Support groups encourage peer-to-peer interaction when those hearing voices

Accessible peer support-group establishes new & safe environment for people who hear voices


By Cala Ali

Treatment methods for people who are hearing voices have become more progressive than in previous decades, says a social services instructor at Langara.

“In the 70s, you would never engage with people that were hearing voices about those voices,” said Jeanette Robertson. “I’ve heard from one colleague that they even had to sign a paper that they would not speak to people directly about these voices or engage with them in a way that would support these voices.”

The B.C. Hearing Voices Network was established in 2013 in North Vancouver. It provides a decentralized platform for people who experience hallucinations and hear voices to explore social support groups and activities in the Lower Mainland.

In Robertson’s early years working in the mental health field, she said some of her patients diagnosed with schizophrenia experienced hallucinations.

Accessibility is key to success

Robertson said the network is progressive and empowering and said members of the network will participate in running the support groups. She said the non-medical model of treatment could be as beneficial as the medical model. Robertson said the medical model “places the expertise in the practitioners, and not the people living their experiences.”

She said with fewer steps put between people and attending a group session, the lower the barrier becomes. “No registrations required … the only step you need to do is to get there,” Robertson said.

Julia Sharron, a former Langara student, said she once experienced hallucinations from a medication she was trying out with her​​ psychiatrist.

“I would think people were talking about me, saying things about me that weren’t true, but then I would check in and I’d be like oh wait no it’s not that,” said Sharron.

Sharron said if she knew a service like the B.C. Hearing Voices Network existed at the time of her hallucinations, she may have considered using them for support.

Peer support-groups change mental health system

Rory Higgs, the coordinator of the B.C. Hearing Voices Network, said the network has allowed change in the mental health system in B.C. and helps people to connect with others who have gone through similar experiences.

Higgs said sometimes group attendees will tell them that they didn’t know other people heard voices. “They didn’t know that anyone else had this experience,” Higgs said, adding that the sense of connection people experience within the groups makes them feel less alone.

Fernanda Juarez Hernandez, a former support group organizer, said peer support groups are a beneficial way to get people together.

“I think [peer led support groups] work because in this case for example, there were specific cases where these people were really scared to talk to a psychologist. And this made them realize there were others like them around. It was really cool as this allowed them to make friends,” said Hernandez.

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