Saturday, September 19, 2009

Impressions of the First World Hearing Voices Congress, Maastricht, 17-18 September 2009

Bill George:

The Congress vividly illustrated the difficulty of balancing half truths against their counterparts. I thought the most well balanced presentation was that of Will Hall of the Icarus Project.

The conclusions I came away with from the whole were:

1.Some people who have hallucinations are not ill.

2.Both those who are ill and those who are not ill may benefit from review of their life experiences. (Caveat: I did not have the opportunity to mention that on the course Werken met Eigen Ervaring [Working with One’s Own Experience] that I attended two of the students collapsed and one resigned owing to the intensity of the emotions generated. B.G.)

3.Psychiatry sometimes does more harm than good, and at other times it is just not helpful.

The most convincing of the contributions were the recovery stories of the survivors. It is not possible to summarize them without losing their ring of authenticity. I was enthralled by the story related (in the third person) by Jacqui Dillon (UK), but would not be able to do it justice.

John Read (Australia) said the public understands that the main causes of psychoses are bad things happening, not genetics or chemicals. People who had suffered abuse are nine times more likely to suffer a psychosis; and people who had suffered from bad abuse are 48 times more likely. Service users do not agree with the psychiatric profession that questions about what happened to them in the past should not be asked.

Ron Coleman (UK) was the most dramatic and fluent speaker. Voices are not the problem – it is how you respond to them. The DSM is a comic book. “We can smell bullshit when we are offered it.” Our job as workers is to make ourselves redundant. Recovery is not an easy journey and it cannot be measured. There is no general recovery model – it is individual. Workers should dare to tell their own story.

John Watkins (Australia) said the title of his book Healing Schizophrenia was deliberately ambiguous. It was meant not only healing in the usual sense but also the healing of the concept. Some people are not distressed by the voices. They range from benign voices to pathological voices. They are not confined to people with mental health problems. Some people hear their name when falling asleep or waking up. Carl Jung referred to the tendency to split in 1937, also to sub-personalities. Usually it is not just a voice but a being attached to the voice.

Jim van Os (Netherlands) was against the bio bio bio model. Social factors play the main role. Schizophrenia as a single symptom or illness does not exist. People have various combinations of symptoms – a syndrome. The new DSM is expected to refer to dimensions

of particular types of symptoms. Don’t give up on psychiatry; but don’t expect rapid change. People and systems are conservative.

Marius Romme (Netherlands) spoke very wisely as the elder statesman about the “healing voices experience”. But you could see his age in his manner of delivery. Psychiatrists and nurses should accept as true what people say is happening to them. Parents and doctors should give the person back the power they had taken away from them. The emotions should be allowed to connect with the voices. The voices tell about what has happened. The message they give is in order to solve a problem. The voices themselves are not psychoses. They make links to life history. It is wrong that it is forbidden to talk about the voices. The DSM should go back to emotional treatment. The therapeutic relationship with the voice hearer is important. People should be helped to cope with their emotions.

Will Hall (Icarus Project) said there was a continuum between “medication saved my life” and “medication destroyed my life”. Many people are helped by medication; others not. Coming off medication should be done gradually; although a few people have succeeded to come off cold turkey. The mistake is to think One Size Fits All. Our trust in doctors has gone down. Many don’t know the facts about medication. (I can confirm this! B.G.) People are often not informed of their options. The reason the deep down things are not talked about is because of the Blame Culture. There is a fear of taking the blame if something went wrong. In America it is the Litigation Culture.

Richard Bentall (UK) said we should make the doctors listen. They should show warmth and empathy. There is little to choose between the different schools of therapy: the Dodo Conjecture (Alice in Wonderland); every competitor wins!

The most remarkable contribution was from Brian Hartnett (Ireland). His experience is of two realities – the consensual reality and another reality in which there are voices and much more. And yet Brian is clearly not psychotic. A historical figure who had a comparable experience was Emanuel Swedenborg.

19/09/2009 20:14

Working across the world to spread positive and hopeful messages about the experience of hearing voices

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