The voice-hearer

J Ment Health. 2013 Jun;22(3):263-70. doi: 10.3109/09638237.2013.799267.


Background: For 25 years, the international Hearing Voices Movement and the U.K. Hearing Voices Network have campaigned to improve the lives of people who hear voices. In doing so, they have introduced a new term into the mental health lexicon: "the voice-hearer."

Aims: This article offers a "thick description" of the figure of "the voice-hearer."

Method: A selection of prominent texts (life narratives, research papers, videos and blogs), the majority produced by people active in the Hearing Voices or consumer/survivor/ex-patient movements, were analysed from an interdisciplinary medical humanities perspective.

Results: "The voice-hearer" (i) asserts voice-hearing as a meaningful experience, (ii) challenges psychiatric authority and (iii) builds identity through sharing life narrative. While technically accurate, the definition of "the voice-hearer" as simply "a person who has experienced voice-hearing or auditory verbal hallucinations" fails to acknowledge that this is a complex, politically resonant and value-laden identity.

Conclusions: The figure of "the voice-hearer" comes into being through a specific set of narrative practices as an "expert by experience" who challenges the authority and diagnostic categories of mainstream psychiatry, especially the category of "schizophrenia."

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Hallucinations / etiology
  • Hallucinations / history*
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Mentally Ill Persons / history*
  • Schizophrenia / complications