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Hearing voices that are distressing: Self-help resources and strategies (Part two)

By Patricia Deegan, Ph.D.

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In the Spring/Summer 1995 issue of the National Empowerment Center Newsletter, I wrote an article about the experience of hearing voices and self help strategies (See first article).  In that article I requested that people write to me regarding any techniques that they used to control or eliminate distressing voices. Here are some of the responses I received as well as some other coping strategies I have used and/or read about:

One person wrote: "...I have heard voices for a long time, most of my life in fact. When my voices became more than one, it was very confusing and they seemed to be incessant; no matter what I did they continued to criticize me and harass me.... It was very trying. Then one afternoon, I decided to write down everything they said. So I began writing and while I was doing that I repeated everything they said to me, which was the way I was accustomed to writing or even reading- sounding all of the words out in my mind and with the aid of a voice in my mind that was under my complete control.

"The net effect on my voices was that they thought I was just repeating everything they said to me. They became confused and to my surprise they finally quit talking altogether for the space of about a half hour. After that, all I had to do was start repeating everything they said and they would invariably fall silent, sometimes for minutes and sometimes for nearly an hour. I was very pleased. It was the only relief I had from my voices in months.

"I shared this technique with a fellow sufferer and he found that his voices also became confused and stopped. Unlike me, he has found that to merely threaten to repeat what they say is enough to cause his voices to become less belligerent and easier to put up with."

Another person who is a survivor of cult abuse suggested this: "A less dangerous and counter-programming strategy (and therefore healing) might be to identify, isolate and distance the voice as someone else, a perpetrator. Then, either rebut in writing-e.g., 'I am worthy because I am alive, love animals, am human, write poetry, etc.' Another idea is to refuse to participate at all and terminate the voice(s) forcefully with 'I don't care what you think!'." This person said that her voices were part of programming from the cult in which she was abused and that these techniques worked for her.

Another person sent me a copy of the summer 1986 newsletter called "The Connecting Link" in which there is a special issue devoted to the controlling of voices. Some of their recommendations include these: "Do not, under any circumstances, act on the voices"; "emphasize being ordinary in all your thoughts and actions"; "deal with the root cause...in other words, restore contact and keep contact with others"; and "Whenever the voices occur...actively ignore them by simply attending to the ordinary thing you're doing...treat these disturbances in your mind the way you would treat static on the radio...." The copyright for the full program of controlling voices is held by GROW Publications, Sydney, Australia. Contact GROW for more information.

Finally, I would like to share two fairly simple coping techniques that I have found some success with. The first is to have people who like you make a list of the qualities they admire in you. Tape record their remarks and when the distressing voices begin, listen to your "personal affirmation tape". Sometimes the negative messages of distressing voices can be offset by the positive affirmations of friends.

Second, voices can begin if you are in the presence of a monotonous, "white noise" such as the droning of a fan or motor, the tumbling of a clothes dryer, or the whirring of an air duct. If you notice that your voices frequently start up in certain places, check to see if there is "white noise" present. For instance, I know a woman who began a job as a receptionist in a large office building. Her voices became very bad while working and everyone told her it was "stress". However, after consulting with her about her work environment, we discovered there was an air duct and an automatic revolving door that created a lot of "white noise" that made her more prone to hearing voices. By changing the placement of her desk and bringing a radio that she played at a low volume (thereby creating a changing, rather than monotonous auditory stimulus field), she was able to eliminate her voices while at work.

If you have any coping strategies that you would like to share, feel free to write to: 

Carmen Amill, National Empowerment Center, 599 Canal Street, Lawrence, MA 01840, Fax (978) 681-6426 or send email via our contact form located at www.power2u.org/contact.html

The National Empowerment Center has a complete curriculum where participants have a simulated experience of what people who hear voices go through on a daily basis. [Click to view the Hearing Voices Curriculum]