psychological Sciences, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK
Bradford District Care Trust, Bradford, UK
Available online: 19 Jul 2011
To cite this article: Dirk Corstens, Eleanor Longden & Rufus May (2011): Talking
with voices: Exploring what is expressed by the voices people hear, Psychosis,
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2011, 1–10, iFirst Article
ISSN 1752-2439 print/ISSN 1752-2447 online
© 2011 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/17522439.2011.571705
Talking with voices: Exploring what is expressed by the voices
people hear
Dirk Corstens*
, Eleanor Longden
and Rufus May
RIAGG Maastricht, Maastricht, The Netherlands;
School of Psychological Sciences,
University of Leeds, Leeds, UK;
Bradford District Care Trust, Bradford, UK
Taylor and FrancisRPSY_A_571705.sgm
(Received 7 November 2010; final version received 10 March 2011)
10.1080/17522439.2011.571705Psychosis – Psychological, Social and Integrative A1752-2439 (print)/1752-2447 (online)Original Article2011Taylor & Francis0000000002011Mr
Although people who hear voices may dialogue with them, they are regularly
caught in destructive communication patterns that disturb social functioning. This
article presents an approach called Talking With Voices, derived from the theory
and practice of Voice Dialogue (Stone & Stone, 1989: Embracing our selves: The
voice dialogue training manual, New York: Nataraj Publishing), whereby a
facilitator directly engages with the voice(s) in order to heighten awareness and
understanding of voice characteristics. The method provides insight into the
underlying reasons for voice emergence and origins, and can ultimately inspire a
more productive relationship between hearer and voice(s). We discuss the
rationale for the approach and provide guidance in applying it. Case examples are
also presented.
Keywords: auditory hallucinations; dissociation; trauma; therapy; psychosis
The fact that many people who hear voices have endured significant trauma is a much-
neglected aspect of the voice hearing (VH) experience (Read, van Os, Morrison, &
Ross, 2005). Psychiatry frequently dismisses VH as a meaningless pathological
phenomenon with no relevance to a person’s emotional or social circumstances, and
as such clinicians are generally encouraged not to engage with clients’ VH experi-
ences (Romme, Escher, Dillon, Corstens, & Morris, 2009). In contrast, Romme and
Escher (e.g. 1993, 2000) argue that VH onset is precipitated by individuals dissociat-
ing from emotional and experiential content, with voices emerging as (distorted)
reflections of threatening, overwhelming events. Indeed, VH is understood as having
a “protective” function: a manifestation of a vital defensive manoeuvre whereby trans-
forming internal conflict into voices is psychologically advantageous. In lieu of this
position, many people hearing disturbing voices have found that a turning point for
recovery is changing the relationship through finding different ways of understanding
and communicating with their voices (Romme et al., 2009).
Conceptualising VH within relational frameworks has recently become an area of
psychological inquiry, with numerous authors exploring the reciprocal dynamics
between hearer and voice (e.g. Beavan, 2011; Chin, Hayward, & Drinnan, 2008;
Hayward, Overton, Dorey, & Denney, 2009; Pérez-Álvarez, García-Montes, Perona-
Garcelán, & Vallina-Fernández, 2008). Because many people can identify relationship
styles with their voices, preferred techniques in these studies are often role-playing
*Corresponding author. Email:
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2 D. Corstens et al.
scenarios that attempt to modify interactions between the individual and their voice(s).
In our approach, which is derived from the Voice Dialogue method (Stone & Stone,
1989), we talk directly to voices in order to explore their motives, discover different
ways of relating to them, and ultimately support the voice-hearer to develop a more
constructive relationship. Working in this way can foster a more independent position
from which an individual can reclaim control and choice. Some voices can even
become supportive (Moskowitz & Corstens, 2007).
The theory behind the technique
Voice Dialogue is derived from various theoretical traditions concerned with the
psychology of Self, including Jungian, Gestalt and Transactional Analysis (in this
context, voice does not actually refer to VH, but is a metaphorical allusion to aspects
of one’s personality). Originally conceived for exploring different roles, conflicts, and
tensions in social relationships, a key tenet of Voice Dialogue is that “normal” person-
ality is essentially dissociative (i.e. we all have different personality components that
exist simultaneously and of which we are not consciously aware). In contrast to the
general assumption of a single, monolithic identity, the Stones suggest that everyone
consists of numerous “selves” or “sub-personalities”, each with its own perception of
the world, personal history, emotional reactions, and opinions on how we should live
our lives. Dividing the personality into component parts in this way is not a novel
concept. See, for example, the writings of Berne (1964), James (1891), Jung (1912/
2003), and Young (1994) for models using similar principles.
Organised in opposites, so-called primary and disowned selves, these parts help us
adapt to the demands of our daily interactions. Dominant selves want us to succeed in
life by meeting the demands of social situation, yet in doing so they push away our
more vulnerable parts. These (disowned) selves become repressed and unable to play
a significant role, thereby restricting the repertoire of selves. Such adaptations are gener-
ally governed by rules that were prevalent during childhood, and initially the organi-
sation of the selves is beneficial as we learn what behaviour is necessary and expected
in daily life. However, as life circumstances change the selves often stay fixated in their
original roles and prevent us from adaptation. Mostly we are unaware of this. For exam-
ple, someone raised by strict, authoritarian parents may develop a primary self that
strongly wants to appease people. The opposite, disowned self (which wants to chal-
lenge and ask questions, even if it means rejection) is pushed away by the more dominant
“pleaser” self, which craves approval. A person with selves organised like this will
frequently neglect their own needs in favour of satisfying other peoples’.
Voice Dialogue facilitates exploration of the selves in order to heighten awareness
of the various sub-personalities one contains and establish greater control over the
thoughts and actions relating to them. In the practice of Voice Dialogue the inter-
viewer (who is not called a “therapist” but a “facilitator”) asks the client to concentrate
on a self (e.g. the pleaser, the inner child, the controller) and go into the energy of this
particular self by standing/sitting in a different part of the room. This self is then ques-
tioned about its function in the person’s life. The facilitator does not engage in debate
or persuasion or elaborate any pressure to change: they simply express their curiosity
and desire to acknowledge the presence and individuality of this particular self, who
in turn experiences this acknowledgement and displays feelings and emotions, like a
“real” person. Finally, the facilitator asks if the self has any advice for the person, then
thanks it and asks the person to return to their original seat and reflect on what has
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Psychosis 3
occurred. Mostly people express surprise and a sense of increased understanding
about how this aspect of themselves conveys itself in daily life.
Talking with voices
In contrast, of course, voices are not felt as personality parts. On the contrary, they are
experienced as autonomous (possibly malicious and controlling) entities that oppress
and impose upon the hearer. Accordingly, getting rid of voices is a goal that preoccu-
pies many people (voice-hearers and professionals alike). However in our experience,
at least in the short-term, learning to cope with voices and accept their presence is a
more realistic aim. Voices represent a part of the person that wants to be heard and
acknowledged. Many voices are angry and malicious, but angry people want to vent
their outrage and express why they are so incensed. In some respects, voices are like
ordinary people. They have feelings, motives, shortcomings, and opinions. Further-
more, they may not use rational strategies, but react out of frustration. Voice Dialogue
therefore offers a good explanatory model of VH, as voices can be interpreted as
selves that relate to overwhelming emotional difficulties in the hearer’s life (Corstens,
Escher, & Romme, 2008).
Deeming VH a biological abnormality to be endured (rather than a significant
experience to be explored) discourages engaging with voices on the grounds that they
are meaningless symptoms of psychosis. Conversely, however, individuals who
engage with their voices are generally less distressed and disabled than those who lack
the capacity or motivation to do so (Mawson, Cohen, & Berry, 2010; Romme et al.,
2009; Shawyer et al., 2007; Veiga-Martinez, Perez-Alvarez, & Garcia-Montes, 2008).
The fact that resistance towards voices is significantly associated with anxious and
depressive symptomatology is consistent with claims that VH lies on a continuum
with intrusive cognitions whereby the act of suppressing and distancing against unac-
ceptable thoughts paradoxically heightens the likelihood of occurrence (Chadwick,
Lees, & Birchwood, 2000; Morrison & Baker, 2000). In contrast, acceptance and
acknowledgment allows individuals to deflect attention and behavioural resources
from avoiding and containing VH experiences towards the more important goal of
living a fulfilling life (Valmaggia & Morris, 2010).
Correspondingly, the dissociative literature generally accepts that direct engage-
ment with disparate, disowned aspects of the personality – including individuals with
co-morbid “psychotic” experience – is crucial for therapeutic change and integration.
Engaging and acknowledging voices has been advocated in the treatment of posttrau-
matic disorders (Brewin, 2003; Holmes, & Tinnin, 1995; Nurcombe, Scott & Jessop,
2008), and Ellason and Ross (1997) report significant reductions in Schneiderian-type
voices in dissociative identity disorder patients two years after psychotherapy comple-
tion (see also Kluft, 1984). These approaches are partly guided by the rationale that
VH’s biographical context provides a framework for both exploring psychosocial
dilemmas and integrating traumatic, unassimilated experiences into existing represen-
tational structures (Mollon, 2001). Given that VH is increasingly being conceptualised
as dissociative (Moskowitz, Read, Farrelly, Rudegeair, & Williams, 2009), and that
voices in patients designated psychotic cannot be reliably distinguished from those
diagnosed with dissociative disorders (Moskowitz & Corstens, 2007), a model for
working with voices that emphasises their dissociative nature is a logical progression.
In a variant of Voice Dialogue, Talking With Voices, we have developed a proce-
dure that approaches VH in patients designated psychotic in a style considered
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4 D. Corstens et al.
customary in the field of dissociative disorders. The approach does not focus on
voices as a symptom of illness, nor does it concentrate on discovering what is
“wrong” with the person. Instead, it offers a neutral yet robust approach that empha-
sises acceptance as a core value (Romme & Escher, 1993). An important principle is
that we are not necessarily trying to change the voices, nor banish them from the
person’s life: instead, we are trying to explore the relationship; help the voice-hearer
reclaim control and ownership of their experiences; and understand the voices’
motives for appearing in a negative way. Indeed, both the voice and voice-hearer are
generally unhappy in their mutual conflict, so improving understanding between both
parties is an important aspect of the process. Further outcomes include discovering
more positive ways of negotiating and relating to voices, altering power dynamics,
enhancing coping, and heightening awareness and understanding of voice character-
istics. Furthermore, voices often harbour information that can be beneficial for
understanding the difficulties voice-hearers experience in their interpersonal lives.
Allowing others to “hear” the voices and witness the person’s experience more
directly can also prove empowering and validating, as well as mitigating the sense of
isolation voices often generate. Ideally, facilitators should have some formal exper-
tise in the Voice Dialogue method and/or have experienced it themselves. Further-
more, they must be capable of responding appropriately to the various experiences of
violation and trauma that voice-hearers and/or voices may disclose (e.g. childhood
abuse, sexual assault, attachment dysfunction).
Case example
“Jacob” is a 23-year-old man diagnosed with schizophrenia. He heard one extremely
destructive voice that urged him to kill himself and commented incessantly on his
thoughts and behaviour. Jacob was terrified of the voice and resented its presence.
After several unsuccessful attempts to mitigate it using medication, he was referred to
one of the authors (DC) for therapy. Prior to speaking with the voice, several sessions
were spent establishing a working relationship with Jacob, and gathering relevant
information about his voice and its relation with his life circumstances.
When the Talking With Voices method was described to Jacob, he was enthusias-
tic to try it. The voice also gave its permission, although it was initially hostile and
expressed considerable animosity towards Jacob. It described its constant sense of
outrage towards him, claiming that Jacob deserved to die because he was “weak” and
servile. When asked if such prolonged anger was tiring, the voice agreed that it was:
it wanted Jacob to be stronger, but all its comments only made him more anxious and
fearful, which was deeply frustrating. The facilitator observed that the voice seemed
to want Jacob to grow more resilient, which the voice agreed with, although when
questioned further conceded that its methods for attempting this were not effective.
The facilitator asked when Jacob became less anxious, to which the voice replied:
“when he is supported”. The facilitator asked whether the voice knew how to support
Jacob, and when it stated it did not, he described ways in which he had learned to
support anxious people. The voice was intrigued, and agreed that it would like to
become Jacob’s “Teacher”. In subsequent sessions the facilitator suggested ways the
voice could improve its supportive qualities and over time it amended its previous
haranguing, criticising attitude, evolving from a tormenter to an encouraging compan-
ion who helped Jacob express what he needed. Thereafter, treatment focus was shifted
towards helping Jacob set attainable social and occupational goals.
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Psychosis 5
Conducting a session
Before commencing, it is important to have some insight into the voice’s influence
within the person’s life. A good tool for this purpose is the Maastricht Hearing Voices
Interview (Romme & Escher, 2000), which examines associations between life history
and VH through a systematic exploration of: voice characteristics; content; triggers;
the history of VH; and significant events in the life of the voice hearer (Corstens et al.,
2008). The resulting information provides the basis for a psychosocial, dynamic
formulation of factors that provoked VH onset and/or continuance. Depending on
available time, it can be administered either directly before speaking with voices or
during a prior session.
Beginning the session
After describing the method’s rationale, the facilitator enquires how the person and the
voices would feel about talking with her, taking care to explore why they find it a good
idea or not. At all times she behaves as if talking to individual members of a continually
present group, who must all give their consent. If the voices do not agree, then the facil-
itator explains the possible advantages, but she never coerces either voice-hearer or
voices to partake in the interview. All three parties (facilitator, voice-hearer, voices)
must concur and feel safe, and if this condition is not fulfilled then the session should
not proceed. There are many other ways to achieve a better relationship with voices
(see Larøi & Aleman, 2010), and these can be discussed as more suitable alternatives.
Talking with the voice
The facilitator asks the person to concentrate on the chosen voice and, when contact
is established, to take another place in the room. This is usually based on where they
feel the voice is coming from, although it is not the sole criteria and the chair can be
placed anywhere, as long as it different to where the person was at the start of the
session. Using chairs in this way is important for distinguishing to both voice-hearer
and facilitator that what is speaking is a different part of the person.
The voice is welcomed by the facilitator who tries to adopt a suitable attitude towards
it. For example, a passive voice should be addressed in a gentle way, and a domineering
voice with respectful assertion. During questioning, the voice-hearer repeats the voice’s
comments word-for-word. If the person prefers to remain dominant, the facilitator can
speak indirectly to the voices, asking questions whose answers are formulated by the
voice-hearer as an intermediary. This can be used as a warm-up exercise or the sole
method, depending on the voice-hearer’s inclination, although if possible it is preferable
to repeat the voice verbatim as it allows it to express itself more directly. Table 1 provides
examples of questions to pose to the voice. Although it may seem strange to refer to
the voice-hearer in the third person, we have found that directly addressing the voice
stimulates it to remain present. In this model, the voice is performing a “job” for the
voice-hearer. Throughout the process the facilitator engages with the voice in an open
and respectful way, taking care to thank the voice for its explanations.
Ending the session
When the facilitator, voice-hearer, or voice wishes to close, the facilitator asks if the
voice is happy to finish the dialogue, and maybe renew the conversation at another
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6 D. Corstens et al.
time. She says goodbye to the voice, and possibly makes a positive comment about it,
then returns to the person who goes back to the chair they used at the start of the
session and reflects on what occurred. People often express surprise (particularly
when the voice presents previously unknown information) and may express a new
sense of objectivity towards the voice. The facilitator discusses how it felt to speak
with the voice, and the voice-hearer provides their perspective on what it said.
Finally, an Awareness phase is initiated. The facilitator asks the person to stand
beside her, and together they view the scene while the facilitator objectively
summarises what she saw. Most people appreciate this, as it helps them to become
(more) aware of what occurred during the interview. Before leaving, she encourages
the person to continue making contact with the voices at home, and maybe consider
some potentials for changing the relationship (e.g. negotiating; setting boundaries;
using voices as clues to inner emotional conflicts; responding to voices in a construc-
tive, tolerant way rather than with hostility, or avoidance). It can be helpful to keep a
diary of progress between sessions.
Once this process is initiated, we frequently find that the voice-hearer and voices
begin to develop things for themselves. Ideally, the voice-hearer should have the
opportunity to talk with the voices directly using the chairs, as it permits them to
rehearse speaking with the voices in a safe environment, and with confidence they
may be able to do this independently. Sessions can also be summarised on paper after-
wards by the voice-hearer and/or facilitator. Time for planning future sessions should
be spent collaboratively so that the voice-hearer can determine what they want to
achieve, and the facilitator can express any concerns she may have in advance.
Case example
“Nelson” is 47-year-old man with a history of severe childhood abuse. He served in
the Army before mental health difficulties, precipitated by the murder of his wife,
forced him to retire. He was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, but had recently
withdrawn from medication after finding it ineffective. He heard three voices: John
(aged 7); Judas (aged 47), and Mother (who resembled Nelson’s mother when he was
7 years old). Judas and Mother were the most domineering voices, whereas John
Table 1. Potential questions.
1. Who are you? Do you have a name?
2. How old are you?
3. What do you look like?
4. How are you feeling at the moment?
5. Does (name of voice-hearer) know you?
6. When did you come into (name’s) life? What was your reason?
7. Did you have to do anything to look after (name)?
8. What do you want to achieve for (name)?
9. What’s your role in (name’s) life? Are you helping or causing problems?
10. What would happen to (name) if you weren’t there?
11. How does (name) feel about you?
12. What is it like being in (name’s) life?
13. Would you like to change anything in your relationship with (name)?
14. Do the other voices know about you? What do they think of you? Do they collaborate with
15. Is there anything you want to advise/suggest to (name)?
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Psychosis 7
represented the memories of Nelson’s abuse. Judas and John were constantly present
but the Mother voice appeared intermittently, usually during periods of intense stress.
Nelson attended a residential training workshop about VH run by two of the
authors (DC and EL). As Nelson had never worked therapeutically with either facili-
tator, time was spent prior to the Talking With Voices session exploring the content
and characteristics of his voices. Judas and John first appeared when Nelson was
seven, when they instructed him to build a tent in his bedroom. Throughout his child-
hood, Judas and John provided companionship and comfort. The Mother voice
appeared when Nelson had his first breakdown. This voice was cruel and destructive.
In turn, John was debilitating due to the intense feelings of fear and despair he induced
in Nelson. Although Judas was perceived as having good intentions, Nelson found
him frightening because of his austere, commanding nature. Nelson’s goal was to
learn to understand his voices and to cope with them in a more constructive way.
Both Nelson and the voices readily agreed to talk with us. Nelson was unsure
which voice to speak with first, and we advised to start with a dominant one, then ask
its permission to proceed to more disowned ones (if this is not done then the dominant
voice, whose task is to protect the voice-hearer, may grow annoyed and aggressive
towards the person and/or the vulnerable voices/parts). As Nelson was scared of the
Mother voice, we agreed to speak with Judas first. Because it is important that the
voice-hearer takes responsibility for the process, Nelson was told to stay present
during the dialogue and to intervene if necessary. Before proceeding, time was spent
discussing ways to help both Nelson and the voices feel safe. We agreed that when
Judas spoke, Nelson would need to stand and move about. We also reassured Nelson
that we could deal with verbal aggression, as he was afraid Judas would offend us.
Because Nelson was concerned the voice would take control of him during the
session, we agreed to use a firm, military-like sentence (“You may now sit”) as a cue
for Judas to leave and Nelson to resume control.
When we spoke with Judas, Nelson adopted a military stance and began pacing
round the room. The voice of Judas was assertive, and spoke in short, precise
sentences. He identified himself as an army officer and told us it was his responsibility
to plan and organise Nelson’s life. Judas reported that Nelson could not travel, work,
or socialise without him, and that he forced Nelson to go to nightclubs in order to meet
women (one of Judas’ ambitions was for Nelson to overcome his fear of intimacy and
find a partner). Judas described how he and John first appeared to help Nelson survive
the abuse and bear his loneliness. However, Judas also told us that while he still knew
John, they were no longer on friendly terms because “John didn’t grow up, whereas I
became a man.” Judas stated that he didn’t know what fear was; he was always there
and didn’t need rest or respite. He also explained his name: Judas was the protector of
Christ, and Judas had a desire to help and support Nelson. Because Nelson’s family
was very religious, Judas believed this was a name Nelson would relate to. His desire
was to be accepted by Nelson. He was responsive to our suggestion to try to find more
common ground with John. At the end of the conversation, we thanked Judas for
answering our questions and asked to speak with Nelson again.
When Nelson sat down, the voice of John appeared. It was clear that John
harboured significant pain, anxiety and grief. Because of the limited time available,
we could not talk to John. However, we advised Nelson to discuss his feelings with
John, and to try and promote contact between John and Judas. Nelson expressed his
fear that he did not know how to connect with women, even though he wanted a rela-
tionship. We suggested that with Judas’ assistance, and when John felt safer, Nelson
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8 D. Corstens et al.
could try to meet a partner. Although some voice-hearers dissociate during a session,
Nelson was aware of the conversation with Judas and showed no evidence of amnesia.
For instance, he had been intrigued by Judas’ account of his name, as he had previ-
ously been unaware of its origins.
On the basis of this work, Judas and Nelson’s relationship changed significantly,
becoming more positive and supportive. Indeed, the next day Nelson told us that
Judas had said “good morning” to him in a friendly manner for the first time in seven
years. Nelson was advised to find ways to support the voice of John to mature and
gain trust in Nelson, and to recruit the help of Judas in this by defending, reassuring
and caring for John. In order to help Judas and John become allies again, Nelson
intended to build a new tent (to mimic the one in which the three of them first met) to
begin a process of integration and reconciliation. Email contact was sustained with
Nelson after the course, in which it transpired that this strategy had been successful.
Nelson subsequently began a paid position training junior psychiatrists in supporting
and understanding VH.
Currently, the most dominant psychological model of VH comes from the cognitive
tradition, which argues that VH arises from distorted information processing and misat-
tribution of internal events. However, these perspectives seem inadequate given the
way many voice-hearers conceptualise their experiences (Beavan, 2011) While persua-
sive at explaining how thoughts may be experienced as projected/intrusive, cognitive
models provide a less compelling account of how externalised thoughts become audi-
ble, particularly as most voice-hearers make clear distinctions between voices and
thoughts (Hoffman, Varanko, Gilmore, & Mishara, 2008). Dissociative processes, by
contrast, appear indispensable for explaining one of the most vital aspects of VH: that
of “other” dynamically engaging with “self”. It is not immediately apparent how indi-
viduals cultivate, negotiate, and modify relationships with externalised thoughts, yet
a process of communication and interaction is how VH is consistently described
(Romme et al., 2009). Therapeutic models which recognise this not only resituate VH
in the context of the hearer’s social relations, they emphasise the importance of inte-
grating the experience within their own internal dialogue. Indeed, as May (quoted in
James, 2009, p. 18) has observed “(w)hile some cognitive approaches might mindfully
step back from the voices, [Talking With Voices] can be seen as mindfully engaging
with voices". This is particularly relevant given that much VH, including the most
stressful, high-risk varieties, are often resistant to standard treatments that focus on
eliminating the experience rather than understanding, interpreting, and integrating it
(Birchwood & Spencer, 2002). Furthermore, while more recent forms of CBT (e.g.
Chadwick, 2006) are increasingly advocating relational ideas, they still do not address
voices directly, rather beliefs and assumptions about them.
We have practiced the Talking With Voices approach with numerous voice-hearers
over the last decade. These individuals experienced it as a safe way to enhance under-
standing of their voices through the provision of normalising frameworks and insight
into the underlying reasons for voice emergence, ultimately acting as a catalyst for
establishing more productive relationships between hearer and voice. Furthermore, the
approach can improve social functioning for voice-hearers who are trapped in destruc-
tive communication patterns with their voices. Of course, not all voice-hearers are
willing (or able) to directly dialogue with their voices, in which case other approaches
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Psychosis 9
are available. Furthermore, while one-session transformations can occur, prolonged
and systematic exploration is often necessary to enact lasting change. Finally, the
emotional material voices represent may sometimes be so threatening that voice-hear-
ers dissociate when the facilitator communicates with the voice. In such instances, more
prolonged therapy in the line of dissociative disorder protocols are needed. Future
systematic research is being prepared to address indications, contra-indications and
effectiveness of the Talking With Voices approach. Some considerations regarding this
can be found at
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... It has been skeptical towards often 5 EXPERIENCE FOCUSSED COUNSELLING AS RECOVERY FOCUSSED professionally-led traditional forms of research and practice in influencing theory and practice change (Schnackenberg & Martin, 2014) and has preferred the sharing and acceptance of lived experience and personal narratives instead . It purports to have converted these principles into a workable recovery promoting VH-led intervention, which uses the experiences traditionally identified as symptoms, such as voice hearing, as direct resources instead (Corstens, Longden & May, 2012;Corstens & Longden, 2013). The Maastricht Interview, Report and Construct are applied sequentially to identify who and what the voices might represent within the person's life context (Romme & Escher, 2000). ...
... EFC group participants had been asked to dialogically engage in the Maastricht Interview, Report and Construct alongside HVM recognised coping strategies, such as learning to talk to voices in a boundaried and constructive manner (Romme & Escher, 2008;2010;Corstens et al., 2012;Corstens & Longden, 2013). ...
This qualitative study explored the suitability of Experience Focussed Counselling (EFC) as a much-needed recovery-focussed hearing voices approach. Twenty-five interviews explored the views of voice hearers and mental health professionals exposed to both EFC and Treatment as Usual. An inductive explanatory model of Applied Thematic Analysis was used. Trustworthiness and dependability of the study were ensured. We identified 11 themes pertaining to recovery outcomes, including recovery outcomes, voice-specific coping, tolerance of symptoms or experiences, and relationship between voice hearer and professional and others. EFC was considered helpful in facilitating recovery, whereas Treatment as Usual was not. These findings support existing knowledge from within the Hearing Voices Movement and the relevance of EFC as a recovery-focussed approach applicable in voice hearing-related distress, by improving psychosocial and voice hearing distress domains, personal recovery, and the understandability of voices within a voice hearer's life context.
... Other participants suggested that just ignoring the voices is insufficient to cope with the experience, whilst some declared that they are afraid of and never tried to ignore the voice because it is distressing. Exploring the voices' motives may help VHs to change their relationship with them and improve their social functioning (Corstens et al., 2012). Some of the participants in the current study mentioned that they had started to communicate with the voices they hear as a coping mechanism. ...
Auditory hallucinations or hearing voices are often associated with schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders. However, several voice-hearers do not have any mental health issues or diagnoses. The study presented in this paper aimed to explore how voice-hearers understand and react to their concerns by reflecting on and exploring their experiences and interpretations of these experiences. The participants were nine individuals - three females, four males and two others, all experiencing auditory hallucinations for at least five years, residing either at their home or at one of the Hostels run by Richmond Foundation (Malta). A qualitative approach following the principles of Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis was used. In-depth interviews were conducted to explore how the participants perceive their voices, what coping strategies are used, and how their experiences affect their lives. Four super-ordinate themes related to the participants' perceptions and their interpretation of the experience of hearing voices were identified: 'A tough experience', 'Methods used to cope with voices', 'Factors linked to recovery' and 'Relationships'. Furthermore, the study elicited the voice-hearers' recommendations (both for other voice-hearers and mental health professionals).
... Although verbal engagement with voices is already applied within survivor communities (Corstens et al., 2014), controlled evidence remains in development. Existing limited data for TwV comprises case examples (Corstens et al., 2012;Moskowitz & Corstens, 2008), a concurrent multiple baseline design case series (n = 15: Steel et al., 2019), a small RCT (n = 12: Schnackenberg et al., 2017) and a feasibility and acceptability RCT (n = 50: Longden, Corstens, et al., 2022), all of which indicate signals of efficacy without emergent safety concerns. The latter represents the most comprehensive evidence currently available, which compared ≤26 sessions of TwV over 6 months with treatment as usual (TAU) amongst 50 adults with a diagnosis of schizophrenia spectrum disorders. ...
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Background Traumatic events, particularly childhood interpersonal victimisation, have been found to play a causal role in the occurrence of psychosis and shape the phenomenology of psychotic experiences. Higher rates of post‐traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other trauma‐related mental health problems are also found in people with psychosis diagnoses compared to the general population. It is, therefore, imperative that therapists are willing and able to address trauma and its consequences when supporting recovery from distressing psychosis. Method This paper will support this need by providing a state‐of‐the‐art overview of the safety, acceptability and effects of trauma therapies for psychosis. Results We will first introduce how seminal cognitive‐behavioural models of psychosis shed light on the mechanisms by which trauma may give rise to psychotic experiences, including a putative role for trauma‐related emotions, beliefs and episodic memories. The initial application of prolonged exposure and eye movement and desensitation and reprocessing therapy (EMDR) for treating PTSD in psychosis will be described, followed by consideration of integrative approaches. These integrative approaches aim to address the impact of trauma on both post‐traumatic stress symptoms and trauma‐related psychosis. Integrative approaches include EMDR for psychosis (EMDRp) and trauma‐focused Cognitive‐Behavioural Therapy for psychosis (tf‐CBTp). Finally, emerging dialogic approaches for targeting trauma‐related voice‐hearing will be considered, demonstrating the potential value of adopting co‐produced (Talking with Voices) and digitally augmented (AVATAR) therapies. Conclusion We will conclude by reflecting on current issues in the area, and implications for research and clinical practice.
... The relationship between the AV and the individual is unique, and we might consider the AV's psychological function in the course of this disorder. Voices can offer an internal dialogue, a guiding force and a sense of companionship (Corstens et al., 2012). Iudici et al. (2018) stated that voices (non-specific to EDs) can play a relational function that is not fulfilled by the hearer's social network or compensates for the lack of other social contacts. ...
Objectives Many individuals with eating disorders (EDs) report the experience of an ‘Anorexic voice’ (AV). Negative experiences of loneliness are also often associated with EDs. This study sought to explore the relationship between experiences of loneliness, the frequency of the AV and the impact of this on ED symptom severity. Design 165 individuals (mean age 27.54 years) who accessed online forums relating to EDs participated in this study. The sample included individuals who have experienced an AV [AV group ( N = 141)] and those who have not [non‐AV group ( N = 23)]. Methods The study utilised self‐report measures via an online questionnaire to explore the predictive validity of loneliness and frequency of the AV on ED symptom severity. Results Confirmatory analysis (AV group only) demonstrated the significance of the independent variables individually predicting ED symptom severity. However, a significant interaction was not found between the two primary variables in predicting ED symptom severity, more significantly than the influence of either variable alone. Exploratory analysis considered the differences between the two groups (AV and Non‐AV), as well as considering alternate predictors. Conclusions The findings offer insight into possible drivers behind engagement with the AV, as part of ED presentations in the community.
... For mainstream psychiatry, the presence of psychosis points to the need for risk assessment (are the voices telling you to hurt yourself or anyone else?) and treatment with antipsychotic medications in the hopes of eliminating the symptoms. The narrative content and the meaning of the speech of individuals diagnosed with psychosis is not considered relevant Corstens, Longden and May 2012;Shattell 2013, 2016). ...
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This clinical case study presents the case of a Latina Veteran experiencing psychosis and draws on eclectic theoretical sources, including user/survivor scholarship, phenomenology, meaning-oriented cultural psychiatry & critical medical anthropology, and Frantz Fanon’s insight on ‘sociogeny,’ to emphasize the importance of attending to the meaning within psychosis and to ground that meaning in a person’s subjective-lived experience and social world. The process of exploring the meaning and critical significance of the narratives of people experiencing psychosis is important for developing empathy and connection, the fundamental prerequisite for developing trust and therapeutic rapport. It also helps us to recognize some of the relevant aspects of a person’s lived experiences. To be understood, this Veteran’s narratives must be contextualized in her past and ongoing life experience of racism, social hierarchy, and violence. Engaging in this way with her narratives pushes us towards a social etiology that conceptualizes psychosis as a complex response to life experience, and in her case, a critical embodiment of intersectional oppression.
Objectives: Post-traumatic stress is common among people who hear voices (auditory verbal hallucinations), many of whom hear trauma-related voices, whereby voice content is related to past trauma. Preliminary evidence suggests that imagery rescripting (ImRs) may more effectively reduce post-traumatic stress and voices compared to treatments that are based on existing models of PTSD or positive symptoms. No known studies have explored the potential maintaining factors of trauma-related voices in relation to ImRs. We aimed to uncover insights into the factors that maintain trauma-related voices and how ImRs may influence such factors by exploring voice hearers' explanations of voices and experiences of change throughout ImRs. Design: Thematic analytical methodology was used due to the study's critical epistemological framework. Methods: Semi-structured interviews explored relationships between trauma and voices, and experiences of change and stability throughout ImRs in a transdiagnostic sample (N = 10) who underwent 10-18 weekly ImRs sessions. Thematic analysis was used to develop themes. Results: Two themes captured explanations of voices, which suggested voices may have counterproductive protective functions. Three themes captured psychological experiences during ImRs, which reflected concepts such as freedom to experience emotions, and experiences of justice, closure and grieving. Three themes described the outcomes of ImRs, reflecting concepts such as increased confidence, coping, perceived safety and voices becoming less powerful. Conclusions: Trauma-related voices may have underlying protective functions and ImRs may support emotional expression, adaptive trauma re-appraisals and improve self-worth and coping self-efficacy. These change processes may have clinical implications in ImRs and other treatments for trauma-affected voice hearers.
In the last few years, avatars have been increasingly used in treating persistent persecutory auditory verbal hallucinations. The digital representation (an avatar) of persecutory hallucinations is voiced by the therapist and engages the patient in a dialogue, progressively conceding its power and, hence, reducing the stress experienced by the patient. Such attempts at integrating digital representations and cognitive behavior therapy raise a range of philosophical questions, which this chapter tackles along two trajectories. From an epistemological standpoint, we inquire what notion of mental disorder can underlie the use of avatar therapy, and how our understanding of psychiatric diseases can be affected by the implementation of such a therapy. Relatedly, from an ethical standpoint, we reflect on some of the controversial issues posed by such therapeutic strategies. Discussing selected epistemological and ethical aspects stemming from the latest relevant literature both in philosophy and in psychiatry, the chapter aims to provide a tentative evaluation of trade-offs between the promises of and the limits to this therapeutic option.KeywordsPhilosophy of PsychiatryBioethicsVirtual realityClinical careVerbal hallucinationsMental disorderTrialogueDeceit
In cognitive-behaviour therapy attention paid to the self and identity has primarily involved self-representations (the Me-Self) rather than how the self is experienced (the I-Self). Within the I-Self experiences vary on a continuum from pre-reflective consciousness (raw experienced perceptions and states of being) to self-awareness (permitting reflection on and evaluation of subjective experience). There is considerable evidence that the I-Self is affected in many if not all disorders, and I review illustrative studies of OCD, eating disorders, body dysmorphic disorder, PTSD, and personality disorder. These indicate that patients often experience themselves as being defective in various ways, or as having an unstable or contradictory I-Self. Recognition of this neglected aspect of patients’ experience has major implications for assessment and treatment. For example, acknowledgment that their sense of self may fluctuate dramatically from moment to moment, may be fragmented, or may consist of a sense of emptiness, may help to build a more empathic therapeutic relationship. If frightening or distressing pre-reflective experiences are the cause of avoidance or other maladaptive coping strategies, conscious attention paid to them in therapy may help to better integrate the I-Self and Me-Self, restoring a sense of predictability and control.
There is growing clinical interest in addressing relationship dynamics between service-users and their voices. The Talking With Voices (TwV) trial aimed to establish feasibility and acceptability of a novel dialogical intervention to reduce distress associated with voices amongst adults diagnosed with schizophrenia spectrum disorders. The single-site, single-blind (rater) randomised controlled trial recruited 50 participants who were allocated 1:1 to treatment as usual (TAU), or TAU plus up to 26 sessions of TwV therapy. Participants were assessed at baseline and again at end of treatment (six-months). The primary outcomes were quantitative and qualitative assessments of feasibility and acceptability. Secondary outcomes involved clinical measures, including targeted instruments for voice-hearing, dissociation, and emotional distress. The trial achieved 100 % of the target sample, 24 of whom were allocated to therapy and 26 to TAU. The trial had high retention (40/50 [80 %] participants at six-months) and high intervention adherence (21/24 [87.5 %] receiving ≥8 sessions). Signals of efficacy were shown in targeted measures of voice-hearing, dissociation, and perceptions of recovery. Analysis on the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale indicated that there were no differences in means of general psychosis symptom scores in TwV compared to the control group. There were four serious adverse events in the therapy group and eight in TAU, none of which were related to study proceedings. The trial demonstrates the acceptability of the intervention and the feasibility of delivering it under controlled, randomised conditions. An adequately powered definitive trial is necessary to provide robust evidence regarding efficacy evaluation and cost-effectiveness. Trial registration: ISRCTN 45308981.
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A growing body of research on verbal hallucinations shows the importance of beliefs about and relationships with the voices for their pathological course. In particular, beliefs about the omnipotence of the voices and the need to control them, and relationships with them that involve efforts to resist or fi ght them, have shown themselves to be more pathogenic than effective. Likewise, treatments aimed at eliminating the voices, be they based on medication or 'traditional' cognitive–behavioural therapy, have not always been successful. A series of strategies focused on changing relationships with the voices instead of trying to eliminate them—including mindfulness, acceptance , experiential role plays and re-authoring lives—is emerging as a new perspective for the treatment of hallucinations. All of these strategies are based on the person, not on the syndrome, which also represents a new conception of the problem, in a phenomenologi-cal–social perspective, alternative to the predominant medical conception .
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Person-based cognitive therapy (PBCT) integrates traditional cognitive therapy with a mindfulness- and acceptance-based approach. This chapter first summarises the PBCT model, before advocating the potential benefits of a group approach. Chadwick emphasises the importance of 'radical collaboration', particularly when working with people who are experiencing distressing psychosis. In his seminal 2006 chapter on group PBCT, Chadwick focuses on the group process in PBCT and the considerations that can be taken into account when setting up and running groups in different contexts. In order to complement this, the chapter focuses more on the content of group PBCT, by outlining a 12-session group PBCT programme. The chapter ends with an overview of the state of the evidence base for group PBCT for psychosis.
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Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) represents a new generation of behavior therapies that, after having received empirical support in a variety of disorders characterized by experiential avoidance, also offers a promising new treatment for psychosis. In contrast to the traditional treatment, in which both antipsychotic medication and cognitive-behavioral therapy focus on reducing symptoms, ACT proposes active acceptance and at the same time orientation of the person toward the achievement of worthwhile goals for his or her life in spite of symptoms, such as auditory hallucinations. In this case, a 30-year-old male diagnosed with schizophrenia demonstrates the logic and effectiveness of ACT as well as its applicability as part of the routine activities of a clinical psychologist in a public mental health care center.
Hallucinations provides a practical guide to the assessment, evaluation, and treatment of hallucinations, and also addresses a range of interventions.
This book provides a practical framework for using a person based cognitive therapy approach for addressing the range of problems experienced by people with psychosis. Chapters 1-4 provide a context for the approach and chapters 5-12 cover the clinical application of the approach. Key features include; the integration of the author's work on Mindfulness (simple meditation technique that is similarly creating a lot of interest at present) for people with psychosis; inclusion of the two-chair method; plus a chapter on group therapy.
Background We present a revised Beliefs About Voices Questionnaire (BAVQ—R), a self-report measure of patients' beliefs, emotions and behaviour about auditory hallucinations. Aims To improve measurement of omnipotence, a pivotal concept in understanding auditory hallucinations, and elucidate links between beliefs about voices, anxiety and depression. Methods Seventy-one participants with chronic auditory hallucinations completed the BAVQ—R, and 58 also completed the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale. Results The mean Cronbach's α for the five sub-scales was 0.86 (range 0.74-0.88). The study supports hypotheses about links between beliefs, emotions and behaviour, and presents original data on how these relate to the new omnipotence sub-scale. Original data are also presented on connections with anxiety and depression. Conclusions The BAVQ—R is more reliable and sensitive to individual differences than the original version, and reliably measures omnipotence.
Dissociation. A Reconsideration of Freud's Views of Trauma. Back to Janet: Early Studies of Trauma, Repression and Dissociation. The Effects of Trauma and Abuse on the Developing Self. The Effects of Trauma and Abuse upon Internal and External Object Relations, Belief Systems, and Psychobiology. Remembering, Forgetting and Confabulating: Terror in the Consulting Room. Multiple Personality Disorder/Dissociative Identity Disorder. What is Going on in Multiple Personality Disorder/Dissociative Identity Disorder? Therapeutic Considerations with MPD/DID. Illustration of Therapy with MPD/DID: A Composite Fictitious Case - Discussion. Reflections of Evil: The Mystery of Deep Perversion. Epilogue. Appendix. References. Index.