Firstly, many more people hear voices, and hear many more kinds of voices, than is usually assumed. The second is that auditory hallucination — or “voice-hearing,” our preference — should be thought of not as a pathological phenomenon in need of eradication but as a meaningful, interpretable experience, intimately linked to a hearer’s life story and, more commonly than not, to unresolved personal traumas.
Hearing voices is the best term that we have found to date and it is the way most people who have this experience refer to it.
There are many different ways to hear voices. Voices can be experienced in the head, from outside the head or even in the body. It may be one voice or many voices. The voice may talk to you or about you.
There are other ways to hear voices, some of them make the phrase “hearing voices” a poor description and perhaps one day we will have to come up with a better one – because it is never the same for everyone. Some people for instance, experience non verbal thoughts, images and visions, tastes, smells and touch. All with no physical cause and all sensations they didn’t call into being themselves.
In English there is no technical psychiatric term for the subjective experience of hearing the thoughts or inner speech in a conversational form, whilst the term auditory hallucinations’ is inaccurate as it gives the impression that the experience is unreal and meaningless.
The English language though makes references to the experience in other ways, for instance the word Vocation means to follow a calling, originally meaning to be called by the voice of God and to act on it. This is not necessarily what most people mean when they say they have a vocation, but that’s the root meaning of the word. Further, the word Panic comes from the experience of the Athenians who heard the voice of Pan during a battle that so frightened their enemy that they scattered from the battlefield. Further the word Apocalypse is the Greek word for revelation, which is the discovery of unknown truth as revealed by visions or voices and in Biblical terms as they were revealed to John.