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May 29, 2020 by Kermit Cole

Four Decades of Allying to Make Safe Spaces for All Voices: The Hearing Voices Network

In 1987 Patsy Hage said to her psychiatrist, Marius Romme, “You believe in a God we never see or hear, so why shouldn’t you believe in the voices I really do hear?” This was a reasonable question, Marius realized, and they – along with Sandra Escher – started what became the Hearing Voices Movement. Today the Hearing Voices Network is creating safe spaces for people and their voices – and other experiences perceived as “anomalous” – in 35 countries, expanding the frontiers of meaningful human experience around the world. In recent years the network has begun to support people who wish to ally with their families and social networks to redefine the crises they face together. This “Dialogue in a Time of Crisis” Town Hall will explore how the Hearing Voices Movement, like Open Dialogue, has been building the resources the world needs at this pivotal moment of in our collective history.

Our “Dialogue in a Time of Crisis” meetings have been a way to gather the experience of so many who have searched for the best ways to respond to people in times of crisis. Our choice has been to create a safe space for dialogue, rather than to try to fill the time with as much information as possible, or to arrive at a definitive “answer”. Panelists have been encouraged to leave space between each other, to allow thoughts to develop, and to allow the participants in the chat room to interact with each other and reflect on the discussion as it evolved.

We believe that the choice to have as unhurried and unstructured a dialogue as possible has paid off in the vibrancy of the conversation in the participants’ “chat room”, which has proven to be an equal – if not more important – part of the dialogue. People from around the world have been greeting and meeting each other, as well as providing reflections and questions for the panel to ponder. The most consistent comment so far has been appreciation for the respectful space the panelists give each other. Some have found it reassuring to witness how being “dialogical” can be helpful even in times of crisis, when the desire for certainty and ready answers can seem so alluring — yet lead to so much trouble.

The Hearing Voices Movement is as fully informed by this ethos as Open Dialogue and other “Dialogical” practices. It has been building from its grass-roots beginnings in living rooms and church basements since the mid-1980’s, when Open Dialogue started as the municipal mental health system response of Tornio, Finland. The two have been growing toward each other in many ways, with the addition of peer advocates to network meetings, and Peer-Supported Open Dialogue, to HVN’s work supporting people to bring families into the HVN perspective on Voices and other “non-mainstream” experiences.

Please come join us for our discussion on June 5 with Caroline Mazel-Carlton, Cindy Marty Hadge, Rhonda Speight, Rufus May, and Paul Baker. We will explore the history of HVN’s work to make its unique support available online, and how that experience has developed further in the age of COVID.

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