Transforming our understanding of voice-hearing

Durham University researchers are changing the way people think about experiences of hearing voices.

Up to one in ten people hear voices that others don’t. It is an experience that is commonly associated with distress, with mental illness, and shame linked to social stigma.

As part of the eight-year research project Hearing the Voice, our researchers have provided a better understanding of what the voices are like and why they happen.

Making a difference

The team worked with voice-hearers, their families and mental health professionals to enhance clinical practice and improve the health and well-being of those who find their voices distressing.

Together they have produced the world’s most comprehensive website about hearing voices – understandingvoices.com – and a new clinician’s tool for the management of unusual sensory experiences (MUSE) used in Early Intervention services across the North of England.

Award winners

The researchers come from a range of academic disciplines and in addition to working in clinical services, they have also investigated the experiences of voice-hearing in medieval and modern literature, religious and spiritual practices.

In recognition of their achievements, Hearing the Voice has won this year’s Medical Humanities Award for Best Research. The award recognised the team’s outstanding research at the interface of the arts and humanities and medicine.

The team have brought their research to thousands across the world in exciting and innovative ways. These include a partnership with the Edinburgh International Book Festival in a five-year study of the voices ‘heard’ by readers and writers of fiction, a major touring exhibition on hearing voices, documentary film and theatre, and Ninja Theory’s award-winning video game Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice.

By challenging misconceptions and reducing stigma, their work shows that hearing voices is not a symptom of pathology but a rich and complex aspect of the human experience.

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