Network supports people to ‘achieve greater agency in their own recovery’

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by Owen O’Tuama, Mary Farrelly & Harry Gijbels

A voice-hearers perspective:

I’ve heard voices for 30 years. Because of enormous stigma and the taboo nature of the phenomenon I was reluctant to come out or be open about it for about 15 years. I’d been sectioned four years into the experience and was, so to speak in the dark about it for these years, keeping it all to myself. Then I met a psychotherapist within the statutory health service who introduced me to Jacqui Dillon’s and others’ work within the Hearing Voices Network, and who encouraged me to engage with the network. 

I became aware of the Hearing Voices Network Ireland around 2014/2015. Learning about the HVN approach to voices helped me accept and understand the whys and wherefores of the phenomena within myself and others. I became more confident about relating my experiences to others and could live with myself in more comfort. An Occupational Therapist and myself trained with Jacqui around 2014, exploring the nature of the phenomena and in facilitating Hearing Voices Groups. I read books from the Network, such as ‘Living With Voices: 50 Stories of Recovery’ and some titles by Paul Baker and other notable figures. More recently, reading material has been ‘The Handbook of Hearing Voices’.

Joining the HVNI board around 2017/2018, I became the Vice-Chairperson a year later. I participate in the weekly online support group, 6.15pm on Sundays and also participate in the Friday evening HVNI music evening. I find these groups very supportive and accepting. There are usually between five and a dozen participants. 

I hope this network gains more widespread appeal and more groups become established. HVN groups are preferably in-person, though online groups have their advantages as well. Not all user/survivors have access to or can afford digital technology and this is a drawback. Many user/survivors are still silenced by the system and/or find it difficult to get to a stage where they can come out about their experiences of voices/visions and in the process gain insight and acceptance into it; and achieve greater agency in their own recovery. I know there are a great many men and women out there who still suffer these phenomena in silence, and may be too afraid to fully own their experiences. Maybe this will change as time goes on.

The development of the Hearing Voices Network in Ireland 

The Hearing Voices Network in Ireland (HVNI) as an organisation has its origins in 2012 when training was provided by the Irish Institute of Mental Health Nursing, funded by the Nursing and Midwifery Practice Development Unit of the Health Services Executive, and delivered by Jacqui Dillon, on the Maastricht Approach and Hearing Voices Group Facilitation. This was attended by voice hearers, relatives/supporters of voice hearers and professionals working in mental health.  Further training was provided in the years that followed around Ireland, funded and delivered in the same way and expanded to include other facilitators such as Rachel Waddingham, Peter Bullimore, Rufus May and Elisabeth Svanholmer. This was facilitated by the Irish Institute of Mental Health Nursing and the Health Services Executive and made available to voice hearers, family members/supporters and professionals. 

A steering group was set up of some of those who had attended those early training events with the aim of developing a national strategy, a network of interested parties, communication mechanisms and support for those developing support-groups and using the Maastricht approach. This steering group was the foundation for the HVNI which was launched on Friday 17th April 2015 at an event in Trinity College Dublin.  Marius Romme and Jacqui Dillon attended and addressed the attendees together with the High Hopes Choir and testimonials from voice hearers, families members, supporters and professionals. The event also featured the official launch of the Hearing Voices Network Ireland logo created by Michelle Dalton, Irish Voice Hearer and artist.

The HVNI goals are:

  • Raising awareness about voice hearing, visions and other unusual or extreme experiences
  • Supporting anyone who has had these experiences by providing opportunities to talk about them freely and without judgement amongst peers
  • Supporting anyone who has had these experiences to explore, understand, learn and grow from them in their own way
  • Supporting family, friends, workers and the general community to broaden their understanding and ability to support individuals who have had these experiences

The work includes:

  • Promoting access to information and resources about hearing voices and related topics and supporting the development of HVN support groups in accordance with Intervoice principles 
  • Providing information for providers, family, friends and the general public on the HVN approach and the experience of hearing voices and other unusual or extreme experiences
  • Providing information on training for individuals interested in becoming HVN group facilitators and starting new groups
  • Supporting HVN group facilitators to network and support one another

The establishment and development of the website was a major step in the development of the network, facilitating as it does communication about the mission, resources, group details. Today in Ireland there are 22 Hearing Voices Groups that have provided information to the Network operating around the country in both community and health care settings. 

The Hearing Voices Network Ireland is well established and active. Training in Hearing Voices group facilitation and Maastricht interviewing is available in places around the country to voice hearers, health care staff and other interested people and there is an, as yet, largely undocumented groundswell of recognition that being interested in ‘voices’ and exploring them is helpful and worthwhile.  A number of research projects are underway exploring topics such as ‘the lived experience of hearing voices’, facilitators’ experiences of hearing voices groups’ and ‘mental health nurse’s engagement with voice hearers, advertised and facilitated through the HVNI website. ’

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