Dear Oprah

Dear Oprah

We are writing in response to your programme about “The 7-Year-Old Schizophrenic”, which concerned Jani, a child who hears voices, which was broadcast on the 6th October 2009. We hope to correct the pessimistic picture offered by the mental health professionals featured in your programme, and in the accompanying article on your website. What upset us most and moved us to write to you, is that parents will have been left with the impression that they are powerless to help their children if they hear voices. We are also concerned that the programme gave the impression that children with voices must be treated with medication. We note that the medications mentioned in your programme all have very serious side effects. (For example, antipsychotics such as Haldol cause neuronal loss, block the dopamine pathways in the brain required to processes rewarding stimuli, and carry a high risk of neurological and metabolic side effects such as Parkinsonianism and diabetes. Their effects on the developing brain are largely unknown and, in our view, they should only be given to children as a treatment as absolutely last resort.)

We have been researching and working with adults and children like Jani for the last twenty years, and our work has led us to very different conclusions from those reached by the mental health professionals on your programme. One of our founding members, Dr. Sandra Escher from the Netherlands, has spent the last fifteen years talking to children who hear voices, and to their parents and carers. This work is the most detailed and thorough investigation of children who hear voices carried out to date [1, 2]. The most important findings from recent research on hearing voices are as follows:

Prevalence of voice hearing in adults and children
Recent large-scale population (epidemiological) studies have shown that about 4-10 % of the adult population hear voices at some time in their lives [3-5]. Only about a third seek assistance from mental health services. Amongst children, the proportion hearing voices may be even higher [6] and, again, only a minority are referred for treatment. Hence, it is wrong to assume that voice hearing is always a pathological condition requiring treatment.

Psychological mechanisms
Everyone has an inner voice. Psychologists call this phenomenon ‘inner speech’ and it is an important mechanism that we use to regulate our own behaviour (plan what we want to do, direct our own actions). Child psychologists have long understood that this ability begins to develop at about 2-years of age [7, 8]. Hearing voices seems to reflect some kind of differentiation in the mind’s ability to tell the difference between inner speech and the heard speech of other people [9, 10].

Link to trauma
A common theme in research with both adults and children is the relationship between hearing voices and traumatic experiences. In adults, around 75% begin to hear voices in relationship to a trauma or situations that make them feel powerless [11-13], for example the death of a loved one, divorce, losing a job, failing an exam, or longer lasting traumas such as physical, emotional or sexual abuse. The role of trauma was identified in 85% of the children we have studied, for example being bullied by peers or teachers, or being unable to perform to the required level at school, or being admitted to a hospital because of a physical illness. In short, our research has shown that hearing voices is usually a reaction to a situation or a problem that the child is struggling to cope with.

Voices have a meaning A related and equally striking finding is that the voices often refer to the problem that troubles the child, but in an elliptical manner. To take just one example from the children studied by Sandra Escher:

The voices told an 8-year-old boy to blind himself. This frightened his mother. But when we discussed whether there was something in the life of the boy he could not face, she understood the voices’ message. The boy could not cope with his parents’ problematic marriage. He did not want to see it.

We wonder whether anyone has attempted to establish why, in Jani’s case, the rat is called “Wednesday”, why the girl is called “24 Hours”, and why is the cat called “400″? What do these mean for her? Why does Jani want people to call her “Blue-Eyed Tree Frog” and “Jani Firefly”?

Good outcomes without treatment
Recently, Sandra Escher conducted a three-year follow up study of eighty children who heard voices, aged between 8 and 19 [1]. Half received mental health care but the other half were not given any specialist care at all. The children were interviewed four times, at yearly intervals. By the end of the research period 60% of the children reported that their voices had disappeared. Very often, this was because the triggering problems were dealt with or because the child’s situation changed – for example, following a change of schools.

Helping children who hear voices: Advise to parents
It is important to appreciate that the desire to make voices disappear, although usually the goal of the mental health care services, is not necessarily in the best interests of children. Some children do not want to lose their voices. If children can find within themselves the resources to cope with their voices, they can begin to lead happier and more balanced lives.

The most important element in this process is support from the family. Unfortunately, we have found that mental health services often fail to have a positive effect on children’s voices, because they foster fear rather than coping. However, we have found that referral to a psychotherapist who is prepared to discuss the meaning of voices is often helpful.

It is important that parents do not assume that hearing voices is a terrible disaster but instead regard it as a signal that something is troubling their child. If parents assume that voices are a symptom of an illness, and are afraid of them, the child will naturally pick up on this feeling. This can lead to a self-defeating cycle in which the child becomes fearful and obsessed by the voices.

We would like to offer this 10-point guide for parents, indicating what they can do if a child tells them that he or she hears voices:

1. Try not to over react. Although it is understandable that you will be worried, work hard not to communicate your anxiety to your child.

2. Accept the reality of the voice experience for your child; ask about the voices, how long the child has been hearing them, who or what they are, whether they have names, what they say, etc.

3. Let your child know that many other children hear voices and that usually they go away after a while.

4. Even if the voices do not disappear your child may learn to live in harmony with them.

5. It is important to break down your child’s sense of isolation and difference from other children. Your child is special – unusual perhaps, but really not abnormal.

6. Find out if your child has any difficulties or problems that he or she finds very hard to cope with, and work on fixing those problems. Think back to when the voices first started. What was happening to your child at the time? Was there anything unusual or stressful occurring?

7. If you think you need outside help, find a therapist who is prepared to accept your child’s experiences and work systematically with him or her to understand and cope better with the voices.

8. Be ready to listen to your child if he or she wants to talk about the voices. Use drawing, painting, acting and other creative ways to help the child to describe what is happening in his or her life.

9. Get on with your lives and try not to let the experience of hearing voices become the centre of your child’s life or your own.

10. Most children who live well with their voices have supportive families who accept the experience as part of who their child is. You can do this too!

In conclusion we would like to stress that, in our view, labelling a seven-year-old child as schizophrenic and subjecting her to powerful psychotropic medication and periodic hospitalisation is unlikely to help resolve her problems. Indeed, the opposite is most probable: children treated in this way will simply become more powerless. Because your well respected, award winning show reaches out to so many people, we are concerned that there will be many viewers who will be left with the impression that the treatment Jani receives is the only method available. We fear that this may cause some children to be subjected to an unnecessary lifetime in psychiatric care. It is very important to recognise that hearing voices, in itself, is not a sign of psychopathology.

We hope you will give consideration to the possibility of making a future programme showing the other side of the story, one of hope, optimism and with a focus on recovery. Perhaps you could make a programme about a child with similar voice experiences to Jani, who has been helped to come to terms with her or his experiences and to discuss with the child, parents and therapists how this was acheived? If there is anyway we could help make this happen, please contact us.

We look forward to hearing from you on the issues raised in our letter.

Yours sincerely,

Paul Baker
INTERVOICE coordinator
(Letter reedited with the kind assistance of Professor Richard Bentall)

Selected bibliography
1.         Escher, S., et al., Independent course of childhood auditory hallucinations: A sequential 3-year follow-up study. British Journal of Psychiatry, 2002. 181 Suppl 43: p. 10-18.
2.         Escher, S., et al., Formation of delusional ideation in adolescents hearing voices: A prospective study. American Journal of Medical Genetics (Neuropsychiatric Genetics), in press.
3.         Tien, A.Y., Distribution of hallucinations in the population. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 1991. 26: p. 287-292.
4.         van Os, J., et al., Strauss (1969) revisited: A psychosis continuum in the normal population?Schizophrenia Research, 2000. 45: p. 11-20.
5.         van Os, J., et al., Prevalence of psychotic disorder and community level of psychotic symptoms: An urban-rural comparison. Archives of General Psychiatry, 2001. 58: p. 663-668.
6.         Poulton, R., et al., Children’s self-reported psychotic symptoms and adult schizophreniform disorder: A 15-year longitudinal study. Archives of General Psychiatry, 2000. 57: p. 1053-1058.
7.         Berk, L.E., Why children talk to themselves. Scientific American, 1994: p. 61-65.
8.         Vygotsky, L.S.V., Thought and language. 1962, Cambidge, Mass: MIT Press.
9.         Alleman, A. and F. Laroi, Hallucinations: The science of idiosyncratic perceptions. 2008, Washington: American Psychological Association.
10.       Bentall, R.P., Madness explained: Psychosis and human nature. 2003, London: Penguin.
11. Read, J., et al., Sexual and physical abuse during childhood and adulthood as predictors of hallucinations, delusions and thought disorder. Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, 2003. 76: p. 1-22.
12. Hammersley, P., et al., Childhood trauma and hallucinations in bipolar affective disorder: A preliminary investigation. British Journal of Psychiatry, 2003. 182: p. 543-547.
13. Shevlin, M., M. Dorahy, and G. Adamson, Childhood traumas and hallucinations: An analysis of the National Comorbidity Survey. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 2007. 41: p. 222-228.

Signed by 155 people from 20 countries, listed in order of the time they were received.
Dr. Sandra Escher, – Board member of INTERVOICE, The Netherlands
Professor Marius Romme, psychiatrist, MD, PhD, President of INTERVOICE, The Netherlands
Dirk Corstens, Social psychiatrist and psychotherapist, Chair of INTERVOICE, The Netherlands
Paul Baker, coordinator of INTERVOICE, Spain
Jacqui Dillon, consultant trainer and voice hearer, chair of Hearing Voices Network England, board member of INTERVOICE, UK
Ron Coleman, consultant trainer and voice hearer, board member of INTERVOICE, UK
Hywel Davies, chair of Hearing Voices Network Cymru (Wales), honorary board member of INTERVOICE; UK
Amanda R. E. Aller Lowe, MS, LPC, LCPC, QMRP – Agency Partner, Communities In Schools & Area Representative, The Center for Cultural Interchange, Aurora, Illinois, INTERVOICE supporter, USA
Adrienne Giacon, Secretary and Hearing Voices Network Support group facilitator Hearing Voices Network Aotearoa, INTERVOICE member, New Zealand
Dr John Read, Associate Professor, Psychology Department, The University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand
Ann-Louise S. Silver, MD, founder and past president, International Society for the Psychological Treatments of Schizophrenia and Other Psychoses (, ISPS-US, USA
Matthew Morrissey, MA, MFT, Board Member, MindFreedom International, Northern California Coordiator, ISPS-US, San Franciso, USA
Irene van de Giessen, former voice hearer and foster-daughter of Willem van Staalen and Willem van Staalen, voice integrating foster-father of Irene, The Netherlands
Olga Runciman, consultant trainer and voice hearer (BSc psychiatric nurse and graduate student in psychology), INTERVOICE member, Denmark
Professor Wilma Boevink, Chair of Stichting Weerklank (Netherlands Hearing Voices Network), Professor of Recovery, Hanze University; Trimbos-Institute (the Dutch Institute of Mental Health and Addiction), Netherlands
Marian B. Goldstein, voicehearer, (fully recovered thanks to trauma-focussed therapy, the opportunity to make sense of the voices) INTERVOICE supporter, Denmark
Professor Dr J. van Os, Department of Psychiatry and Neuropsychology, Maastricht University Medical Centre, Maastricht, INTERVOICE supporter, Netherlands
Virginia Pulker, Mental health Occupational Therapist with young people with psychosis, recovery promoter, HVN Australia, Northern Ireland and England. INTERVOICE supporter, UK/Australia
Professor Richard Bentall, PhD, Chair Clinical Psychology, University of Bangor, INTERVOICE supporter, Wales, UK
Alessandra Santoni, professional working in a Mental Health Service of Milan, voice hearer and facilitator of a hearing voices group, INTERVOICE supporter,Italy
Geraldo Peixoto and Dulce Edie Pedro dos Santos, São Vicente – Est. São Paulo – INTERVOICE supporter, Brasil
Joanna & Andrzej Skulski, INTERVOICE supporters, Polska
Darby Penney, INTERVOICE supporter and President, The Community Consortium, Inc., Albany, NY, USA
Jacqueline Hayes, researcher at Manchester University about hearing voices in ‘non-patients’ and therapist, UK
Phil Virden, MA, MA, Executive Editor, Asylum Magazine, UK
Matthew Morris, Mental Health Locality Manager, East Suffolk Outreach Team, Suffolk Mental Health Partnerships NHS Trust, INTERVOICE supporter, UK
Ros Thomas, Young Peoples Worker, Gateway Community Heath, Wodonga Victoria, INTERVOICE supporter, Australia
Dr. Rufus May Dclin/ Consultant Clinical Psychologist, INTERVOICE supporter, UK
Dr. Simon Jones, INTERVOICE supporter, UK
Dr. Louis Tinnin, Psychiatrist, Morgantown, West Virginia, USA
Linda Gantt, PhD, Intensive Trauma Therapy, Inc., USA
Burton Norman Seitler, Ph.D., New Jersey Institute for training in Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy, Child and Adolescence Psychotherapy Studies
Ron Bassman, PhD., Founding member of International Network Towards Alternatives for Recovery (INTAR), Past president of The National Association for Rights Protection and Advocacy, USA
Michael O’Loughlin, Adelphi University, NY, USA
Dorothy Scotten, Ph.D., LCSW, USA
Marilyn Charles, Ph.D., The Austen Riggs Center, USA
Bex Shaw, Psychotherapist, London, UK
Ira Steinman, MD, author of “TREATING the ‘UNTREATABLE’ : Healing in the Realms of Madness”, USA
Mike Lawson, Ex Vice Chair National MIND UK 1988-1992, INTERVOICE supporter, UK
Dr. Dan L. Edmunds, Ed.D., B.C.S.A., International Center for Humane Psychiatry, USA
Ron Unger LCSW, Therapist, USA
Daniel B Fisher (Boston, MA): Person who recovered from what is called schizophrenia, Executive Director National Empowerment Center; National Coalition of Mental Health Consumer/survivor Org., member of Interrelate an international coalition of national consumer/user groups, community psychiatrist, Cambridge, Mass., USA
Mary Madrigal, USA
Paul Hammersley, University of Manchester, INTERVOICE supporter, UK
Phil Benjamin, mental health nurse and voices consultant, Australia
Eleanor Longden, Bradford Early Intervention in Psychosis Sevice, England, UK
Karen Taylor RMN, director Working to Recovery, Scotland, UK
Bill George, MA, PGCE, Member of the Anoiksis Think Tank, Netherlands
Dr Andrew Moskowitz, Senior Lecturer in Mental Health, University of Aberdeen, Scotland, UK
John Exell, BA(Hons), Dip Arch, voice-hearer, sculptor, artist, writer, poet, UK.
Tineke Nabben, a voice hearer who has learned to cope with her voices and student, learning to help other children and parents to cope with their voices. Germany
Marcello Macario, psychiatrist, Community Mental Health Centre of Carcare, Italy, INTERVOICE supporter, Italy
Ian Parker, Professor of Psychology, co-director of the Discourse Unit, Manchester Metropolitan University, England, UK
David Harper, PhD, Reader in Clinical Psychology, School of Psychology, University of East London, England, UK
Wakio Sato, representative of the Hearing Voices Network – Japan. President of the Japanese Association of Clinical Psychology. The representative of an NPO named “Linden” for community mental health in Konko town, Okayama prefecture, Japan
Suzette van IJssel, Ph.D., spiritual counsel and voice hearer, Utrecht, The Netherlands
Jeannette Woolthuis, psycho-social therapist working with children hearing voices, The Netherlands
Dr. Louise Trygstad, Professor Emerita, University of San Francisco School of Nursing, USA
Erik Olsen, Board member ENUSP European Network of Users (x)-users and Survivors of Psychiatry and Executive Committee in European Dsability Forum (EDF)
Astrid Zoetbrood, recovered from psychosis and voices, the Netherlands
Christine Brown, RMN, Hearing Voices Network Scotland, INTERVOICE supporter, UK
Rachel Waddingham,Manager of the London Hearing Voices Project (inc. Voice Collective: Young People’s Hearing Voices Project), trainer and voice-hearer, UK
Joel Waddingham, Husband and supporter of someone who hears voices, sees visions and has other unusual experiences, UK
Professor Robin Buccheri, RN, MHNP, DNSc, University of San Francisco, CA, USA
Jørn Eriksen, Board member of INTERVOICE, the Danish Hearing Voices Network and The International Mental Health Collaboration Network, Denmark
Douglas Holmes, voice hearer working in a Mental Health Service in Darlinghurst, Sydney, and facilitator of a hearing voices group, INTERVOICE supporter, Australia
Matthew Winter, Student Mental Health Nurse and INTERVOICE supporter
Anneli Westling, Relative of a voice hearer from Stockholm, Sweden
Lia Govers, recovered voice hearer, Italy
Molly Martyn, MA in Clinical Mental Health, Hearing Voices Network of Denver, USA
Tsuyoshi Matsuo, MD, INTERVOICE supporter, Japan
Janet M. Patterson RN, BSN, USA
Odette Nightsky, Sensitive Services International, Australia
Barbara Belton, M.S., M.S. trauma survivor who has recovered and former behavioral health professional, USA
Luigi Colaianni, PhD sociologist, researcher, Community Mental Health Centre, Milano, Italy
Teresa Keedwell, Voice Hearer Support Group, Palmerston North, New Zealand
Maria Haarmans, MA, Canadian Representative INTERVOICE, Canada
Ami Rohnitz, Voice hearer, Sweden
Sharon Jones, University of York, INTERVOICE Supporter, England, UK
Gail A. Hornstein, PhD, Professor of Psychology, Mount Holyoke College, USA
Siri Blesvik, INTERVOICE supporter, Norway
Lynn Seaton, mental health nurse, Scottish Hearing Voices Network and INTERVOICE supporter, UK
Rozi Pattison, Clinical Psychologist, CAMHS, Kapiti Health Centre, PARAPARAUMU, New Zealand
Suzanne Engelen, Experience Focussed Counselling Institute (efc) and member of INTERVOICE. She is an expert by experience and also works for Weerklank (Dutch Hearing Voices Network) and the TREE project, The Netherlands
Susie Crooks, Voice hearer, Mad & Proud, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
Lloyd Ross, Ph.D., FACAPP., P.A., New Jersey, USA
Catherine Penney, RN, USA
Nancy Burke, PhD, Northwestern University Medical School, Chicago Center for Psychoanalysis, USA
Nels Kurt Langsten, M.D., USA
Michael S. Garfinkle, PhD, New York, USA
Andy Phee RMN, community mental health nurse,Kings Cross,London,facilitated a hearing voices group for 10 years, member of the London HearingVoices Project advisory group. England, UK
Helen Sheppard, AMHP, West Yorkshire, Engalnd, UK.
Dr Gillian Proctor, Clincial Psychologist. Bradford, UK
Jane Forrest, sister of voice hearer, Sweden
Tami Williams, Ph.D., Licensed School Psychologist, Clinical Psychologist, Psychiatric Survivor, USA
Lone Jeppesen, Works as a social teacher in an institution with a lot of voice hearers and the diagnosis of schizophrenia, INTERVOICE supporter, Denmark
Judith Haire, author and voice hearer, Ramsgate, Kent, England, UK
Peter Lehmann, Peter Lehmann Publishing, Berlin, Germany / Eugene, OR / Shrewsbury, UK
Sigari Luckwell, Senior Clinical Psychologist, Bunbury Clinic, INTERVOICE supporter, Western Australia
Will Hall, voice hearer with schizophrenia diagnosis, founder of Portland hearing voices, host of, USA
Richard Gray, specialist mental health support worker, random hearer/ seer of voices, visions and past lives. HVN NZ treasurer. New Zealand
Jacqueline Roy, Department of English, Manchester Metropolitan University, England, UK
Dr Mike Jackson, Consultant Clinical Psychologist, Betsi Cadwaldr University Health Board, North Wales
Frank Blankenship, Chair of Affiliate Support Committee, MindFreedom International, MindFreedom Florida Gainesville, Florida USA
Dorothy Dundas, psychatric survivor, MA, USA
Sigrun Tømmerås, mental health acitvist/ childhood abuse survivor, Norway
Karyn Baker BSW, MSW, RSW, Executive Director, Family Outreach and Response Program, Toronto, Canada
Monika Hoffmann psychologist and co-founders of the “NeSt”, the German Hearing Voices Network, Germany
Paul Beelen connected to the INTERVOICE network and voice hearer, The Netherlands
Rossa Forbes Holistic Schizophrenia, North America
Teresa Keedwell Voice Hearer Support Group, Palmerston North New Zealand
Yutaka Fujimoto Psychologist, Tokyo Metropolitan Govemment Mental Health and Welfare Cente, vice president of the Japanese Association of Clinical Psychology, member of the Hearing Voices Network Japan. Tokyo, Japan
Cheontell Barnes High support mental health worker and voices group co-facilitator Brighton UK
Yutaka Fujimoto Psychologist, Tokyo Metropolitan Govemment Mental Health and Welfare Cente, vice president of the Japanese Association of Clinical Psychology, member of the Hearing Voices Network Japan. Tokyo, Japan
Pino Pini, Psychiatrist, Mental Health Europe, INTERVOICE supporter, Italy
Ivona Amleh Psychiatrist, Bethlehem Psychiatric Hospital, Palestine
John Robinson, Integrative Therapist (and voice hearer) for the Hearing Voices Project, SE London
Yann Derobert Psychotherapist, France
Indigo Daya , Voices Vic Project Manager, Melbourne, Australia
Stephen McGowan , Early Intervention in Psychosis Lead. Yorkshire and the Humber Improvement Programme, UK
Adam James Editor and award winning journalist,, UK
Tori Reeve, counsellor, member of HVN, Intervoice supporter, UK.
A. C. Sterk MA Ppsychologist and psychotherapist, director of the Ann Lee Centre community mental health project, and person with previous experience of psychosis. Manchester, UK.
Geoff Brennan Nurse Consultant Psychosocial Interventions for Acute Inpatient Care, Berkshire healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, Co-editor Serious Mental Illness a manual for clinical practice”, UK
Lyn Mahboub voice hearer, trainer, consultant, mother, daughter, student, teacher and, also, one who has navigated the psychiatric service system, Australia
Kristin Hedden, Ph.D. VA Puget Sound Health Care System, Tacoma, Washington, USA 126
Agna Bartels MSc , psychologist and researcher in the University Medical Center Groningen, The Netherlands.
Rita Brooks, BS in Human Services Recovery Consultant, writer and producer of DVD called: The Reality of Recovery, Covington, Kentucky, USA
Angel Moore David Romprey Oregon Warmline, Oregon, USA

Chuck Hughes Corresponding Secretary Los Angeles County Clients Coalition, USA
Amy Sanderson, Bradford Early Intervention in Psychosis Team, UK
Pam Pinder parent of voice hearer, Plymouth, Devon, UK
Gerard van de Willige MSC psychologist and researcher, University Medical Center Groningen, The Netherlands
Mette Askov voice hearer with the diagnosis of schizoprenia and on the road to recovery, INTERVOICE supporter, Denmark
Claire Attwood , Voice hearer and mental health support worker, Isle of Wight. UK,
Alberto Diaz MSc Argentinian psychologist, PhD student in collective health at Universidade Estadual de Campinas, researching mental health, special interest schizophrenia, Campinas, São Paulo, Brazil
Barney Holmes, running a Level 1 Affiliate – MindFreedom, Lancaster, UK
Cindy Highsmith Myron psychiatric survivor, completely recovered from voice hearing and severe mental illness, mental health professional and life coach for persons with mental illness in a self-directed care program, INTERVOICE supporter, Florida, USA
Mad Hatters of Bath We are a group of people who have experienced mental extremes, including hearing voices and seeing visions. Bath, England, UK
Karin Daniels mother of a voice hearing daughter who suffered a lot, but who has now recovered. Maastricht, The Netherlands
Jim Probert, PhD Psychologist, Student Health Care Center, University of Florida, USA
Dr David Lee Clinical Psychologist, Dept of Psychological Therapies, Royal Bolton Hospital, Bolton, Supporter of INTERVOICE, UK
Professor Sue Cowan, Registered Mental Health Nurse and Chartered Health Psychologist, University of Abertay Dundee, Scotland, UK
Paul Harris psychotherapist and support worker based in the UK
Marina Beteva voices hearer for 8-9 years, on medication treatment, Moscow, Russia
Monica Cassani North Carolina, USA
Rikke Bitsch Denmark
Afaf Swaity Nursing Director of Bethlehem Psychiatric Hospital, Palestine
Mary Maddocks MindFreedom Ireland, Ireland
Tania Linden North Lincolnshire Early Intervention Service, UK
Rosemaree Ashford honours psychology student, recovery worker, Richmond Fellowship of WA, Australia
Gemma Hendry Trainee Clinical Psychologist with a specialist interest in Community Psychology and Voice hearing, UK
Erica van den Akker Social worker in Forensic Psychiatry, The Netherlands
Caroline von Taysen psychologist, Netzwerk Stimmenhören, Germany and Normal Difference, Mental Health Kariobangi in Kenya, Germany
Poppy Rollinson Mental Health Nurse, Brighton, UK
Vanessa Jackson Vanessa Jackson Healing Circles, Inc. , USA
Dr. Julie Arthur Kirby Supporter of INTERVOICE and Senior Lecturer, UK
Peter Bullimore Expert by experience, Asylum Associates, UK
Paul Cheminais voice hearer, Bournemouth, UK 159

Further information:INTERVOICE – The international community for hearing voices.

Working across the world to spread positive and hopeful messages about the experience of hearing voices.

We have found there are many people who hear voices, yet are not troubled by them or have found their own ways of coping with them outside of psychiatric care. This is very significant as it shows you can hear voices and remain healthy.

However, there are also significant numbers of voice hearers who are overwhelmed by the negative and disempowering aspects of the experience. Many are diagnosed as having a serious mental health problem such as schizophrenia – a harmful and stigmatizing concept, in our eyes.

The experience of hearing voices prevents some people from living a fulfilled life in society (especially those in psychiatric and social care) and can lead to having a very poor quality of life. We seek to enable voice hearers troubled by their experience to change their relationship and attitude to their voices and to take up their lives again. We also want to ensure that our innovatory approach is better known by professionals, family members and friends.

We have spent the last 20 years trying to better understand why some people can cope with the experience and others can’t. We have discovered that those people who are not able to cope with their voices, on the whole have not been able to cope with the traumatic events that lay at the roots of their voice hearing experience.

Many voices can be unthreatening and even positive. “It’s wrong to turn this into a shameful problem that people either feel they have to deny or to take medication to suppress.” – Professor Marius Romme

See articles about our work with children here:Silencing unwelcome voices in children, The Guardian, 22/11/2001
A psychosocial therapist in Holland has adapted an innovative approach to voice hearing to help very young children dispel the imaginary friends that become realistic foes. Read article here

‘She was like a personal coach’: An account of hearing voices as a child, The Guardian, 16/11/2001. Read article here

Most children hearing voices stop within three years, Royal College of Psychiatry, 03/09/2002. Read articlehere

7 responses to “Dear Oprah”

  1. liz

    hi there what a fantastic view you have on hearing voices i myself have heard voices
    for a significant period of time due to psychological abuse and trauma due to this abuse . I have worked in mental health myself and became very distressed at the affects of medicated individuals I am aware that by spending time discussing past events with some of the individuals that I have worked with that voices and other forms of mental process that has been labled has been due to some traumatic experience in a persons life . Iam discusted by the length of time some of these people have been kept on medication some for 20 something years, I believe psychiatry has to much power over these peoples lives with their diagnostic scales and it is a breath of fresh air listening to someone like yourself x

  2. Connie Niro

    I wanted to ask ,I have read all about young children hearing voices, what if your child never told you?
    We have a 26 year old son and he was always so perfect no problems
    quite never complained a day in his life, we thought it was his character , very polite spoke to us always with a smile never upset till 3 years ago he had what they called a physcotic break
    after his girlfriend of 6 years told him she was going on a trip with another guy, it was the first time he lost it, ended up in a hospital locked up for 5 days, it is 3 years later and things have not gotten better, he has tried to go on but is having diffuculty , has not worked gave up school last year in architercul university, no friends no life has been in hospital 3 more times, is now staying in a clinic were they they are assessing him and we now found out that he hears voices , i had noticed at home that he did not like to stay in his bedroom at night he looked scared i would sleep in the living room on separate coaches with him, he never told us he heard voices?
    They were very alarmed that he made the doctors all beleive that he was fine, till he had an axioty attack and they saw for themself what I have been trying to tell everyone that my son was not well? I just did not know what was wrong and how to help.
    they have now diagnosed him as having schioaffective disorder also that he is very sensitive to chemicals so most of the medications were doing more harm than good. I just happened to stumble on this article about voices, since the doctors told me that my sons hears voices it has been on my mind a lot, when did it start, why , what are they saying?? so many questions
    I just wanted to ask if there is something I can do someone we should see I would do anything to help our son, sorry for the long letter. I cannot seem to accept that there is nothing I can do to help, a mother in pain for her child, for what her child is going through and feel helpless.

  3. Stephanie

    Just wondering has anyone spoke with Jani’s family to see if they would be interested in this kind of treatment. My mother is Bi polar. I am 37 and this past year is the first in my life that I have heard about different views about Mental Health. I have said for years that medicine has totally messed my mom’s life up and that she just needed deep counseling to heal her childhood. I have been told over and over again that it is a chemical imbalance in the brain and the medicine will help adjust. I am sooo thankful for the books Mad in America and Epidemic of Anatomy so eye opening. Thanks to all that are putting this information out there!!!!

  4. Ien Smits

    Dear Mr. Baker,
    Thank you, thank you, for writing this article!
    I am very surprised that Ms. Winfrey never made a show about people who hear voices, I have written to her many times.
    I also would like to sign the list.
    Thank you very much!

    Ien Smits
    The Netherlands
    (Voice hearer)

  5. James Njenga

    Hey Oprah please plan to highlight/discuss these views on your network.Your voice is heard all over the world.Intervoice, thank you for teaching us.Thank you for charting a new hope.
    James N.
    (sibling is a voice hearer)

  6. petit déménagement

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