Hearing voices has long been considered pathological, typically as a sign of serious mental illness. But as STAT reports this week, not everyone sees it that way. Writer Shirley S. Wang gives a fascinating overview of the small but growing number of support groups â€” there are 90 in the U.S. â€” which argue that, while itâ€™s not the best option for everyone, some people can learn to like the voices in their heads.
Such groups, Wang writes, give people practical advice about coping mechanisms, â€œincluding trying to set up appointments to talk to the voices at periodic intervals â€” and wearing headphones while doing so, so it will look to the outside world like youâ€™re simply talking on the phone.â€ Instead of ignoring the voices, some people find that â€œonce they engage with the voices, their mental health improves â€” and the voices become nicer as well.â€
There seems to be a growing interest in the notion of healthy voice-hearing. Last month, The Atlantic published a piece on the psychics who have happy relationships with the voices in their heads; earlier this year, a study found that about one in five readers surveyed say they can hear the voices of fictional characters bouncing around in their heads long after theyâ€™ve finished a book. Also of note: a 2015 paper published in The Lancet, which argued that writing a novel can be thought of as a form of voice-hearing. The essay opens with a quote from David Mitchell, who has compared novel-writing to having a â€œcontrolled personality disorder â€¦ to make it work you have to concentrate on the voices in your head and get them talking to each other.â€
Wang does (briefly) touch on the dangerous side of hearing voices:
In one seminal U.S. study of 1,410 people with schizophrenia, those who experienced hallucinations, including hearing voices that others donâ€™t hear, were more likely to commit serious violence, though the overall likelihood of violence was still low, according to Jeffrey Swanson, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University. He was a co-author on that paper, published in 2006 in the Archives of General Psychiatry.