Hearing Voices Movement

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Hearing Voices Movement is a philosophical trend in how people who hear voices are viewed. It was started by Marius Romme and Sandra Escher. The movement challenges the medical model of mental illness, rejects the stigma and pathologisation of hearing voices, and advocates for individualized recovery methods.

History and tenets[edit]

The Hearing Voices Movement was established in 1987 by Romme and Escher, both from the Netherlands, with the formation of Stichting Weerklank (Foundation Resonance), an organization for people who hear voices. In 1988, the Hearing Voices Network was established in England with the active support of Romme.[1][better source needed] Since then, networks have been established in other countries including Italy, Finland, Wales, Scotland, Switzerland, Sweden, Austria, Germany, Norway, Denmark, Japan, Israel, New Zealand, Australia, and the USA.

In 1997, a meeting of voice hearers and mental health workers was held in Maastricht to discuss developing the further promotion and research into the topic of voice hearing. The meeting decided to create a formal organizational structure to provide administrative and coordinating support to the wide variety of initiatives in the different involved countries.[citation needed] The new network was called INTERVOICE (The International Network for Training, Education and Research into Hearing Voices). INTERVOICE holds annual steering group meetings, encourages and supports exchanges and visits between member countries and the translation and publication of books and other literature on the subject of hearing voices. INTERVOICE was incorporated in 2007 as a non-profit company under UK law.

INTERVOICE is supported by people who hear voices, relatives and friends and mental health professionals including nurses, psychiatrists and psychologists.[citation needed] INTERVOICE members assert that the most important factor in the success of their approach is the importance placed on the personal engagement of the people involved, meaning that all participants are considered an expert of their own experience.[citation needed]

The Hearing Voices Movement regards itself as being a post-psychiatric organisation,[2][better source needed] positioning itself outside of the mental health world in recognition that voices are an aspect of human difference, rather than a mental health problem, and that one of the main issues is about human rights.

The Hearing Voices Movement seeks holistic health solutions to problematic and overwhelming voices that cause mental distress. Based on their research,[citation needed] the movement espouses that many people successfully live with their voices and that in themselves voices are not the problem.


The position of the hearing voices movement can be summarised as follows:[citation needed]

  • Hearing voices is not in itself a sign of mental illness.
  • Hearing voices is experienced by many people who do not have symptoms that would lead to diagnosis of mental illness.
  • Hearing voices is often related to problems in life history.
  • If hearing voices causes distress, the person who hears the voices can learn strategies to cope with the experience. Coping is often achieved by confronting the past problems that lie behind the experience.

Theory overview[edit]

The work of Romme and Escher[3][better source needed] provides a theoretical framework for the movement. They find that:

  1. Not everyone who hears voices becomes a patient. Over a third of 400 voice hearers in the Netherlands they studied had not had any contact with psychiatric services. These people either described themselves as being able to cope with their voices and/or described their voices as life enhancing.[citation needed]
  2. Romme cites demographic research[4][better source needed] indicating that hearing voices in itself is not a symptom of an illness, but is apparent in 2–4% of the population (some research gives higher estimates);[5] and even more (about 8%) have peculiar delusions and do so without being ill.
  3. People who cope well with their voices and those who did not show clear differences in terms of the nature of the relationship they had with their voices.[citation needed]
  4. People who cope better also used different strategies to manage their voices.[citation needed]
  5. 70% of voice hearers reported that their voices had begun after a severe traumatic or intensely emotional event,[6] such as an accident, divorce or bereavement, sexual or physical abuse, love affairs, or pregnancy. Romme and colleagues found that the onset of voice hearing amongst a patient group was preceded by either a traumatic event or an event that activated the memory of an earlier trauma.[citation needed] Specifically, there was a high correlation between voice hearing and abuse.[citation needed] These findings are being substantiated further in an on-going study with voice hearing amongst children.[7][better source needed]
  6. Some people who hear voices have a deep need to construct a personal understanding for their experiences and to talk to others about it without being designated as mad.[citation needed]

Romme and colleagues find that people who hear voices can be helped using cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and self-help methods.[citation needed]

Romme theorizes a three phase model of recovery:[citation needed]

  • Startling – Initial confusion; emotional chaos, fear, helplessness and psychological turmoil.
  • Organization – The need to find meaning, arrive at some understanding and acceptance. The development of ways of coping and accommodating voices in everyday living. This task may take months or years and is marked by the attempt to enter into active negotiation with the voice(s).
  • Stabilisation – The establishment of equilibrium, and accommodation, with the voice(s), and the consequent re-empowerment of the person.

Alternative to medical model of disability[edit]

The Hearing Voices Movement disavows the medical model of disability and disapproves of the practises of mental health services through much of the Western World, such as treatment solely with medication. For example, some service users have reported negative experiences of mental health services because they are discouraged from talking about their voices as these are seen solely as symptoms of psychiatric illness.[8][better source needed] Slade and Bentall conclude that the failure to attend to hallucinatory experiences and/or have the opportunity for dialogue about them is likely to have the effect of helping to maintain them.[citation needed]

In Voices of Reason, Voices of Insanity, Leudar and Thomas review nearly 3,000 years of voice-hearing history, including that of Socrates, Schreber, and Janet's patient 'Marcelle', amongst others.[citation needed] They argue that the Western World has moved the experience of hearing voices from a socially valued context to a pathologised and denigrated one. Foucault has argued that this process can generally arise when a minority perspective is at odds with dominant social norms and beliefs.[citation needed]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ James, 2001
  2. ^ Bracken, 2005; Stastny/Peter Lehmann, 2007
  3. ^ Romme and Escher (1989, 90, 91, 92, '94, '97, '98, '99)
  4. ^ Including studies by A. Y. Tien (1991) and Eaton W.W. et al. (1991)
  5. ^ Jardri, Thomas, Cachia & Pins (2013). The Neuroscience of hallucinations. New York: Springer Science + Business Media. pp. 21–41. 
  6. ^ Jardri, Thomas, Cachia & Pins (2013). The Neuroscience of hallucinations. New York: Springer Science + Business Media. pp. 21–41. 
  7. ^ Escher (2001)
  8. ^ Romme (1997)