Hearing Voices (HVN) USA is a national network that builds understanding and supports for people who hear voices, see visions or have other unusual experiences by offering centralized resources, training access, educational events and opportunities to connect. This is accomplished within the context of a unified charter serving to guide groups across the country. HVN USA grows out of an international collaboration among those who hear voices, their supporters, and professionals toward developing an approach that is empowering, and avoids the assumption of chronic illness.
Research suggests that only about a third of people who hear voices seek mental health assistance. It’s simply not distressing or they have resources needed to make meaning of the experience, work through any resultant upset and move beyond or successfully integrate voices into their lives. However, those who seek professional help are too often given hopeless messages, diagnosed and medicated beyond the capacity to even consider options.
HVN USA offers a framework that supports real change by providing tools and resources needed to not only impact individual lives, but shift a whole paradigm. Their approach is as innovative as it is fundamentally human. It has grown rapidly and continues to spread across the nation.
HVN USA is creative in its simplicity. It asks us to strip away what we think we know about experiences not understand and open ourselves to each other’s stories. Clinicians have historically been taught to avoid discussing the content of voices for fear of encouraging ‘delusions’ or ‘hallucinations.’ On the contrary, HVN USA (and the international movement of which it is born) says, “What would you normally do when a friend says something you don’t understand?”
Most often, we’d simply ask them what they meant and that is at the root of the work of HVN USA. Instead of looking to others for answers, we simply ask:
- What are your voices saying to you?
- What does that mean to you?
- How is this impacting your life?
HVN USA is also the first organization dedicated to moving beyond the stigma and fear associated with the voice hearing experience.
HVN USA creates opportunities for people who hear voices to fill national leadership roles and be at the forefront of the development of this work. Much of HVN USA operates in the spirit of peer support. In other words, the wisdom gained by having ‘been there’ is a critical and highly valued part of how the network operates. However, unlike groups that are strictly peer-to-peer, HVN USA creates tremendous opportunity for collaboration. This is represented by the HVN USA Board where allies to the work are invited to join individuals who hear voices in guiding the organization. It is also represented in trainings where the majority identify as voice hearers, but are often joined by allies or those who have different but relatable experiences.
In a world where many are grappling with how to balance with broadening reach and inclusion, HVN USA serves as a model.
Hearing Voices USA is minimally funded by organizations (e.g., the Western Mass Recovery Learning Community [RLC] and the Foundation for Excellence in Mental Health) that are allied in their quest to see the Hearing Voices approach spread across the country. Additional support comes in the form of in-kind contributions of time from paid employees of the RLC and several committed volunteers who serve on the Board and in other development and advisory roles. In fact, the formation of the HVN USA Board of Directors – which grew out of a longer standing working group just in the last several months – is an important development that has lent substantial stability. As interest has grown throughout the country, support to continue building HVN USA has also increased. Given its momentum and the limited funds required to sustain its work, HVN USA is highly sustainable.
Although HVN USA is not designed for replication in its entirety, it is designed expressly to support replication of HVN groups and regional networks. Already, through the combined support of HVN USA and the Western Mass RLC, a statewide network has developed in Connecticut (www.cthvn.org) and a similar group is developing in New York. Replication at this level is also facilitated by the fact that HVN is a mixed approach welcoming both voice hearers and allies, as well as making space for groups to be created in community or clinical.
Additionally, although new and innovative here, HV Networks have already had great success in rapid replication around the world. Ultimately, HVN USA’s goal would be to support the replication of multiple groups in every state across the country, as well as the development of at least regional networks to help sustain them. This goal is already well underway.
In 2014, over 150 new facilitators were trained by HVN USA trainers. There are currently 56 Hearing Voices groups in 18 different states listed on the HVN USA website. There are nearing 1000 individuals signed up for HVN USA e-newsletter updates.
The aforementioned newly developed Board of Directors has nine members representing all five regions of the country, as well as two European consultants from England. HVN USA Board Members have also participated in multiple World Hearing Voices Congresses (e.g., Wales and Greece), with plans to host the 2017 Congress in the United states.
Additionally, personal stories evidence that HVN groups can support fewer hospitalizations (an obvious cost savings), the ability to return to work, and increased satisfaction in life. While HVN USA does not directly offer groups, they have directly responsibility for the existence of new groups and thus indirect responsibility for many of these outcomes, as well.