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Talking with voices

Home | Working with Voices | Therapies | Talking with voices

It can feel strange to talk in your head or out loud to a voice but talking with voices is something that many people can find useful. It is a method that members of the Hearing Voices Movementquestion icon have used for a number of years in different ways, and one that psychologists and psychiatrists are starting to use more. This page focuses on Voice Dialoguingquestion icon but you can also read more about similar techniques in our sections on Relating Therapy and AVATAR Therapy.

Talking with voices icon
  • Sometimes engaging in a dialogue or conversation with voices can be helpful. Often dialogues will focus on things like your relationship to the voice and ways to make sense of what the voices are saying
  • Voice-dialoguing is not typically offered on the NHS, though some therapists offer it privately.
  • Many people learn to talk with their voices themselves and find it beneficial

Voice-dialoguing

Voice dialoguing is an approach that was first developed in the 1970s as part of therapies involving mental imagery. Practitioners (or facilitators) who use voice dialoguing have a theory that the “self” – our sense of who we are – can actually be divided up into many different “parts”. These parts may have personalities of their own or could be linked with specific feelings or emotions (such as feelings of guilt or shame). In voice dialoguing, these parts are invited to speak for themselves, to the facilitator, via the person.

For some people who hear voices, it can be useful to understand the voices in terms of “parts” of the self. For instance, a constantly critical voice might reflect a part which is trying to express strong feelings of anger and distress. In voice-dialoguing, the voice-hearer lets the voice speak through them to the facilitator.

Voice-dialoguing mainly aims to help a person explore and reflect on their relationship to their voices. It does not aim to change the voices themselves but might help people reframe or understand what the voices are saying.  Any changes can take time.

Voice dialoguing is not something typically offered on the NHS, although some local services might include practitioners with experience of using the method. A growing number of therapists, of many different schools of thought, can integrate talking with voices into their practice, but this is usually something that is only available privately and with the associated financial implications.

Mind in Camden offer ‘Hearing Voices Journey Work’ – a programme of work developed by Rachel Waddingham which involves developing a personal understanding of what your voices might be about and can include talking with voices. All individual work of this kind is facilitated by a person experienced in working with voices and provided within a person-centred framework.

But you don’t have to do voice dialoguing to talk to your voices. Many people learn to talk to their voices themselves and can find it beneficial.

Talking to voices (either as a person or a practitioner) can feel like an unusual thing to do. For some people it might make distressing voices feel a bit easier to manage or understand, while for others it might do the opposite.

I am trying to learn to do this (talking with voices) but it is very new to me.  I think it’s important for me to try and interact with the ‘voices’ as if I simply distract from them, it tends to make them ‘shout louder’.  I try to tell the ‘voices’ that I’m listening, that I want to hear what they’re saying and try to understand that they’re there for a reason and to be compassionate about that reason.  It’s a work in progress – I find sometimes the ‘voices’ seem not to want to interact or I’m not able to be compassionate with them. 

Amy*

Where next?

Voice dialoguing is fairly unique in the way it encourages people to let their voices speak through them. In AVATAR therapy or Relating Therapy the conversation works in a different way: a therapist or practitioner speaks as the voice, and the dialogue happens between them and the voice-hearer.

Find out more

Read

Elisabeth Svanholmer and Rufus May, ‘Ideas on how to talk supportively with voices’, Open Minded Online, October 2018.

Good Therapy (2016). Voice Dialogue. Goodtherapy.org. An overview of the voice dialogue approach and how it used across a range of contexts.

Dirk Corstens, Eleanor Longden and Rufus May (2011). The Voice Dialogue Method. Intervoice. A general explainer on Voice Dialoguing for people who hear voices

Watch

Engaging with Voices with Charlie, Rufus and Elisabeth’
A YouTube playlist of 15 videos intended as inspiration and support for people interested in engaging with voices.

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