Patsy Hage heard voices and was a patient of Marius Romme. It was Patsy who started the whole investigation into the meaning of voices in the Netherlands. Patsy’s story is a fascinating and painful one, she was hearing destructive and negative voices that gave her orders, or forbade her to do things. There were times when they could dominate her completely. Patsy, who was 30 years old at the time, had already been hospitalised several times and was diagnosed as suffering from a schizophrenic psychosis. She was given major tranquillisers (sometimes called neuroleptics or antipsychotics) like many other patients who hear voices, but they had no effect on neutralising or reducing the number or the insistency of the voices she heard, as the medication is meant to do. They did, however, reduce the anxiety she felt about the existence and nature of the voices, but at the same time they also lowered her mental alertness.
Patsy, understandably, found this very disturbing and was depressed by her inability to feel and think like she used to be able to. It was during this time that Patsy began to talk about suicide more often, and her psychiatrist, Marius, felt that he might be unable to prevent her from taking a path of no return. Except for one positive element in their relationship, this could have been a sad but familiar story and which has led to the death of many people diagnosed as having schizophrenia.
The positive element was that she Marius gave Patsy a book by the American psychologist, Julian Jaynes. He wrote the book called “The origins of consciousness and the breakdown of the bicameral mind.”. From the text she concluded that there were times when to hear voices was normal. This gave her some, although not much hope.
She did not believe that her voices were part of an illness and they were so real to her that it she did not regard them as hallucinations. She was also angry about the fact that Marius did not ask about what the voices said to her. Because this was what made the voices so stressful for her and was why she suffered from them (although they also forbade her to talk about what they told her, for in her mind, the voices were of Gods that were always right and permitted no criticism from her). She was also angry with Marius at this time as he did not really believe that she heard voices, pointing out the contradiction between accepting the belief in God whom he could not hear, whilst not believing in the reality of her voices that she heard quite clearly. As Patsy said to Marius; “You believe in a God we never see or hear, so why shouldn’t you believe in the voices I really do hear?”.
Marius like many other psychiatrists he had always dismissed voices as being part of the delusional and hallucinatory world of the psychiatrically ill. It made sense to Marius because it was certainly the case in our society that to believe in the existence of God, in spite of the lack of any physical evidence, is acceptable and no one who believes in this is thought of as mad, yet the same acceptance is not extended to those who psychiatry regards as hallucinators.
Patsy Hage had developed some of her ideas about voices by reading the work of the American psychologist, Julian Jayne’s. He wrote a book called “The origins of consciousness and the breakdown of the bicameral mind.”. In his work he discusses the Iliad, which is a book written by the ancient philosopher, Homer, it tells of the Trojan Wars, a war caused by the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen. She left her husband and ran off to Troy with her lover, Paris. Her husband pursued her with all the armies of Greece and Homer wrote the Iliad about the war that followed. Homer frequently describes some Greek god or goddess appearing to a warrior in the middle of the Trojan War and telling him to do something. Julian Jayne’s argues persuasively in his book that, when that happened it wasn’t a metaphorical experience but a real one. The warrior really saw the goddess and heard her words.
Jayne’s believes that up until about 1300 BC and before the development of written language, hearing voices was common to all humanity and that the experience was all but eradicated by what we now know as consciousness. The people who hear voices today are carriers of an evolutionary residue from this ancient time. However, that is only a theory to account for the fact voices were apparently widely heard and are less so to day, at least in the Western world. Consequently her important input was that she pushed Marius to accept her voices and that was the motive to have meetings between her and other patient voice hearers. It was her suicidality and this issue of belief that was the reason to organise her talking with, first one and later some more, other patients hearing voices.
Later they explored why the voices started, Patsy explained to Marius, it was her opinion that the voices were not part of an illness neither were they hallucinations, for they had been with her since she was eight years old, appearing shortly after she had been badly burnt (subsequently it has been shown that up to 70% of voice hearers first hear voices after a major trauma). At first the voices were friendly and helpful and for a long time they caused her no problems and it was only when she was fifteen years old that the voices became unfriendly and angry. We learned about this relationship from the questionnaire they sent round after the TV talk show (published in the Schizophrenia Bulletin in 1989) as well as from the first meeting other voice hearers who told about the beginning of their voices.
For Marius this was a big step, as he was effectively walking away from the accepted mainstream medical view of what voices meant (e.g. nothing), and on the say so of his patients and was prepared to let go of his what his own psychiatric training had taught him. Instead he took his lead from Patsy, a diagnosed schizophrenic, because what she had said made more sense then any other theory he had heard. At some risk then he decided to try to do something positive with this new perspective. Thus began a journey that continues to this day, a journey that crucially has always involved voice hearers and others finding out together what this experience might mean and how it might be overcome.