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Hearing Voices Groups: Peer support in action

Home | Working with Voices | Peer Support | Hearing Voices Groups

Hearing Voices Groupsicon are essentially peer support groups for people who hear voices, see visions or have other similar sensory experiences.

They have their roots in the work of the Hearing Voices Movementicon (HVM), which was founded by Marius Rommeicon, a psychiatrist, and Sandra Eschericon, a journalist and child psychologist, in the late 1980s in the Netherlands. Patsy Hague, a patient of Marius Romme, successfully challenged his understanding of her voices: to her, her voices were real and meaningful. From these conversations, Romme and Escher developed the HVM. They moved away from the assumption that hearing voices was a meaningless symptom of mental illness, to framing it as a meaningful and understandable human experience that can make sense within the context of a person’s life history.

The Hearing Voices Movementicon is not a formal network, but is instead comprised of the many conversations, initiatives, groups and individuals around the world, who share some core values.

Whilst Hearing Voices Groups developed out of Romme and Escher’s ground-breaking research, highlighting the importance of one’s relationship with voices and the possibility for people to live alongside the voices they hear, they exist beyond the politics of the wider Hearing Voices Movement. Each group is unique, run in different settings and hosted by different agencies or groups of people, but they all share some core values.

In many countries, including England, groups and other similar initiatives are connected through a National Hearing Voices Networkicon. People, groups and networks can also connect with one another through Intervoice – a small charity set up to support the development of the International Hearing Voices Network.

The Intervoice website has a list of national networks, as well as many resources on hearing voices. It also has an active Facebook page. Every year, there is a World Hearing Voices Congress which brings together voice-hearers, supporters and allies.

Core values of Hearing Voices Groups

The English Hearing Voices Networkicon (HVN) identifies the following core values of Hearing Voices Groups:

Purpose

Hearing Voices Groups are based firmly on an ethos of self-help, mutual respect and empathy. They provide a safe space for people to share their experiences and support one another. They are peer support groups, involving social support and belonging, not therapy or treatment. However, groups do offer an opportunity for people to accept and live with their experiences in a way that helps them regain some power over their lives.

Respect

Hearing Voices Groups welcome the diversity of experiences and views of their members. Rather than seeing one belief system as more valid than another, all explanations for voice and visions are valued. There is no assumption of illness. Groups recognise that all members have expertise to contribute to the group, no one member is more important than another.

Flexibility

All Hearing Voices Groups are centred around the needs and aspirations of their members. Rather than being solely focused on voices and visions, group members are welcome to talk about any issue that is important to them.

Ownership

Hearing Voices Groups recognise the importance of being user-centred and are working towards being truly user-led. Each member has an important part to play in determining the direction of the group, keeping it healthy and upholding its ethos.

Confidentiality

All Hearing Voices Groups should be as confidential as possible, with members being fully aware of any limits to this. Wherever possible, what is discussed within the group should stay within the group.

For more information please see the HVN website.

This ‘family tree’ of the Hearing Voices Movement shows some of the key moments and individuals in its growth. It is not possible here to tell the full story of all the people who have been involved. To download a PDF of the family tree and get a closer look, please click on the image. (Warning this file may take a while to download – 8 MB.)

What happens in a Hearing Voices Group?

Hearing Voices Groups meet regularly, and are usually facilitated by people with personal experience of hearing voices and/or an ally (e.g. mental health worker). Each group has its own format, but often people use the time to share experiences that matter to them (including voices, visions, beliefs, challenges, joys and other parts of their life). Groups often include a break, and some decide to add in practical activities or relaxation into the session. Some groups develop social meet ups or campaigning groups. Others don’t. The members should be responsible for shaping the group, with the facilitator supporting the members to keep it respectful and welcoming. You can find out more about Hearing Voices groups, and watch one being filmed here.

The benefits and drawbacks of Hearing Voices Groups

R

Benefits

It’s like a big step but it’s worth doing. You do share ways of coping, …. it’s worth doing you know you’d be stuck in a rut anyway so you may as well try some ways to help yourself.


James

Continuity

The Hearing Voices Network recommends that Hearing Voices Groups run continuously – rather than in 8 or 12 week blocks. For some, knowing this helps them feel able to begin to trust the group. Some people say that it helps to know the group is there, even when they’re not wanting to go to it.

It’s there at this time in my week every week and it’s something I can rely on….that the group’s always there.

Helen

Ownership

Hearing Voices Groups are user-led and have a focus on mutual support and understanding. They allow the purpose, feel and practicalities of the group to be defined by the members themselves. As all attendees are encouraged to take ownership of a Hearing Voices Group, they can be fun, sociable and creative spaces where each member feels validated and mutually respected.

Anybody could, kind of, chip in and make facilitatory remarks.

Clark

That’s one thing I love about this group, it’s there’s no control – it’s, it’s about the group. The group shapes the group.

Lara

It can just be fun sometimes … a support group doesn’t necessarily need to be about the topic.

Lara

Belonging and connections (inside and outside the group)

Many people who attend Hearing Voices Groups have spent years struggling on their own. It can be an enormous relief to be in a supportive group, with other people who hear voices, and who seem genuinely interested in helping you to understand your experiences. Identifying with others in a compassionate way can create a strong sense of belonging and well-being, and lead to lasting friendships.

You think that you’re on your own for years and years and then all of a sudden there’s all these people round you who have experienced the same kind of thing as you.

Richard

I felt like I belonged somewhere so I could take my mask off and feel safe.

Paul

I felt that people were on your side and, you know, had similar experiences but also cared about you.

Helen

Everyone is accepted, there is no judgement. There is a sense of family, where we share and learn from each other and offer each other support.

Vanessa

When I was talking to her after the group we had so much in common that I thought, ‘wow, we should become good friends because we can really help each other out’.

Kim

Space to talk about different experiences

Hearing Voices Groups provide a safe space to talk about voices and other difficult experiences. Coming together to share coping strategies, validate one another’s stories and explore distressing material without being judged or pathologised can reduce shame and isolation, and lead to greater self-acceptance and understanding.

It’s quite a compliment of the group that people can go there and say “I’m at the end of my rope here”.

Lara

… when I first started hearing the voices, I felt, I didn’t feel I could really tell people. I felt quite ashamed and, as if there was something wrong with me. It wasn’t something that you could really talk about … but coming to the group, and er, there were people I could talk to and it could come out in the open and it wasn’t a shameful thing or it wasn’t the end of the world.

Helen
Feeling more empowered and less distressed

Many people who attend Hearing Voices Groups find it helps them feel more confident and empowered to cope with disruptive voices on a day to day basis. Connecting with others, and observing their abilities to deal with their experiences, can make people feel more hopeful about their own future. Sharing coping strategies that are based on personal experience rather than clinical advice can also improve self-esteem and increase an individual’s perceptions of their own ability to manage and feel in control of their lives. Some people find that they hear fewer voices, feel less afraid of them, and experience their voices as more positive as a result of attending Hearing Voices Groups.

I was hiding in cupboards, I was so afraid of the voices, whereas now I feel when it does happen I’m more empowered to deal with the situation than I was when I first started.

Thomas

I’ve got more strength now to carry on with daily living. And every week when I go to the hearing voices group it’s the same people that’s there. And that’s like an inspiration to me.

Jenny

Jenny

It was in learning and growing together in trainings and in developing Taking Back Our Power Hearing Voices Groups that I grew into my birthright as a human. Finally, I developed my right and responsibility for my own being, belonging, believing, and becoming. I shared my developing agency with others, and we grew together in community.

Berta Britz

Developing new understandings

Hearing Voices Groups provide an opportunity to explore voice-hearing in a safe and supportive space. By taking a curious, interested and accepting attitude towards voices, groups can help people find new ways of understanding their meaning, or look at changing the way they relate to their voices.

I have an understanding of what my voices are and where they come from and as I’ve been able to cope with them better, and as I’ve got better in myself and they’ve reduced then that’s made life a lot better, because I don’t have these voices all the time.

Helen

Q

Drawbacks

Some people don’t like groups, or just prefer one to one support.

Other people find professional support more helpful. Hearing Voices are also less structured and outcome-driven than other types of support out there, and this doesn’t suit everyone. They also tend to be more open and exploratory, when some people prefer clear answers and solutions.

Joining a Hearing Voices Group can feel like a big step and a huge unknown, and many people are worried about attending their first meeting. Some people might be very anxious about feeling like they will need to talk about their experiences, perhaps for the first time, in front of people they’ve never met before. It can be helpful to remember that it’s OK not to talk, and that attendance is voluntary – so if it doesn’t feel OK, it’s fine not to come back.

It can also be hard to join a group as a new member when everyone already knows each other, especially if friendships are already established.

Before I just felt a bit like a loose key. You know, everybody else had been in the voices group for a long time and they were all friends, and there was me … on their own.

Walt

At times, what is discussed in a Hearing Voices Group can be distressing and might trigger disturbing emotions, memories or voice-hearing experiences.

I nearly had a relapse in the group. Because my questions weren’t answered properly, so I felt like, roaring out.

Jenny

Sometimes the group can feel dominated by one or two members or the topics being discussed might simply not feel relevant to you.

I talk more about how there’s a spiritual dimension to voices … but it’s usually swamped out by people who have the opposite experience with their voices.

Clark

Hearing Voices groups are very diverse. A group in the community might feel quite different to a group in a statutory setting. Whilst some consider this a strength, it does also mean that an individual might be put off going to a Hearing Voices group based on a particular experience, when there might be a group better suited to them out there.

You can read about the drawbacks of peer support here.

R

Benefits

It’s like a big step but it’s worth doing. You do share ways of coping, …. it’s worth doing you know you’d be stuck in a rut anyway so you may as well try some ways to help yourself.


Hearing Voices Group Member

 

Continuity

The Hearing Voices Network recommends that Hearing Voices Groups run continuously – rather than in 8 or 12 week blocks. For some, knowing this helps them feel able to begin to trust the group. Some people say that it helps to know the group is there, even when they’re not wanting to go to it.

It’s there at this time in my week every week and it’s something I can rely on….that the group’s always there.

Helen

 

Ownership

Hearing Voices Groups are user-led and have a focus on mutual support and understanding. They allow the purpose, feel and practicalities of the group to be defined by the members themselves. As all attendees are encouraged to take ownership of a Hearing Voices Group, they can be fun, sociable and creative spaces where each member feels validated and mutually respected.

Anybody could, kind of, chip in and make facilitatory remarks.

Clark

That’s one thing I love about this group, it’s there’s no control – it’s, it’s about the group. The group shapes the group.

Lara

It can just be fun sometimes … a support group doesn’t necessarily need to be about the topic.

Lara

 

Belonging and connections (inside and outside the group)

Many people who attend Hearing Voices Groups have spent years struggling on their own. It can be an enormous relief to be in a supportive group, with other people who hear voices, and who seem genuinely interested in helping you to understand your experiences. Identifying with others in a compassionate way can create a strong sense of belonging and well-being, and lead to lasting friendships.

You think that you’re on your own for years and years and then all of a sudden there’s all these people round you who have experienced the same kind of thing as you.

Richard

I felt like I belonged somewhere so I could take my mask off and feel safe.

Paul

I felt that people were on your side and, you know, had similar experiences but also cared about you.

Anonymous

Everyone is accepted, there is no judgement. There is a sense of family, where we share and learn from each other and offer each other support.

Anonymous

When I was talking to her after the group we had so much in common that I thought, ‘wow, we should become good friends because we can really help each other out’.

Anonymous

Space to talk about different experiences

Hearing Voices Groups provide a safe space to talk about voices and other difficult experiences. Coming together to share coping strategies, validate one another’s stories and explore distressing material without being judged or pathologised can reduce shame and isolation, and lead to greater self-acceptance and understanding.

It’s quite a compliment of the group that people can go there and say “I’m at the end of my rope here”.

Lara

… when I first started hearing the voices, I felt, I didn’t feel I could really tell people. I felt quite ashamed and, as if there was something wrong with me. It wasn’t something that you could really talk about … but coming to the group, and er, there were people I could talk to and it could come out in the open and it wasn’t a shameful thing or it wasn’t the end of the world.

Helen
Feeling more empowered and less distressed

Many people who attend Hearing Voices Groups find it helps them feel more confident and empowered to cope with disruptive voices on a day to day basis. Connecting with others, and observing their abilities to deal with their experiences, can make people feel more hopeful about their own future. Sharing coping strategies that are based on personal experience rather than clinical advice can also improve self-esteem and increase an individual’s perceptions of their own ability to manage and feel in control of their lives. Some people find that they hear fewer voices, feel less afraid of them, and experience their voices as more positive as a result of attending Hearing Voices Groups.

I was hiding in cupboards, I was so afraid of the voices, whereas now I feel when it does happen I’m more empowered to deal with the situation than I was when I first started.

Thomas

I’ve got more strength now to carry on with daily living. And every week when I go to the hearing voices group it’s the same people that’s there. And that’s like an inspiration to me.

Jenny

It was in learning and growing together in trainings and in developing Taking Back Our Power Hearing Voices Groups that I grew into my birthright as a human. Finally, I developed my right and responsibility for my own being, belonging, believing, and becoming. I shared my developing agency with others, and we grew together in community.

Britz

Developing new understandings

Hearing Voices Groups provide an opportunity to explore voice-hearing in a safe and supportive space. By taking a curious, interested and accepting attitude towards voices, groups can help people find new ways of understanding their meaning, or look at changing the way they relate to their voices.

I have an understanding of what my voices are and where they come from and as I’ve been able to cope with them better, and as I’ve got better in myself and they’ve reduced then that’s made life a lot better, because I don’t have these voices all the time.

Anonymous

Q

Drawbacks

Some people don’t like groups, or just prefer one to one support.

Other people find professional support more helpful. Hearing Voices are also less structured and outcome-driven than other types of support out there, and this doesn’t suit everyone. They also tend to be more open and exploratory, when some people prefer clear answers and solutions.

Joining a Hearing Voices Group can feel like a big step and a huge unknown, and many people are worried about attending their first meeting. Some people might be very anxious about feeling like they will need to talk about their experiences, perhaps for the first time, in front of people they’ve never met before. It can be helpful to remember that it’s OK not to talk, and that attendance is voluntary – so if it doesn’t feel OK, it’s fine not to come back.

It can also be hard to join a group as a new member when everyone already knows each other, especially if friendships are already established.

Before I just felt a bit like a loose key. You know, everybody else had been in the voices group for a long time and they were all friends, and there was me … on their own.

Walt

At times, what is discussed in a Hearing Voices Group can be distressing and might trigger disturbing emotions, memories or voice-hearing experiences.

I nearly had a relapse in the group. Because my questions weren’t answered properly, so I felt like, roaring out.

Jenny

Sometimes the group can feel dominated by one or two members or the topics being discussed might simply not feel relevant to you.

I talk more about how there’s a spiritual dimension to voices … but it’s usually swamped out by people who have the opposite experience with their voices.

Clark

Hearing Voices groups are very diverse. A group in the community might feel quite different to a group in a statutory setting. Whilst some consider this a strength, it does also mean that an individual might be put off going to a Hearing Voices group based on a particular experience, when there might be a group better suited to them out there.

You can read about the drawbacks of peer support here.

Finding a Hearing Voices Group

There are over 180 Hearing Voices Groups in the UK. You can find information about groups in your area by visiting the following websites. The lists are not always up to date, because they rely on group members or facilitators sharing that they have set up a group. It might therefore also be worthwhile checking with your local mental health services (charities such as local Mind, Community Mental Health Teams, and GPs).

English Hearing Voices Network

Hearing Voices Network Cymru (Wales)

Hearing Voices Network Ireland

Scottish Hearing Voices groups

Intervoice – A major international charity supporting voice-hearers. This website contains a global map of Hearing Voices Groups and information about Hearing Voices Networks across the world.

If you are interested in setting up a group in your area, you can find information on how to do this here.

What if there’s no peer support available in your area?

The English Hearing Voices Network has an online forum. You need to create an account (username and password), and the forum is moderated by volunteers.

Voice Collective has an online forum for under 25s. There are separate, password-protected section for parents and carers, professionals or support workers, and older voice hearers (under 25s but who would like to explore more adult topics). It is moderated by staff and volunteers at Voice Collective at Mind in Camden, and is funded by Hearing the Voice.

Intervoice has an active Facebook page. It is public (which means posts are available for anyone to see), and everyone is welcome to join. The main purposes are to share information, experiences and ideas, and raise awareness of voice hearing, but some people also use it for support. It is moderated by Intervoice Committee Members and volunteers.

Hearing Voices Network Support Group is a Facebook group which is closed (so people who are not members cannot read the posts or participate).

Hearing Voices Network USA hold weekly online Hearing Voices groups on the Zoom platform. They are open to people outside the US, although the times may be less convenient. For more information contact them via email.

If you’d like to set up a group in your area, please contact HVN England. You can also subscribe to the London Hearing Voices Network newsletter  (run by Mind in Camden), which runs regular Hearing Voices group facilitation training in London, with free places for voices hearers.

Finding a Hearing Voices Group?

There are over 180 Hearing Voices Groups in the UK. You can find information about groups in your area by visiting the following websites. The lists are not always up to date, because they rely on group members or facilitators sharing that they have set up a group. It might therefore also be worthwhile checking with your local mental health services (charities such as local Mind, Community Mental Health Teams, and GPs).

English Hearing Voices Network

Hearing Voices Network Cymru (Wales)

Hearing Voices Network Ireland

Scottish Hearing Voices groups

Intervoice – A major international charity supporting voice-hearers. This website contains a global map of Hearing Voices Groups and information about Hearing Voices Networks across the world.

If you are interested in setting up a group in your area, you can find information on how to do this here.

What if there’s no peer support available in your area?

The English Hearing Voices Network has an online forum. You need to create an account (username and password), and the forum is moderated by volunteers.

Voice Collective has an online forum for under 25s. There are separate, password-protected section for parents and carers, professionals or support workers, and older voice hearers (under 25s but who would like to explore more adult topics). It is moderated by staff and volunteers at Voice Collective at Mind in Camden, and is funded by Hearing the Voice.

Intervoice has an active Facebook page. It is public (which means posts are available for anyone to see), and everyone is welcome to join. The main purposes are to share information, experiences and ideas, and raise awareness of voice hearing, but some people also use it for support. It is moderated by Intervoice Committee Members and volunteers.

Hearing Voices Network Support Group is a Facebook group which is closed (so people who are not members cannot read the posts or participate).

Hearing Voices Network USA hold weekly online Hearing Voices groups on the Zoom platform. They are open to people outside the US, although the times may be less convenient. For more information contact them via email.

If you’d like to set up a group in your area, please contact HVN England. You can also subscribe to the London Hearing Voices Network newsletter  (run by Mind in Camden), which runs regular Hearing Voices group facilitation training in London, with free places for voices hearers.

Find out more

Read

Tom Payne, Jo Allen & Tony Lavender (2017). Hearing Voices Network groups: experiences of eight voice hearers and the connection to group processes and recovery. Psychosis, 9:3, 205-215.

Eleanor Longden, John Read and Jackie Dillon (2018). Assessing the Impact and Effectiveness of Hearing Voices Network Self-Help Groups. Community Mental Health Journal, 54: 184. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10597-017-0148-1 

Vanessa Beavan, Adele de Jager & Bianca dos Santos (2017). Do peer-support groups for voice-hearers work? A small scale study of Hearing Voices Network support groups in Australia. Psychosis, 9:1, 57-66.

Lauren Oakland and Katherine Berry (2015). ’Lifting the veil’: a qualitative analysis of experiences in Hearing Voices Network groups. Psychosis, 7:2, 119-129.

Alison Faulkner and Jayasree Kalathil J (2012). The freedom to be, the chance to dream: preserving user-led peer support in mental health. London: Together for Mental Wellbeing.

Elina Stamou (2014). Reclaiming user leadership in peer support practice. The Journal of Mental Health Training, Education and Practice, Vol. 9 Issue: 3, pp.167-176.

Watch

NBC News (2018). Hearing voices others can’t: How a growing movement fights mental health stigma. NBC.

Canal Futura/L4 Films (2017). Ovidores de Vozes (Hearing Voices). Intervoice.

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