Talking back to your voices

From the Guardian an excerpt from the life of a man living med free:

Ten years ago, at 29, I was told I had paranoid schizophrenia. Friends – well, people I thought were friends – immediately associated the diagnosis with knife-wielding murderers. A lot of them stopped having anything to do with me. I realised I’d been given a label that comes with a huge stigma and a prescription of potent, but in my case useless, medication.

I remained keen to find out about innovative treatments, and finally, at a mental health seminar, I heard a speaker talk about an approach advocated by growing numbers of mental health professionals that involves people engaging with the voices inside their head. He was from the Hearing Voices Network and I agreed to visit him. He said I should be frank and uncompromising with the voices. If they told me to self-harm, I should just say no. “If anyone else told you to put your finger in the fire, you wouldn’t, so why act on what they say?” he said. He added that if I wanted to know why they were there, I should ask them, and if I wanted them to go away, I should tell them. It was so simple, but it made so much sense.

I took his advice, questioning them, challenging them and even cutting them off if I didn’t have time to talk to them. I’d say things like, “I’m watching TV now, I’ll talk to you later” or “Why exactly do you think I deserve it when bad things happen to me? You can’t answer that, can you?” Sometimes I’d do it in my head; other times out loud. I began to recognise the voices as representing the negative feelings I had about myself, and that alone helped me feel less frightened of them. It’s not that they aren’t real, but they ceased to have the power over me they did. I began to realise they couldn’t carry out their threats.

Now they bother me a lot less and, when they do, I’m in control of the conversations. I’ll still talk out loud to them if I feel like it, even if I’m on the bus or in the street. I get some funny looks, but I don’t mind.

Recently another voice appeared, but this one is positive and happy, sounding like me as a young teenager. He’s mischievous, but funny, and I quite enjoy chatting with him.

I’m off medication now and have been discharged from mental health services. I’ve got my own place and have a girlfriend, and I train nurses and mental health staff in helping others to engage with their voices. The fact that I can speak with genuine understanding means I usually have a captive audience. I also work with people who hear voices, getting them to understand the benefits of talking back.

I’ve learned that my voices themselves are not a problem. It’s my relationship with them that’s important. Facing them and working with them has changed my life and made me feel optimistic about it instead of scared.

For information on voice hearing alternatives check here and here.

13 thoughts on “Talking back to your voices

  1. I am basically a psychologist–a clinical psychologist. So I can’t agree more with the above comments. But to believe that all things help, meaning psychosocial and nutritional is also a BELIEF, a dogma. Its an escape route from the clinical case. The bottomline is this: Each case is different/unique. So in each case we have to thrash out what mode of therapy will work and, even within the same case, type of therapy may have to be changed over time. Having said that I accept I have a bias–bias against psychiatric drugs.
    I have seen voice hearers in my practice. But they were monosymptomatic. No other symptoms. A specific case I still see around walking was such a case. He was professor in a college. No other complaint. I just had to assure him that he is not ill, that its ok, nothing harm is going to fall on. This relieved him immediately. After a decade I saw him in my neighbourhood. I asked him and he said he was fine, working. I asked him of voices. He said they vanished long ago. I asked how, what did he do? He said “I was stressed. One day I decided I should not carry responsibility of all my family members on my shoulders, that I should let them find their own way and that did it”!!!


    1. we all have a bias against psych meds here Ratan…so what you’re saying now we agree with…what you said earlier sounded very much against pscyho/social/spiritual supports and you explicitly said The treatment lies in nutrients. You also dismissed the possibility that the above man was healed and well if all he did was a “psychological rehabilitation” as though a psychological rehabilitation was something to spit on.

      Anyway, I’m glad you look at the people who come to you as whole beings and unique individuals…that is what we need. Not people who believe there is one answer for everyone.

      I’m a social worker, a clinician like you. I’ve seen all sorts of stuff too…in the real world not just here among my readers.


  2. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I think, if nutrition alone removes all the symptoms, we’re actually talking a physical allergy, and not that much an existential crisis caused by psychological trauma. – Although I do see a logic connection between psychological trauma, caused by psychological and/or physical abuse, and physical trauma, caused, for instance, by an unhealthy lifestyle, unhealthy nutrition: the abusiveness of our culture manifests itself on all levels, body, mind and soul. Thus, an allergy could be termed an existential crisis of the body, with body and mind inextricably linked to each other, and thus both reacting.

    The thing is, if the crisis originally is physical, I’d say it’s all right to, primarily, use a physical (nutritional) approach. Not so, if the crisis originally is a psychological one. To approach a psychological crisis through physical treatment only, is to exclusively treat “symptoms” (i.e. signs; I prefer non-medical language when it comes to existential problems) without addressing the real cause of the problem. And, in fact, I know quite a lot of people, who, although they had some benefit from nutritional approaches, weren’t able to solve their problems by these alone. I’m one of those people.

    A healthy, natural environment is crucial for our well-being. For all of us, as Gianna said above. That certainly is true on a material, i.e. for instance, but not only, on a nutritional, level. Nevertheless, it seems almost hypocritical to me, to recognize this on the material, nutritional level, while one would deny it on a psychological level. Psychological trauma is real, and it is far more frequently and far more intensely present, than our abusive culture is willing to recognize.

    Exclusively nutritional approaches, especially in the shape of orthemolecular psychiatry, tend to, once again, place the “fault” on the individual in crisis him-/herself. On his/her allegedly defective biology. That in itself is an assault on the individual in crisis.


  3. thanks everyone for this important discussion…

    I have seen nutrition heal extreme mental distress Mark…but certainly I’ve seen all sorts of other things work equally well…

    AND I’ve seen nutrition not be particularly helpful as well…though I think good nutrition is important for all human beings in order to stay healthy in general–in body mind and spirit.

    Ratan is not entirely wrong…he simply needs to look outside of his self-imposed box.


  4. Ratan Singh. “The treatment lies in nutrition.”
    If this is true why hasn’t it been proven or accepted?
    NAMI members want their loved ones on antipsychotics?

    I wish-hope this nutrition treatment is true.
    What is the success rate percentage of the treated?


  5. Ratan Singh: If hearing voices is a handicap, then all thinking human beings are handicapped, and in need of treatment/rehabilitation.

    Another thing is, that all our thinking is conditioned by our environment. It is not who or what we genuinely are. So, I’d say, voice hearers actually have an advantage over, and are not necessarily handicapped compared to, the “normal” individual, who doesn’t perceive his/her thinking just as clearly delimited from his/her being as voice hearers do, and who thus is far more likely to, falsely, identify with his/her thinking.

    Therefor, imo, it isn’t about silencing the voices – as this, indeed, would mean that the voice hearer’s thinking becomes silenced – but about becoming aware of and dealing consciously with the voices’ (i.e. one’s thoughts’ ) messages.

    BTW: I am a voice hearer myself, had a therapist, who, like Rufus May, wasn’t afraid to challenge my voices, and although it certainly hasn’t always been a walk in the park, I’m extremely grateful for having been given this unique opportunity for achieving quite a high level of self-awareness.


  6. also what the heck is wrong with a psychological rehabilitation?? and many voice hearers see their voices as gifts and your attitude is offensive…

    and furthermore many so called “normal” people hear voices and it’s by no means a “handicap.”

    I strongly suggest you do more research about the way our psyche’s work.


  7. I’m sorry Ratan,
    nutrition is one small part of the picture…we are not just molecules…we have psyches too and many of them are damaged by trauma…that nutrients might ease but will not heal all in all cases.

    I suggest you look at my recovery stories…some of them heal by nutrition others by psycho/social/spiritual interventions only..

    there is no one answer for all and imagining that nutrition is the only way is dogmatic and ignores the persons mind/spirit while only paying attention to the body.

    I am a huge proponent of nutrition and you would know that if you spent 20 minutes on my blog and you should also know that because you’ve seen me in multiple email groups…

    but it’s just NOT only about nutrition.

    I hope you’ll open your mind up a bit…a lot of people get screwed when they are approached with only ONE possibility or dogma…when many things would help them heal

    human beings are endlessly variable in how they heal…I’ve met way too many people who’ve had full recoveries WITHOUT our particular pet programs that involve nutrition.


  8. Its a great story by a “Voice hearer”. Good to know that he can control the voices by talking back. But how about productivity, creativity, doing job and paying taxes, socializing? Do these areas continue to suffer due to the voices and the “Talking back technique”?


  9. Fantastic stuff. This is the way to work with voices. This is a heartening story and gives me great hope for the future of the voice-hearers movement. There is some wonderful work being done out there for voice-hearers by voice-hearers, the real experts on this.


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