Hearing voices and befriending schemes

Publication Date17 Nov 2011
AuthorSue Holttum
SubjectHealth & social care
Research watch
Hearing voices and befriending schemes
Sue Holttum
Purpose – This Research Watch seeks to summarise two recent research papers. The first examines
the case for understanding hearing voices as part of normal experience, while the second looks at
befriending schemes.
Design/methodology/approach – A search was carried out for research papers with a mental health
and social inclusion focus published within the previous 12 months.
Findings – Studies spanning more than 100 years suggest that hearing voices is more common than
usually thought. There is a case for viewing this experience more positively than atpresent. Interviews
involving eight people with mental health conditions and their befrienders suggested that demonstrating
empathy and being non-judgmental helped people with mental health conditions to talk things through
with both parties learning from one another. Going out together helped befriendees gain greater
confidence to participate in further activities and feel less isolated.
Originality/value – This paper summarises research relating to mental health and social inclusion that
has emerged within the previous 12 months.
Keywords Hearing voices, Mental health services, Befriending, Social inclusion
Paper type Research paper
Hearing voices is very rare ... or is it?
Beavan et al. (2011) start by pointing out that people usually think of hearing voices as very
rare and that it must indicate a mental health condition. They set out to test these
assumptions by drawing together findings from a number of studies, including one as far
back as 1894. A major issue was to try to understand why different studies have quoted such
vastly different proportions of people hearing voices, ranging from 1 to 71 percent!
The authors defined hearing voices as when someone hears a voice that others cannot hear,
but not when they see, feel or smell something without hearing a voice. The voice had to
sound like a real voice, rather than the thoughts we all ‘‘hear’’ in our heads. They identified
seventeen studies that covered experiences fitting these criteria.
Older studies done by people interested in ghosts were less reliable
The oldest study was by Sidgwick et al. (1894) and included an impressive sample of 17,000
people, most of whom were resident in the UK. However, Beavan et al. (2011, p. 283)
suggest that this study may have been biased as ‘‘many of the interviewers belonged to the
Society for Psychical Research.’’ Many Society members may have lacked a sufficient
degree of scepticism about reports of ghostly and paranormal phenomena. Sidgwick et al.
(1894, p. 283) reported that 3.6 percent of this sample heard ‘ ‘human voices when in a
conscious wakeful state.’’ A similar study by West (1948) reported a figure of 8 percent,
but was also biased: some interviewers only included people who said they did hear voices,
which would make their sample unrepresentative of the wider population.
PAGE 160
VOL. 15 NO. 4 2011, pp. 160-164, QEmerald Group Publishing Limited, ISSN 2042-8308 DOI 10.1108/20428301111186796
Sue Holttum is a
Senior Lecturer in the
Department of Applied
Psychology at Canterbury
Christ Church University,
Canterbury, UK.

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