The Hearing Voices Network Hits the Mainstream!

By Leah Harris

The Hearing Voices movement began in Europe in the late 1980s when Marius Romme, a psychiatrist, realized that his training and therapeutic techniques were not helping one of his patients to manage the voices in her head. In listening to Patsy Hage, Romme began to wonder if maybe other voice-hearers might be in a better position to help her than he was. His hunch turned out to be correct, and the Hearing Voices Network (HVN) was co-founded by Romme and Hage in 1987.

The HVN is a peer-to-peer, nonclinical support group based on the radical idea that voice-hearing is not automatically a sign of pathology. Unlike traditional methods that encourage voice-hearers not to engage with or listen to their voices, the HVN takes the opposite approach: voice-hearers are encouraged to explore and discover for themselves what their voices mean. The groups also provide social support and acceptance– something that is vitally important given the social distancing and isolation often reported by voice hearers. And the groups offer practical strategies for living with and managing voices.

There are now hundreds of groups around the world, but the HVN has been slower to take off the in the U.S. HVN-USA was established a decade ago; yet there remain less than ten Hearing Voices groups operating in the entire state of California, with three of the groups located in Alameda County. 

That all may be changing, due to increased public awareness and media coverage of the existence and value of the Hearing Voices approach. The New York Times recently ran a story by Benedict Carey entitled “Mental-Health Researchers Ask: What Is ‘Recovery’?” The story featured the lived experience perspective of Claire Bien, a voice-hearer and research associate at Yale University who has benefited greatly from the groups; as well as the qualitative research on HVN currently being conducted by Dr. Gail Hornstein, Professor Emeritus at Mount Holyoke College.

The New York Times story also referenced a new 22-minute documentary film entitled Beyond Possible: How the Hearing Voices Approach Saves Lives, produced by the Western Massachusetts Recovery Learning Community and Mount Holyoke College with support from Open Excellence. 

The film, released on YouTube on February 9, received over 2,000 views within the first three weeks–undeniable proof of the public’s interest in this approach. Beyond Possible features the story of Caroline Mazel-Carlton, one of the world’s leading Hearing Voices Network trainers, who encourages everyone to share the film widely to help raise awareness and demand. In a recent blog for Open Excellence, Mazel-Carlton writes:

“The following film features American voice-hearers from many walks of life.  By sharing it you uplift the stories of parents, a veteran, people of different generations and backgrounds who hear voices and have found healing community in the Hearing Voices Network.  You can offer hope to those for whom the standard narrative of voice-hearing does not fit or for whom the conventional psychiatric approach has not alleviated their suffering. By spreading this message, you offer new ways forward to those who support voice-hearers in their families or in professional roles.”

As Mazel-Carlton says, let’s keep “spreading this message” and all do our part to help support the expansion of the Hearing Voices Network in Alameda County, the state of California, and the USA.