Hearing Voices Primer

We’ve added a new Education Page, a Hearing Voices Primer. Our Primers are quick ways to orient to some of the important basic frameworks for certain complex mental health concepts.

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Hearing Voices is a code phrase for someone who perceives (hear, smell, see, taste, touch, ‘sense’) anything beyond what others do. It is not synesthesia, feeling the presence of god, talking to yourself, negative self talk, or a few other things that people mistake. While people diagnosed with schizophrenia may Hear Voices (etc), Hearing Voices does not mean you are schizophrenic, psychotic or a few other medical conditions which have become synonymous with Hearing Voices.

For simplicity, I will use the capitalised Hearing Voices and variants to mean the entire phenomena rather than the specific trait of only hearing voices.

Hearing Voices is quite common. Most people have experienced some odd sensory experiences at least once in their life, with 75% of people surveyed admitting that they have heard, seen or experienced an impossible phenomena that fits in to the Hearing Voices description at least once. Many people get this phenomena when they are at the edge of falling asleep or waking from sleep, or when they are in a very stressful situation. One anecdote I recall talking to a client about was when they were in a horrid situation where their child was in terrible danger after a motor vehicle accident. My client heard the distinct external voice that told them to get up and keep going, that they had to save their child and gave them some fairly good instructions on what to do to do it. My client, an atheist (someone who has no belief in gods or the supernatural) could see how people could mistake that kind of commanding external voice as the voice of god.

While Hearing a Voice at some point in your life is common, most people do not have a frequent Hearing Voice experience. Depending on the study, as little as 3% and as much as 10% of the world’s population experience frequent Hearing Voices regularly. That is as many as 1 in 30 to 1 in 10 people.

For some, the experience of Hearing Voices is nice. The presences they experience are peaceful, empowering and helpful. Warnings that do come are frequently right, and advice given is helpful. One client explained to me that their good voice helps them with fashion advice, but is absolutely awful at mathematics, so no good in an exam.

For some, the presences are a mixed bag of good and bad. A client as telling me that when they smell a particular flower sent (in the absence of those flowers or perfumes being present), then they know to expect that someone close to them has died. While the sensory manifestation isn’t benevolent or malicious, it does herald an upcoming bad time, which they have learned to use as a warning to be prepared.

Girl holding book with friendly dragon on shoulder, fending off shadows whispering in the background.
Fending off the shadows with a friendly dragon

Some just get the awful ones. One client has a number of presences that are not very pleasant. Multiple senses are involved in the entities existences. Some are just vocal, some are vocal and visual, some incorporate smell as well. Most of their entities are non-coherent in sound (noises, animal or demonic utterances), and those who are coherent in words are not very intelligent (like a very limited chatbot you find in “online help” or worse) except that they use lots of swear words and personal insults. The few who can form real sentences and can seem to know what is going on in the real world, when examined are just occasionally lucky.

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