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Hearing Voices Research and Development Fund Left: Jacqui Dillon, National Chair, Hearing Voices Network, England
Right: Gail Hornstein, PhD, Professor of Psychology at Mount Holyoke College and author of the book, Agnes's Jacket: A Psychologist's Search for the Meanings of Madness.

Hearing Voices Research and Development Fund

Understanding the experience of hearing voices: A project integrating program development and research

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More Infor
  • 16 Years

    Key researchers’ involvement
  • thanks

    to a generous donor, phase three is now fully funded
  • 2012

    First year of funding

New locations ready for donors. The Hearing Voices Fund research and development team’s long-planned project to bring Hearing Voices peer support groups to hundreds of communities across the United States is in full swing, sending trainers into the field to equip support group facilitators in five regions of the U.S. and fostering the creation of a stronger regional and local infrastructure over the long term. Thanks to a generous donor, all three phases of the project are now fully funded. Phase Two will expand the network of hearing voices peer-support groups to remaining unserved regions of the United States and build sustaining regional links that will allow the network to thrive and develop over the long term; Phase Three will enable further research to identify ways to optimize the effectiveness of such groups. But this is just the start to realizing our vision of a Hearing Voices group in every neighborhood in America. Communities interested in sponsoring a training in their area are encouraged to contact Caroline White, Training Coordinator, at 413.539.5941 x316 or Caroline@westernmassrlc.org to learn about costs and training requirements.

Where the problem lies

People who hear voices, see visions, or experience other unusual perceptions, thoughts, or actions are often diagnosed as psychotic and given a poor prognosis. The medications used since the 1950s to treat those who suffer in these ways are effective for some but not for the majority; when these medications do provide some symptom relief, their benefits typically diminish over time while destructive physical and psychological side effects become increasingly problematic. Hearing voices in particular remains a challenge for many, many patients even after they have tried every possible medication over many years.

For the past 25 years, the Hearing Voices Network, an international collaboration of professionals, people with lived experience, and their families and friends has been working to develop an alternative approach to coping with voices, visions, and other extreme states that is empowering and useful and does not start from the assumption that such people have a chronic illness (see www.hearing-voices.org, www.hearingvoicesusa.org, and www.intervoiceonline.org).  A large body of research data, published in major professional journals, now provides support for key aspects of this approach, and the hundreds of peer-support groups that have developed in 30 countries across 5 continents are enabling voice hearers – even those who have been chronically disabled – to learn to cope more effectively or to rid themselves of the negative effects of their voices.

Help is on the way

Excellence’s Hearing Voices Fund supports the development of a network of hearing voices peer-support groups across the United States.  These groups offer a safe place for people to share their experiences of voices, visions, tactile sensations, unshared beliefs, and other distressing experiences.  By meeting together to help and support one another, to exchange information, and most importantly to learn from each other’s coping strategies, these groups can transform the lives even of people who have suffered for many years.  As a consequence, some people stop hearing voices entirely, once they understand the symbolic significance they have been serving (e.g., to preserve a memory of trauma that has yet to be worked through). Others learn to accept and “live with voices” in ways that enable them to regain more control over their lives.

The current situation in the U.S. stands in striking contrast to that of other countries.  England, for example, with a population of 54 million, has 180 hearing voices groups, whereas the U.S., with a population of 315 million, currently has only a few dozen groups.  Even Australia, whose population is separated by great distances in a challenging landscape, has large and effective regional hearing voices networks.  The Hearing Voices Fund is supporting a systematic program of training intended to create a network of hearing voices peer-support groups in five key regions of the U.S. Participants are being selected using a rigorous model in which mental health professionals and voice hearers collaborate in an intensive shared learning experience that equips them to apply HVN’s concepts and methods to the creation of positive alternatives for people diagnosed with psychosis.

An equally important part of the Hearing Voices Fund’s mission is to conduct research that can systematically analyze the mechanisms by which these peer-support groups work.  Personal testimonies and some initial phenomenological studies of people’s experiences in groups suggest promising avenues for more intensive analysis, and the Fund’s research arm seeks to advance this work across the U.S.

The Hearing Voices Research and Development Fund is jointly administered by Gail A. Hornstein, Professor of Psychology, Mount Holyoke College, and Jacqui Dillon, National Chair, Hearing Voices Network, England.  Their more than 10-year collaboration models the kind of engaged research and advocacy that the project seeks to foster. More background on the project administrators can be found below.

Read the latest published article. Click here to donate to the Hearing Voices Research and Development Fund.


Gail_Hornstein_FIGail A. Hornstein is Professor of Psychology at Mount Holyoke College, where she has been a member of the psychology faculty since 1978. She received her BS from the University of Pittsburgh in 1972, her PhD from Clark University in 1981, and a Postdoctoral Fellowship in Personality and Social Structure from the University of California, Berkeley in 1981-82.  Since the 1990s, Hornstein’s research has concentrated on 20th-century psychology, psychiatry, and psychoanalysis, supported by grants and fellowships from the National Library of Medicine, the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, the American Philosophical Society, and the Marion and Jasper Whiting Foundation, among other sources. She has been a visiting research fellow in the History of Science Department, Harvard University; the Bunting Institute, Radcliffe College; Clare Hall, Cambridge University; Magdalen College, Oxford University; the School of Advanced Study, University of London; the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities, Cambridge University; the Birkbeck Institute for Social Research, University of London; and the School of Advanced Study, Durham University. In 2011, she was awarded the Meribeth E. Cameron Faculty Award for Scholarship at Mount Holyoke College, and in 2014 she received the Ally Award of the Western Massachusetts Peer Network.

Hornstein’s articles, interviews, and opinion pieces have appeared in many scholarly and popular publications, and she is the author of two books: the widely-reviewed biography, To Redeem One Person is to Redeem the World: The Life of Frieda Fromm-Reichmann, and Agnes’s Jacket: A Psychologist’s Search for the Meanings of Madness, which documents the history, operation, and effectiveness of the Hearing Voices Network, among other peer-led initiatives, about which she has lectured across the US, UK, and Europe.  Her Bibliography of First-Person Narratives of Madness in English (now in its 5th edition) lists more than 1,000 titles and is used by researchers, clinicians, and educators around the world.  Hornstein founded and co-facilitated one of the first hearing voices peer-support groups in the US (in Holyoke, MA) and she has trained dozens of facilitators across the Northeast.  For further information, see www.gailhornstein.com.

jacqui-dillonJacqui Dillon is a respected speaker, writer and activist, who has lectured and published worldwide on trauma, psychosis, dissociation and recovery. Her experiences of surviving childhood abuse and subsequent experiences of using psychiatric services inform her work and she is an outspoken advocate and campaigner for trauma-informed approaches to madness and distress. She has worked within mental health services for more than 15 years, in a variety of settings, including community, acute, low, medium and high secure settings, prisons, colleges and universities.

In 2005, Dillon designed a hearing voices group facilitator training course in order to create a systematic approach to developing a network of sustainable, user-led, hearing voices groups. The training course, which, unusually, trains people with personal experience of voice-hearing alongside mental health staff, has proven to be an extremely effective method of increasing the number of hearing voices groups. The course, initially piloted by the London Hearing Voices Network, has subsequently been run in many other parts of the world and has led to the formation of hundreds of hearing voices peer support groups.

Dillon is the national Chair of the Hearing Voices Network in England, Honorary Lecturer in Clinical Psychology at the University of East London, Honorary Research Fellow in the School of Medicine, Pharmacy and Health, Durham University and Visiting Research Fellow at The Centre for Community Mental Health, Birmingham City University. She is the co-editor of Living with Voices, an anthology of 50 voice hearers’ stories of recovery; Demedicalising Misery: Psychiatry, Psychology and the Human Condition; and the 2nd edition of Models of Madness: Psychological, Social and Biological Approaches to Psychosis. She has published numerous articles and papers, is on the editorial board of the journal Psychosis: Psychological, Social and Integrative Approaches and serves as a foreign correspondent for Mad in America (www.madinamerica.com ). Dillon is also a voice hearer.  For further information, see www.jacquidillon.org.

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