Qualitatively exploring hearing voices network support groups

Publication Date09 Mar 2015
AuthorBianca Dos Santos,Vanessa Beavan
SubjectHealth & social care,Mental health,Mental health education
Qualitatively exploring hearing voices
network support groups
Bianca Dos Santos and Vanessa Beavan
Bianca Dos Santos is
Psychologist, based at School
of Psychological Sciences,
Australian College of Applied
Psychology, Sydney, Australia.
Dr Vanessa Beavan is based at
School of Psychological
Sciences, Australian College of
Applied Psychology, Sydney,
Purpose – The distress that is associated with auditory hallucinations, or voices, is well documented.
However, increasingly research into this phenomenon is also capturing those who cope with their voices,
and live meaningful lives. Peer support is a popular and useful way in which to learn to manage the distress
for voice-hearers. The Hearing Voices Network (HVN) acts as an umbrella organisation for which research,
training and peer support groups exist (www.intervoiceonline.org). Despite the growing amount of peer
support groups established, there is to date no published material on these groups. The purpose of this
paper is to discuss these issue.
Design/methodology/approach – The present study used Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis to
explore the experiences of four informants across three New South Wales HVN groups.
Findings – Results suggest that the social connections, value of sharing and desire for more group
members are all important within the group. Beyond the group, informants described the increased
willingness to talk to others about their voice experiences, improvements in sense of self and a positive
change in their relationship with their voices.
Originality/value – The study demonstrates the importance of peer participation in the mental health
workforce and the provision of safe spaces for those with lived experience to share and learn from each
other in meaningful ways. Research implications include the need for further research measuring outcomes
on a larger scale for these support groups.
Keywords Auditory hallucinations, Peer support, Hearing voices, Hearing voices network, Support groups
Paper type Research paper
In the field of psychiatry, auditory hallucinations (also known as voices) are usually understood in
reductionist and pathological terms, and people that experience them (commonly referred to as
voice-hearers) are often subjected to correspondingly reductionist, and at times devastating
treatment (Longden, 2010). However, with the increasing popularity of alternative perspectives
such as those espoused by the Consumer Movement (Frese and Davis, 1997) and the Hearing
Voices Movement (James, 2001), these experiences are starting to be viewed differently, as
complex and understandable responses to human distress demanding a more sophisticated
treatment approach. As one voice-hearer describes, “these experiences are so complex and so
meaningful. It does not happen in a social, emotional or spiritual vacuum. There is a context to it,
and this can be interpreted and deciphered” (Longden, 2010, p. 257). Thus, voices have
meanings behind them which should be explored and discussed.
Auditory hallucinations on a continuum
The general consensus among research experts in the field is that there is an approximate
5 per cent prevalence rate of individuals hearing voices in the general population (van Os et al.,
2009). However, it is estimated that only about a quarter of these meet criteria for a psychiatric
diagnosis (Johns et al., 2002). Further, there is now substantial evidence to suggest that many
voice-hearers are not distressed by their experience, and the voices may further enrich their
The author would first like to
acknowledge and thank each one
of the informants that chose to
participate in this study,for being so
giving of their time and for being so
open and willing to share their
experiences. This project would not
exist if it were not for their courage
to choose to share. The author
would like to thank his supervisor,
Dr Vanessa Beavan, for her time
and skills in assisting to complete
this project, also for having the
confidence in the author to
continue to expand the author’s
involvement and cultivate passion
in the field of psychosis. The author
would like to acknowledge and
thank the support of the Hearing
Voices Network New South Wales
for this project. The author would
also like to acknowledge the
Hearing Voices Networks on a
global scale that continue to
challenge the traditional views of
psychosis, in support of a humane
and compassionate way of working
with voice-hearers.
VOL. 10 NO. 1 2015, pp. 26-38, CEmerald Group Publishing Limited, ISSN 1755-6228 DOI 10.1108/JMHTEP-07-2014-0017

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