Throughout Europe people are detained in psychiatric hospitals because they hear voices. Kraepelinian psychiatry constructs voice hearing as a symptom of an illness and doctors administer medications to stop the experience. This use of neuroleptics without informed consent is considered a form of torture by legal advisors to the United Nations. However, it is justified under European human rights legislation which permits the detention of people of ‘unsound mind’.
In the past 25 years, psychiatrists and psychologists specialising in voice hearing along with voice hearers have developed a different understanding of this experience. Voices are no longer thought of as a symptom of an illness, but as an emotional response to life experiences, commonly traumatic ones. Treatments no longer include getting rid of the voices, but helping people learn ways of coping and perhaps making positive use of their experiences. Traditional pharmacological treatments are considered to not only be ineffective, but to actively prevent recovery. Ignoring the social causes of voice hearing can compound previous trauma.
In this paper I argue that the European human rights legislation and court judgements leaves social workers in a good position to challenge the practice of detaining and treating voice hearers without their consent.