Some years ago, I remember having a conversation with a social worker colleague about one of her clients, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia. The client was refusing to take her prescribed medication, and my colleague was under considerable pressure from the client’s doctor and other workers to persuade her to do so.??????
But my colleague was troubled by this because, as she said, she felt her client was doing fine without the medication. The client was managing to take care of herself, her home and her teenage daughter without a hassle, in spite of what could be said to be …. well … “quirky”, if not “strange” behaviours.
For example, she dressed herself in unusual combinations of clothes at times, including garishly clashing colours. She wore certain earrings on certain days so, as she said, she could hear the voices better. Some days those voices were friendly and benign. On other days, she warned my colleague not to sit too close to her because the voices were far less than benign and she didn’t want them to cause my colleague harm. Occasionally – just now and then – the voices prompted her to go to the local police station and submit a report that her daughter had been taken over by aliens.
But, apart from a small number of days when the voices became particularly strident, none of these things were causing her significant distress or problems. Her daughter was also used to her foibles and, in my colleague’s assessment, was very informed and compassionate about her mother’s condition. She was mature for her age and generally quite comfortable with the situation. She also told my colleague she felt her mum was better off without the medication, because it had ‘zoned her out’ and made things worse.
The relatively small community in which her client lived was also a plus. Neighbours were used to her and very accepting. And the local police were great. Whatever their conversations may have been in private, when the client went to submit her ‘alien report’ they listened respectfully, took notes – or at least pretended to take notes – assured her they’d submit her report and look into it … and sent her on her way satisfied she’d done what she could for her daughter.
I remember at the end of that conversation agreeing with my colleague that medication certainly did not appear to be in her client’s best interest. And I remember commiserating with her about the great pressure she was under and the challenge she faced to maintain her professional opinion about this client as well as, she felt, her role as this woman’s social worker. Even, perhaps, her job!
So I was delighted to come across the TED talk (below) by Eleanor Longden. Eleanor’s talk is not only incredibly moving and inspiring, but shows there is a far more enlightened approach available when helping those with schizophrenia. Do watch the talk – I think you’ll find it 15 minutes very well spent! :)
[ted id=1800 width=460 height=260]
If you would like to know more, these websites are well worth visiting!
Hearing Voices Network (Australia)
the International Network for Training, Education and Research into Hearing Voices
From the Hearing Voices Australia Network website:
Hearing voices has been regarded by psychiatry as ‘auditory hallucinations’, and in many cases a symptom of schizophrenia. However not everyone who hears voices has a diagnosis of schizophrenia. There are conflicting theories from psychiatrists, psychologists and voice hearers about why people do hear voices . We believe that they are similar to dreams, symbols of our unconscious minds. Although the Network is open to many diverse opinions we accept the explanation of each individual voice hearer.
Traditionally, the usual treatment for voice hearing has been major tranquillisers, administered to reduce the delusions and hallucinations. However not everyone responds to this treatment. There are some psychiatrists and psychologists who now work with people who hear voices using talking therapies and exploring the meaning of the voices.
Although this is not yet ‘the norm’, this practice is increasing. As the improvement in individuals who are encouraged to talk about their voices becomes more apparent and increasing number of health professionals are beginning to understand that the key to understanding voices lies in the ‘content’ of the voices.
The basic assumptions of INTERVOICE are: