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Whispers, Echoes, Friends and Fears: Forms and Functions of Voice Hearing in Adolescence

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

<mark>Journal publication date</mark>30/09/2021
<mark>Journal</mark>Child and Adolescent Mental Health
Issue number3
Number of pages9
Pages (from-to)195-203
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date11/07/20
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Despite the high prevalence of voice-hearing in childhood, research with adolescents aged under 16 years is scarce. Theoretical connections between clinical and developmental conceptualizations of voice-hearing are limited, resulting in missed opportunities to explore unusual sensory experiences with young people.

Demographic, contextual and qualitative data were collected through a web-based survey with 68 adolescents (M = 14.91; SD = 2.77) from Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, Spain, the United Kingdom and United States of America. A Foucauldian-informed narrative analysis captured phenomenologically meaningful individual accounts and systemically informed narratives. Analytic layers attended specifically to the form and function of voices, including relational, protective, distressing and nuanced experiences, offering new insights into individual, systemic and cultural interpretative narratives surrounding voice-hearing to inform research, policy and tailored support.

The average self-reported age of onset of voices was 9 years, 5 months. Reciprocal relationships with pleasant voices were evidenced through the narratives and characterization of voices, while distressing voices were described without reciprocity and the voices held greater power over the young person. Positive aspects of negative voices were discussed and are illustrated with a continuum matrix reflecting interpretation and related affect.

Voice-hearing is a heterogeneous and often complex relational experience for young people, with structural inequalities, relational traumas and social isolation attributed causes of voice-hearing. Developing personal meaning-making mitigated voice-related distress through contextualizing the origin of the voices in past experiences, without attribution to mental illness. Recommendations are proposed for assessment, formulation and relational interventions that recognize the potential impact of the voice–child–other relationship upon psychosocial functioning and wellbeing.