Mount Holyoke College Professor Helps Those Who Hear Voices

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Gail Hornstein, a professor of psychology and education at Mount Holyoke College, and Jacqui Dillon, the national chair of the Hearing Voices Network in England have begun an initiative aimed at researching what contributes to the success of the HVN method and to spreading the approach to communities around the United States.

This is a photograph of Mount Holyoke professor Gail Hornstein

Mount Holyoke professor Gail Hornstein

“It’s extremely moving to see people..have their lives transformed by participation in a hearing-voices peer-support group. It’s incredibly inspiring.”

Twenty years ago it was revolutionary: enabling the people who hear distressing voices to speak about the experience, rather than trying to silence the voices they hear. But this approach has proven transformative, both for people who hear voices and for the field of psychology itself.

The method has steadily gained credibility and now is used around the world, but it still lags in the United States.

Now, Gail Hornstein, a professor of psychology and education at Mount Holyoke College, and Jacqui Dillon, the national chair of the Hearing Voices Network in England, intend to to change that. The two are advisors to the Hearing Voices Research and Development Fund at the Foundation for Excellence in Mental Health Care. Working with their colleagues at the peer-run Western Massachusetts Recovery Learning Community, they have begun an initiative aimed at researching what contributes to the success of the HVN method and to spreading the approach to communities around the United States.

Hornstein believes that much information is lost when patients’ lived experiences are discounted.

“If you take seriously what people have to say about their own anomalous experiences, you will actually come to a very different understanding of what they mean,” she said. “Once you take them seriously, you start to question some taken-for-granted parts of mainstream psychological theory.”

The Hearing Voices Research and Development Fund has concentrated over the past year on training new facilitators across the United States for these peer-support groups so that they can be established in more locations. The fund’s goal is to build regional networks where HVN'’s approach can become a viable alternative in this country, as it is in so many other parts of the globe.

The fund is also beginning to research specifically how the HVN peer-support-group model is able to transform the lives of voice-hearers, so as to be able to more easily replicate its success.

In June, Hornstein will travel to the Aspen Ideas Festival as a Spotlight speaker to share her insights and ideas.

“It’s extremely moving to see people—many of whom have been patients in the mental health system for 20 years or more and who have never been helped by even heavy doses of medication—to have their lives transformed by participation in a hearing-voices peer-support group,” Hornstein said. It’s incredibly inspiring.”

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Keely Savoie
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