By Robin Timmers
About This Report
On 2 and 3 September the 3rd world congress about hearing voices was held in Italy. After the 1st world congress in Maastricht in the Netherlands and the 2nd in Nottingham in the UK, this time people from all over the world gathered in Savona in the north east of Italy to learn more about hearing voices. People came from Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Japan, Kenya, The Netherlands, Norway, The UK, Spain, Sweden, Swiss and the USA. Like every year there was an Intervoice meeting before the congress. This allowed the members of this worldwide hearing voice network to have the opportunity to meet and update each other about the developments in their country. The organizers had arranged for translators who translated from and to Italian, so everyone could understand what was being said.
The texts and slides of the presentations will be available soon via both the website of the congress (www.parlaconlevoci.it) and the Intervoice website (www.intervoiceonline.org).
I have tried to make a truthful report of the congress and take care of privacy sensitive information as good as possible. If there is something incorrect or lacking, I apologize. Please send your remarks to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Hope you enjoy this report, Robin
Intervoice Meeting – Thursday September 1st 2011 (Savona, Italy)
Italy: Marcello Macario
Marcello Macario, who is the driving force behind the congress, starts the meeting by welcoming everybody. He explains that Italy has a hearing voices network for 3 years now. Italy has 10 hearing voices groups now and 1 extra in Milan soon. In Turin there is a self-help group out of the mental health care system, which is rare. There are also special trainings for psychiatrists as well.
Italy: Cristina Contini
Cristina Contini shares her experiences. She is a voice hearer for 25 years and went through a period of psychiatry and medication. In 2005 she came out of that and now she is working with people who hear voices. One of the things she does is Voice Dialogue with an organization called the Inner Team. Voice Dialogue is a conversation method in which one individual can go into a dialogue with different parts of another individual’s personality. This way the feelings, ideas and wishes of the different parts can be expressed and integrated. Voice Dialogue can also be done with people who hear voices. In this case one individual talks with the voices of a voice hearer and the voice hearer tells what the voices say in return. A lot of people find this type of Voice Dialogue very useful. You can find more info about Cristina www.cristinacontini.it and about the Inner Team on www.innerteam.it.
Intervoice, Paul Baker
Paul Baker announces that, like every year, the World Hearing Voices Day takes place on the 14th of September. In different countries there are activities around this theme. Also Paul announces that there are free information packages with books and DVD’s available for people who want to start a hearing voices group.
Kenya / The Netherlands: Kanja
Kanja tells about a project in Nairobi called Normal Difference. It’s a community based project, which aim is to show that it is normal to be different. The projects offers a place to people from the streets to come together and talk and listen to each other. There are also artists and musicians involved. Kanja explains it’s not a much helping each other, as it is giving each other attention and respecting and appreciating each others differences. In Kenya people don’t know what a psychiatrist is. There are more then 42 different tribes in Kenya, each having their own culture. He explains that there is a lot of old knowledge within these tribes, which can help us understand voice hearing.
One of the things that Kanja is trying to do is to gather books so they can make a library for the Same Difference Project. If you have books you want to donate, you can send them to: Waithira, Lepelaarsingel 87c, 3083KD Rotterdam, The Netherlands.
Sweden: Ami Rohnitz
Ami tells that there are new, tough laws in Sweden. If you don’t follow orders of forensic care or if you don’t take your medicines, the police will come and get you. She advises everyone to listen to the voices and not the psychiatrists.
England: Rachel Waddingham
Rachel is involved in a lot of hearing voices projects, such as: voice hearing groups in London (now 45!), the youth project called Voice Collective (www.voicecollective.co.uk), the prison project in Camden, London, and the paranoia groups that are about to start in 2012. Today she tells us about the prison project in Camden. She explains that there are 90.000 people in prison in the UK, of which 7500 in London. And then there are also the people locked up in the closed wards. London alone has 8 prisons: 1 for women, 1 for young people and 6 for man. The mean age is of these people is 27 years and 26% of them spend more then 23 hours in their cell every day. 70% of the prisoners in London have been labeled with 2 or more diagnosis’s and 7% of the males and 14% of the females hear voices. The suicide risk for people locked up in prison is 15 times higher then the rest of society. The normal mental health care is unable to help these fellow humans.
Rachel explains that prison is a pretty scary place and that voice hearing groups can provide it’s members the trust and safety they need to tell their stories and share their experiences with voices. And there is a lot to talk about: voices, trauma, motherhood, self harm, bullying, frustrations, prison life, sentence, diagnosis. Her plan for this project was first to engage all the people involved (prison staff, volunteers, prisoners) and then inform them with trainings and resources. The next step was to start a pilot group, evaluate it and learn from it. The last step was to establish more groups, supply facilitations and create a sustainable network. The first three steps are now successfully completed and the goal is now to establish as much voice hearing groups in prisons as possible!
Australia: Ross Bowyer
Ross is a recovery trainer and today she tells us about a pilot project in Perth called Voices @ Work. This project aims to help 25 voice hearers who are unemployed or on social welfare to find and maintain a job . The project involves giving education and training, as well as a support group. This project is a partnership with the employers and a job agency. All of the staff members will receive a training about hearing voices. More information can be found on: www.rfwa.org.au/programs/voiceswork.html.
France: Yann Derobert, Adèle, Sonja
Yann himself doesn’t hear voices, but he brought 2 people with him who do: Adèle & Sonja. Yann felt a lot anxiety for 10 years. In this period it was difficult for him to go outside. 2 years ago he went to a hearing voices group. This gave him strength. Now he is training people to facilitate a hearing voices group. Also, now there is a French translation of Paul Baker’s guide of how to set up and run a hearing voices group. Yann tells that the people from Canada could not be here, but that they have send a love letter.
Adèle has joined a HV group in Lille. Going to the group made her feel well, free to be who she is. It helped her to prove that she is innocent. In the HV group they always said that she was not ill. Now she feels comfortable with the idea that hearing voices is a gift.
Sonja is a HVG facilitator. She tells us that the HV groups helps them to understand and sympathize with each other, to talk about their fights and joys. In their HV groups there are not only voice hearers. Sonja is a spiritual person and she really wanted to hear voices and when this happened it was like a door to the music of the other spheres opened. She wants the door to stay open.
Finland : Alex Airola
Alex tells us about a peer support group with voice hearers, but with family members too.
Greece : Marianna Ketallinou, Lykourgos Karatzaferis
For 2 years there is a hearing voices network in Greece and things are going good. The network is self funded. There is no money from the government because of the crisis. There are 3 HV groups which are located in Athens and Saloniki. Hopefully they will be facilitated by a voice hearer soon. The groups helps the members to connect and stand up for their rights.
USA: Gail Hornstein, Will Hall, Oryx Cohen
Last year Gail was happy to be able to say that anything was happening in the USA, this year she was glad to tell about that there is more and more interest in hearing voices. She had given a lot of talks, interviews and trainings in which people learn how to run such a group. So far 75 people have been trained. Because in the USA medication is privatized and doctors get paid for the medicines they prescribe, the power of the pharmaceutical industry is big. That’s why the approach of the Hearing Voices Network is important, because it gives a good alternative.
Oryx Cohen is involved in the National Empowerment Center, a peer run organization (www.power2u.org). Together With Will Hall he has been active in the Freedom Centre (www.freedom-center.org), a grassroots organization about spirituality and madness. 4 years ago he met Gail in HV group and this is when he talked about his experiences for the first time in 8 years. This was good for him. It helped him to integrate the voices in his life. Now he gives HVG trainings. He proposes a partnership between voice hearers, professionals and allies. He is wary because of bad experiences in the past, but nonetheless he thinks this is the time to cooperate. In this context he mentions the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI, www.nami.org).
The American delegation proudly announces that on Hearing Voices Day (14th of September) the new website of the USA HV network will be launched: www.hearingvoicesusa.org.
Will Hall starts by apologizing for 10 years of George W. Bush. Will is a voice hearer, he has a master’s degree and is a therapist. But to him the voice hearing part gives more therapy to the therapist part, then the other way around.
Italy: Rafaello Pocobello, Mauro
Rafaello invites the Italian voice hearers to participate in the HV network and join HV groups. There is a lot we can learn from lived experience. Mauro tells us about a HV self help group outside of psychiatry in Turin. They are professionals that work at the university. They come together and debate or watch a film. He reminds us that in the time of the anti-psychiatry Italy was proud to have closed the madhouses. He expresses his concerns about the emphasis on medication in psychiatry and the influence of pharmaceutical companies. He supports more independent research and research into holistic approaches based on the personal account of the people themselves, including their views and desires.
In the afternoon there was an open space. People who wanted to share anything with others could make a poster with a short description or drawing. This could for instance be a workshop, poetry or sharing of experiences. The rest could then choose which open space suited their interest. I myself joined an open space with Rufus May and Kate Crawford about paranoia.
Intervoice News & Awards and General Discussion
Dirk Corstens from the Netherlands is the chairperson of the Intervoice board. He gives an update about the current situation of Intervoice. He explains that Intervoice has changed from a movement to an official organization. The membership of Intervoice is made free, to make Intervoice as open as possible. The board consists of 7 people. Besides Dirk there are: Jacqui Dillon (UK), Ron Coleman (UK), Sandra Escher (Netherlands), Liz Ellis (UK), Jørn Ditlev Eriksen (Denmark) and Ami Rohintz (Sweden). The board comes together 2 times every year, but will try to go to 4 times. Besides this they Skype every month. The board expresses it’s wish for more young people on the board. Rachel Waddingham and Paul Baker take care of the website. Because of possible conflicts of interest it is decided that there is no bookstore on the website. Intervoice is also active via Facebook, where news is pread and people are able to connect. One of the things Intervoice is thinking about is developing certification and accreditation for people and organizations who offer services related to voice hearing. Another wish is the joining of new countries, like South Africa, Brazil and Indonesia. Intervoice also has a research board and this board is very interested in the questions that voice hearers would like to have researched. Last year Intervoice expressed it’s wish to be a human rights organization for voice hearers whose rights are violated in psychiatry. So far there had been no concrete steps. Voice Hearers who are willing to go to court are invited to contact the board. The author of this report is certainly interested in this.
Since 2010 year Intervoice hands out award to people who have contributed a lot to the worldwide hearing voices network. This year the awards go to Olga Runciman from Denmark, Marcello Macario from Italy and Monika Hoffmann from Germany. Paul Baker from the UK received the special title of honoree officer of Intervoice.
The general discussion mainly focused on the question whether the hearing voices network should cooperate with traditional science and psychiatry or not. Rufus May remarks that traditional professionals can be like difficult voices and that it is good to go into a dialogue and overcome conflicts. The author of this report says that it would be good that mental health care workers and students will be informed about the facts and philosophy of the hearing voices network in their education. That may pave the way for understanding and cooperation.
About the author of this report:
Robin Timmers is a bachelor psychologist and expert by experience from the Netherlands. He is coeditor of the Klankspiegel, the magazine of the Dutch Hearing Voices Network. Robin trains students and mental healthy care workers and is currently setting up a Support Centre Voice Hearing in his hometown, Nijmegen.