Connecting People and Ideas in the Hearing Voices Movement

An account of hearing voices as a child

by David Batty, Friday November 16, 2001,

Maria from Manchester began hearing voices when she was seven – three years after being sexually assaulted by a man in her neighbourhood.

“Before the voices emerged she would wake up screaming in the middle of the night, shouting for me even when I was holding her,” recalls her mother, Paula, a counsellor.

“I knew about Romme and Escher’s work through a nursing colleague, so there was never any doubt in my mind that Maria’s voices were the result of her abuse,” she says.

“She was very disturbed and confused by them at first. They weren’t frightening in the conventional sense but would set her strange and impossible tasks, such as setting out the chairs for a wedding or solving complex puzzles, riddles or mathematical problems, then scolding her when she couldn’t do them.”

Paula contacted the Hearing Voices Network, a group of voice hearers and mental health professionals, who advised her to help Maria describe and engage the voices.

“I didn’t force her to confront the voice but reassured her that it was normal to feel upset, given what had happened to her,” she says. “I also encouraged her to draw the voices – they were all variations of the same figure: a woman wearing a hairnet, a long multicoloured skirt and a leather belt with an ornate buckle.”

Following techniques used by other voice hearers Maria used to put worry dolls under her pillow at night to protect her from the voices. “As time went on and she became more confident, she didn’t need this visual aid to help her control the experience,” says Paula. “She was also reassured from talking to other children whose voices had gone away given time.”

Maria stopped hearing the voices when she was 11. Now aged 16 she is at college and working part-time. “She’s very happy,” says Paula. “There’s no sign she has been disturbed in the long-term and doesn’t even suffer any teenage angst.”

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