On 10th March Angela Woods, Nev Jones, Ben Alderson-Day, Felicity Callard & Charles Fernyhough from Durham University’s Hearing The Voices project published a research paper on the experience of voice-hearing. In and of itself, that isn’t particularly exciting. The bit that gets me about this paper is that the research was prompted by the lived experience of voice-hearers – a discussion that I was part of that explored the idea that for some of us the word ‘voice-hearing’ isn’t entirely accurate. I remember sitting in Durham at an engagement event chatting with people about embodied voices – the way that sometimes I can feel the voices I hear, even when they’re not speaking. The way that, sometimes, the voices I hear affect my physical body too. This may sound spooky but, to me, it’s just life. It’s just that by focusing on the term ‘voice-hearing’ we sometimes miss talking about the complexity and diversity of the experiences that sit under this umbrella.
Inspired by the lived experiences they heard, the researchers at Durham University put together an online questionnaire that gave people who ‘hear’ voices the opportunity to describe their experiences in their own words. This opportunity revealed something that wasn’t a surprise to many of us – that these experiences are diverse, complex and can be embodied. As I sometimes work alongside the team at Hearing The Voice, I agreed to share my own experiences in any media interviews that arose from the study. What I didn’t really expect was much interest from the wider world. It turns out that I was wrong.
On 11th March, having just gotten back from some training in Belgrade, I spent the morning doing interviews for the BBC. I started off at BBC Radio 5Live, interviewed by Nicky Campbell. Then I popped over to see the team at BBC Radio 4’s Today programme for another interview (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02lqzp8).
It was all a bit hectic – 3 minutes of voice-talk to someone who was completely new to the phenomena. Despite their brevity, I hope they went some small way to both challenge people’s stereotypes and encourage some listeners to look up more about the Hearing Voices Network. These media opportunities are a little strange, but they do have the potential to engage those who wouldn’t ordinarily hear about voice-hearing … so they’re worth a little randomness.
The BBC 4 headline was disappointing, though: ‘Women with schizophrenia hears 13 voices in her head’. I mean, seriously … that’s a label I no longer identify with and was a little tabloid-style.
Then, on 13th March, Angela and I appeared together (via Skype) on the BBC World Service. This longer interview (a whole 6 minutes!) gave us that little bit of extra space … and it’s amazing how that extra few minutes makes a difference to the depth of the conversation. Again, not perfect, but it’s great to think that people could listen to this across the world.
If you’re interested in the research, check out this article on it: https://www.dur.ac.uk/news/allnews/thoughtleadership/?itemno=24044
It shows that if we listen to the people who have the experience, and open our minds a little, we might sometimes need to reconsider the things we think we know. This, for me, is a good way to begin researching voice-hearing. Lets do more of it.