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Young People’s Narratives of Hearing Voices: Systemic Influences and Conceptual Challenges

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<mark>Journal publication date</mark>30/06/2021
<mark>Journal</mark>Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy
Issue number3
Volume28
Number of pages12
Pages (from-to)715-726
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date15/12/20
<mark>Original language</mark>English

Abstract

Despite the prevalence of voice hearing in childhood and adolescence, little qualitative research has been undertaken with young people directly to advance phenomenological and aetiological insights into their experiences and interpretations. Consequently, the researchers sought demographic, contextual, and qualitative data from 74 young people from eleven countries, aged 13–18 years (28% = male; 61% = female; 21% = Transgender and Gender Non-Binary [TGNB]), who self-identified as hearing voices. A Foucauldian-informed narrative analysis yielded four analytic chapters, offering novel perspectives into individual, relational, systemic, and cultural interpretative narratives surrounding multisensory and multi-self voice hearing. Overall, young people reported heterogenous experiences of voice hearing and associated sensory experiences, and most participants reported voice hearing beginning between ages 8 and 11. Further, the emotions felt by the child, as well as reactions displayed by people around the child in relation to the voices, influenced voice-related distress and the nature of the voices in a triadic relationship. A continuum of multisensory features of voice content, nature, and relational significance is tentatively proposed to capture the breadth and depth of voice hearing for adolescents to offer a possible framework for future study and intervention design. Specifically, participants described that voice-related distress could be exacerbated by observed anxiety or internalized stigma about voice hearing, social isolation, and attribution to illness. These findings suggest that we may need to reconsider how the experience of hearing voices in childhood influences their relationships and how relationships influence the voice hearing experience. Further, young people seem to have a broad understanding of what the term “hearing voices” means, which could inform how researchers and practitioners work with this group of young people. Finally, participants described benefitting from multisensory coping strategies, such as imagery and meditation, which could offer important considerations for tailoring therapeutic interventions for adolescent voice hearers.