Name of Innovative Program:
Hearing Voices initiative in Montgomery County, PA
Creating Increased Connections/RHD
Name of Innovative Program Lead:
E-mail Address of Innovative Program Lead:
The traditional therapeutic response to the voice hearing experience has been to try to eliminate it. People who hear voices have been one of the most alienated subgroups in the BH system, with little support or “strategies” for improving quality of life. Prescribing medications, often with costly side effects, frequently provides little benefit; for the majority of people, voices persist. Other approaches teach people to ignore or combat their voices, typically resulting in increasing harsh voices. People who hear voices have been taught to keep their experience a secret and to act “as-if” they are “normal.” The consequences for the person are alienation, isolation, and shame.The Hearing Voices Network approach encourages people to find the meaning in their voices, often rooted in trauma.The “Network” approach –
- encourages people to share their experiences
- offers self-help groups where acceptance of the experience and of the person is the norm
- supports families, professionals and other allies in their ability to provide genuine companionship
- provides professionals with the skills to support a discovery process aimed at identifying the root and meaning of voice hearing
- encourages the voice hearer to learn to dialogue with their voices and to seek a peaceful co-existence
Creativity and Innovation:
Montgomery County Hearing Voices Initiative evolved from one woman’s quest to live a full life in the community. In her mission to eradicate her voice hearing, she tried conventional approaches and subjected herself to experimental procedures. Berta Britz’s search for alternatives introduced her to the work of Marius Romme and the World Hearing Voices Network. What she learned transformed her life, and she committed to sharing it with others.Through the support of Resources for Human Development and the Montgomery County Office of Behavioral Health, what was initially one person’s creative effort to seek change has evolved into a system effort to promote collaboration between voices hearers and professional supports and collaboration between voice hearers and their voices. We have created the Montgomery County Hearing Voices Network, an alliance of voice hearers, families, professionals and county administrators. This umbrella organization promotes system wide education and the proliferation of self-help groups.
The Hearing Voices Network approach offers empowerment through education and support. Individuals who hear voices reclaim their power and responsibility to live lives of meaning and purpose, while those who care about them relinquish the notion that it is their responsibility and capacity to control the experiences of voice hearers. Once exposed to the Network approach, voice hearers, their families and service providers enthusiastically engage in new responses to working and living with voices. The Montgomery County Initiative has attracted interest throughout the Southeast region of Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey. Our facilitator group consists of members from Bucks, Montgomery, Philadelphia, and Delaware Counties, PA, and people from several counties participate in our self-help groups. The coordinator has presented nationally and internationally and collaborates with other leaders to grow the initiative throughout the US and internationally. People respond because this is an approach that works and is life affirming.
The Montgomery County Office of Behavioral Health has made a financial commitment to the Hearing Voices Network approach by funding the position of the Hearing Voices Coordinator, underwriting costs for facilitator development and allocating funds for Hearing Voices training through its contract with Creating Increased Connection. Additionally, County administrators are active as leaders in the Network and assume key roles in planning and development. NAMI, a network member, has made financial investments by offering Hearing Voices trainings for families and allies. Representatives of the provider community have donated time and energy for Network initiatives. We continue to expand group availability and provide training. We are actively building a community of voice hearers whose growing empowerment will help ensure the continuation of our current level of support.
The Hearing Voices Network approach began in the Netherlands in the 1980’s and has spread to twenty-nine countries. Montgomery County has provided leadership in PA, which has become the 6th state to offer hearing voices network groups. In our development we tapped into the expertise of Ron Coleman, Karen Taylor and Paul Baker from the UK. Our relationship continues as these international leaders provide system wide training and coaching to our facilitators group. Similarly, we are providing mentoring and training to interested voice hearers from neighboring counties. We have been contacted by counties in central PA and NJ who are interested in developing an initiative with our support. This is especially significant since, to date, we have made no effort to spread the approach beyond our county. In our experience, people who hear voices and their support partners are interested in holistic and recovery oriented approaches that go beyond biology.
OutcomesMeddings, et al (2004) and Hendry (2011) conducted research regarding the effectiveness of hearing voices groups. They found participants expanded their coping strategies, especially sharing their experiences with others. Other results included increased self-esteem and positive changes in people’s relationship to voices. A structured interview with a sampling of participants in the Montgomery County groups revealed similar results. The participants ranged in age from 16 to 58. Findings:
- Improvements in self esteem
- Increased confidence
- Decreased feelings of being alone
- Improved coping skills
- Greater acceptance of experience by self and others
- Ability to share experiences with others
- Decreased influence of voices
- Greater understanding of the experience
- Increased level of comfort in discussing voices
- Valuing engaging with a person rather than promoting distraction