By Leah Harris
1. Do not encourage voice-hearers to disregard their voices or to change their unusual beliefs. Traditional Western psychological approaches to working with voice-hearers have viewed voices, visions, or unusual beliefs or “delusions” purely as symptoms of mental illness, and teach voice-hearers to disengage with them. The Hearing Voices approach encourages a sense of curious engagement towards voices, as you would connect with someone you were getting to know. At the same time, the Hearing Voices approach also invites healthy boundary-setting with voices that may feel abusive or otherwise upsetting.
2. Validate that things are especially hard for voice-hearers around the world. Voice hearers globally report that the content of voices and visions has been changing in response to rapidly deteriorating conditions and is accordingly more distressing. Others had been hearing voices and having visions and beliefs with content including apocalypse, pandemics, and economic collapse far before COVID-19, and are struggling with how to make sense of it all. The Hearing Voices USA Charter promotes “acceptance that voices and visions, tactile sensations and other unusual or misunderstood experiences are real experiences.” But the ability to discern “consensus reality,” is especially hard right now for everyone. Voice-hearers have additional layers to navigate in a world filled with extraordinary uncertainty.
3. Acknowledge that voice-hearers may possess skills and experience that are especially useful right now. While in many ways voice hearers are struggling, there are also skills that accompany hearing voices. Many voice-hearers are accomplished at navigating crisis, confusion, and uncertainty, including economic uncertainty due to the discrimination and disability that was widespread before this crisis. Social isolation is not new to many voice-hearers who have found themselves shunned by friends and family unable to understand their experiences.
4. Empathize that many traditional ways of coping have been taken away from voice-hearers. In this time of physical distancing, people cannot access in-person Hearing Voices groups or other social connections that were essential to their sense of well-being. Others are unable to access holistic mind-body approaches such as acupuncture or neurofeedback that help them to regulate the voices more easily. The loss of holistic modalities, which cannot be replicated online, has been felt acutely by many. Check out this practical COVID-19 survival guide for voice-hearers facing the loss of helpful supports, developed by Hearing Voices – England.
5. Share online resources for peer-to-peer support for voice-hearers, family, and friends. For example, the Bay Area Hearing Voices Network has transitioned to all online groups, including groups for voice-hearers, family members, and youth. Find other groups in the Bay Area via the Hearing Voices USA directory. And if you or loved ones need support at other times of day, check out the online phone and support resource created and curated by the Western Massachusetts Recovery Learning Community. There are Hearing Voices groups, friends and family groups; as well as others including LGBTQ+, youth, Alternatives to Suicide groups, recovery groups, creativity circles, and much more.
May all who need it find support, connection, and validation in these difficult and stressful times.
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