Connecting People and Ideas in the Hearing Voices Movement

By Jacqui Dillon, Dirk Corstens and Olga Runciman

We have lost Sandra Escher. She died in Amsterdam on the 31st of May 2021.

Sandra and her husband Marius Romme were the founders of the international Hearing Voices Network in partnership with numerous voice hearers. ‘It started in our living room’ Sandra used to say. Their house was always open to people who wanted to change the world. What began as a humble, grassroots initiative has evolved and developed in the following 35 years into a human rights movement and a global mental health organisation.

Sandra trained as a scientific journalist and met Marius, then a professor in social psychiatry through their shared passion of horse riding. They soon became professionally involved and later fell in love and began a long and fruitful relationship. Many people around the world joined them on this road of empowerment and were inspired to change their lives and that of others.

Sandra was an energetic, ambitious, and warm woman. She could easily connect with people and was always interested in their stories. Voice hearers confided in her. Sandra and Marius created the Maastricht Hearing Voices Interview that is now globally used as a tool to elucidate personal meaning and clarity on the voice hearing experience. Together they published several books of which Accepting Voices (Romme & Escher, 1993), Making Sense of Voices (Romme & Escher, 2000) and Living with Voices (Romme et al, 2009) are the most important; the titles represent the new paradigm they created.

Sandra started her own research after she had organised an impressive conference for voice hearing children and their parents in the Zoo of Amsterdam in 1995. Both in Birmingham and in Maastricht she embarked upon her groundbreaking PhD with 80 children hearing voices who she followed for three consecutive years (Escher, 2002a, 2002b, 2003, 2004, 2005). Important conclusions she discovered were that there were no different outcomes in the children who were in treatment and those who were not in treatment; most children did not hear voices anymore (60%), and children can learn to cope with their voices. She published her accessible book about her research that was both for children and parents containing hopeful information (Escher, 2010). Sandra was passionate that as many of the voice hearers that she had encountered began hearing voices in childhood, she was keen that children should be diverted from services that might pathologise their experiences and derail them into a life as a long-term psychiatric patient. The key message was that hearing voices is a common, human experience which is often intimately bound up in meaningful responses to difficult life events.

Sandra and Marius started Resonance, the Dutch network for voice hearers and were involved for many years. Sandra was publisher of the journal ‘Klankspiegel’. She was a member of the board of Intervoice (www.intervoiceonlione.org), a charity working and advocating for the emancipation of voice hearers. Since 1987 she organised many Dutch conferences on hearing voices and the first World Hearing Voices Congress in 2009. The World Hearing Voices Congress has become an important annual event with participants and contributors travelling globally to attend. We shall honour Sandra at this year’s congress in Cork, Ireland.

Sandra is survived by her co-collaborator and life partner Marius Romme, her sons Rutger and Diederik, and her grandchildren.

Dr Alexandre Dorothee Marie Charlotte Romme-Escher PhD

14th June 1945 – 31st May 2021

Escher, S., Romme, M., Buiks, A., Delespaul, P., & Os, J. van (2002a).
Formation of delusional ideation in adolescents hearing voices: A prospective
study. American Journal of Medical Genetics, 114, 913-920.
Escher, S., Romme, M., Buiks, A., Delespaul, P., & Os, J. van (2002b).
Independent course of childhood auditory hallucinations: A sequential 3-year
follow-up study. British Journal of Psychiatry, 181(suppl.43), s1-s18.
Escher, S., Delespaul, P., Romme, M., Buiks, A., & Os, J. van (2003). Coping
defence and depression in adolescents hearing voices. Journal of Mental Health,
12, 91-99.
Escher, S., Morris, M., Buiks, A., Delespaul, P., Os, J. van & Romme, M. (2004) Determinants
of outcome in the pathways through care for children hearing voices. International
Journal of Social Welfare, 13, 208-222
Escher, S. (2005). Making sense of psychotic experiences. Dissertatie,
Universiteit van Maastricht.
Escher, S. (2010). Children Hearing Voices. PCCS Books.
Romme, M.A.J. & Escher, A.D.M.A.C. (Eds.) (1993). Accepting voices. London: Mind publications.
Romme, M.A.J. & Escher, A.D.M.A.C. (2000). Making sense of voices. London: Mind
publications
Romme, M., Escher, S., Dillon, J., Corstens, D., & Morris, M. (Eds.). (2009). Living with
voices: Fifty stories of recovery. Ross-on-Wye: PCCS.

This article has been accepted for publication in the I.S.P.S. journal ‘Psychosis: Psychological,  Social and Integrated Approaches’ published by Taylor & Francis. http://www.isps.org/index.php/publications/journal

Intervoice was set up to support the International Hearing Voices Movement, celebrating the diversity and creativity within it. We do what we can to share information and connect people with groups, networks and resources.

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