Interview with Dr. Sally E. Riggs, CBT for Psychosis Practitioner

This month I interviewed Dr. Sally E. Riggs, clinical psychologist, practitioner of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Psychosis (CBTp) and the founder and director of NYC CBTp.

Tell me about yourself

Hi my name is Dr. Sally Riggs, I am a licensed clinical psychologist, trained in the UK, practicing in the US for the last 9 years. I am passionate about helping people with psychosis gain access to effective, evidence based psychotherapy. In 2015 I founded NYC CBTp, a group practice in New York City dedicated solely to CBT for psychosis. We have 3 therapists on staff in two different locations, and also train other mental health professionals in NYC and all over the country in CBT for psychosis. When I’m not working with people with psychosis you will usually find me somewhere in the 5 boroughs training for marathons.

What exactly is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Psychosis? How does it work?

The central theory to CBT is that it isn’t the situations or adverse life events that cause difficult emotions, its our appraisals or interpretations of these life events.  In the case of CBT for psychosis it means helping someone to understand and make sense of the experiences that they are having and the different meanings they attach to them, ultimately with the goal of lessening distress and helping them achieve their life goals. CBTp takes a normalizing approach to understanding psychosis. Experiences and beliefs commonly regarded as symptoms of psychosis are believed to be often highly understandable reactions to adverse life events rather than indications of the presence of an illness or disease.

When did you first hear about it and how did you learn how to do it?

I think I probably first heard about CBTp when I was an undergraduate.  Our undergrad degrees in the UK are specialized so we study 100% psychology from start to finish.  Although we don’t learn therapy, there is some opportunity to learn about clinical applications and which evidence-based treatments are available or recommended. I was then trained in CBTp in graduate school.  The vast majority of students in graduate school for psychology in the UK learn CBT, including CBT for psychosis, its just part of the curriculum.

What makes the CBT perspective unique? What about this perspective do you find particularly valuable or helpful? 

What I love about CBTp is that it offers an ethical, person centered, effective way for people to manage their psychosis and move forward with their life. CBT can be misunderstood in the US to be “skills based” or “challenging people’s thoughts” but actually that isn’t what it is at all. It is highly individualized and collaborative, in that every therapy is uniquely tailored to each different person, solely based on that person’s goals and experiences. There is no “expert therapist” role; the person with psychosis is known to be the expert in their own experiences. Beliefs and appraisals might be explored and evaluated but never challenged or corrected as if wrong. As a therapist it is an enormous privilege to be invited to be part of that process.

What are some books/resources that you particularly like on CBT for Psychosis?

Gosh there are so many and of course my favorites are all by British authors that can be hard to get in the US.  Current favorites include Cognitive Therapy for Psychosis: A Formulation Based Approach by Morrison Renton, Dunn, Williams, & Bentall; Person- Based Cognitive Therapy for Distressing Psychosis by Chadwick; CBT for Those at Risk of a First Episode of Psychosis: Evidence-based Psychotherapy for People with an At Risk Mental State  by Van der Gaag, Nieman, & Van der Berg.

What advice do you have for people experiencing psychosis? What about their family members and loved ones?

Wow that’s a tough question. Really everyone’s experience is unique and individual so its hard to give general advice.  However I would say, not matter what you might be told, hearing voices, seeing visions and other unusual experiences are much more common than people realize and don’t mean that everything in your life now has to be different.  Your goals and dreams are still important and achievable and if you don’t find people to support you that tell you that, keep looking until you do! For family members I would say please sign up for our parents newsletter on our website – we give lots of support and advice on how best to support loved ones experiencing psychosis in a way that makes it more likely they can get to where they want to be. Kings College in London also have a great free online course for parents and loved ones that I highly recommend. 

What encouraged you to join ISPS-US?

When I finally got my greencard here in the US and was able to start building my own practice it made sense to be in touch with organizations that were also working towards supporting people with psychosis or unusual experiences and had shared and common goals about advancing access to treatments other than medication. A number of colleagues recommended I joined ISPS-US for this reason.

Coming from the UK, what are some differences you have noticed between the UK and the US in terms of approaches to psychosis? Anything we can learn to do differently from our friends across the pond?

When I first moved to the US it was noticeable just how much more prominent the medical model is here. Its not just the dominant model, if you happen to suggest that there’s no such thing as ‘schizophrenia’ or that psychosis is not a ‘disease’ that can be ‘cured’ by medication sometimes people don’t quite compute what you are saying or think you are joking, because such comments are so far outside the so called norm.  That isn’t the case in the UK. The majority of psychologists, if not all, embrace the environmental/trauma based explanation of mental health. Psychologists that don’t question the DSM are the minority. It took me a long time to adjust to this cultural difference, and to be honest I haven’t fully adjusted, nor would I want to.  I guess the other major difference is that healthcare is for profit in America.  That’s definitely something America could learn to do differently, and another thing I will never get used to… although of course that really isn’t specific to psychosis…and sadly changing this issue long term is something that probably needs its own society!
Thank you Dr. Riggs! It was great hearing your perspectives on psychosis and cognitive-behavioral therapy. 

Questions or comments for Dr. Riggs? E-mail her at: sriggs@nyccbtp.com

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NEW! Rodney Waldron Memorial Scholarship Fund

I am pleased to announce the creation of the first  annual Rodney Waldron Memorial Scholarship. Rodney Waldron was a peer specialist who worked for the NY State Office of Mental Health in Manhattan and the Bronx. He used his own experience of addiction, abuse, incarceration, and mental health struggles to help others in need.  He was a member of Hearing Voices NYC. Rodney presented at ISPS conferences about his own experience as a recipient of services and as a group facilitator, giving a powerful, straightforward, and insightful message. He was also a close friend and collaborator of my husband’s at Manhattan Psychiatric Center, where he co-founded the first hearing voices group; consulted with treatment teams, and sat on the incident review committee. He also developed a mentoring and supervision model for Howie the Harp interns as well as other peer specialists.  Reflecting the sides of his own family, Rodney alway showed a keen sensitivity in particular to the background of the black and Latino people with whom he worked.  In these ways he set a new standard for peer specialist work.  

In honor of Rodney’s work, I am creating an annual scholarship fund in his name that is to be used to defray expenses for conference attendees of color. The scholarship will cover the student, family member or expert-by-experience conference fees for two people of color plus an additional $100 for each attendee (if needed) to be used for lodging or transportation. Applicants should write a brief statement explaining how this scholarship would benefit them, their interest in the conference, and an estimate of travel and lodging expenses. Inquiries and applications should be sent to contact@isps-us.org. The deadline for applications for the 16th Annual ISPS-US Meeting in Portland, Oregon is October 20, 2017.

If you would like to donate to the Rodney Memorial Scholarship Fund please go to the ISPS-US home (www.isps-us.org) page and make a donation, please check OTHER and put in the text box “Rodney Waldron”.

It should look like this (http://awesomescreenshot.com/0f16dfw063 )

Thank you for your generosity. And please, share this information with your networks!

Jessica Arenella, President,ISPS-US

President@isps-us.org

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Expanding the Conversation: Talks on Hearing Voices, Oppression and Recovery

The Hearing Voices Congress of 2017 is over, but it’s not too late to listen to some of the key talks that happened there!

 

Other keynotes:
* Marty Hadge
* Akiko Hart
* Barry Floyd
* David Walker
* Val Resh

Check these out to hear some amazing stories, told with insight into some of the deeper issues we all face!

Many of these videos touch on issues of culture and cultural oppression, and intersections in identity, and how that all affects the altered states of mind that get called “psychosis.”

These are issues that will also be addressed at the ISPS-US Conference in Portland Oregon November 17-19, 2017, where the theme is “Psychosis in Context: Exploring Intersections in Diverse Identities and Extreme States.”  Note that Gogo Ekhaya Esima, featured above, will be a keynote speaker there where she will give a longer talk.  (Early bird discounts for this conference are only good till 9/17).

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Has Anyone Ever Fully Recovered From “Schizophrenia?”

When someone recently asked this on Quora, the first answer they received was the typical perspective offered by our mental health system.  It was stated that schizophrenia is a chronic biological illness, and that no cure exists.  The only hope offered was that many people with “the illness” can “lead productive and fulfilling lives with the proper treatment.”

I believe that answer to be horribly wrong in two respects.

  • First, it contains assertions not based on facts, and it suggests for example that schizophrenia is definitely a “real illness” based on biological differences and that people diagnosed with schizophrenia are only ever able to lead productive fulfilling lives if they continue to receive the “proper treatment.”
  • Second, since hope has been found to be one of the keys to recovery, and since this answer reduces any hope for full recovery, it functions as a kind of dark, self-fulfilling prophecy that impedes recovery.

So I offered the following answer:

The answer [to the question of whether anyone can fully recover from schizophrenia] is clearly yes. While it’s popular to say that schizophrenia is a biological illness, there is in fact no biological test for it, it is diagnosed when people talk and behave in certain ways for a period of time. And when researchers follow people who are diagnosed that way, they find that a great many of them no longer meet the criteria for the disorder when followed up later, and many of them have even very successful lives.

To give just one example: Daniel Fisher. Over a five year period, he was treated for schizophrenia, with drugs and a few hospitalizations. He then worked on recovery, became a psychiatrist, and eventually a national leader in the recovery movement. He got married, had kids, had a good life, etc. He did not continue to take drugs or to have the sorts of problems associated with “schizophrenia” and so he would meet any reasonable criteria for full recovery. He has written about his experience, and I recently reviewed his book “Heartbeats of Hope: The Empowerment Way to Recover”

I think it’s worth noting that when recovery is discussed in the mainstream mental health system, it is discussed usually in terms of working to regain a valued life despite continued illness.  I do believe that focus can be important, but as I argued in my article Moving Beyond Clinical Recovery AND Personal Recovery: Reclaiming the Possibility of Full Recovery,  it is only one side of the possibility of full recovery, which also involves getting to a place where nothing that might seem to be an “illness” remains.

For more thoughts about full recovery, and the possible role of mental health treatments in accomplishing it (or possibly getting in the way), see Questions and Answers About Recovery.

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‘Too different’ and ‘psychosis’


by Kevin Healey

I live in Toronto a city where, more than other places I’ve lived in or visited, it is easier to see what “diversity” means,  at least at one level.

For example, according to information reported on the City of Toronto website:

  • Half of all  those living here were born in another country;
  • 47% of Torontonians report themselves as belonging to a visible minority.

Not that by any means things here are all sorted, not at all, just that this is a place where there is more diversity than most and where there exists at least some degree of acceptance that diversity is a good thing.

Still, here too there are undoubtedly many people, and many groups still waiting, demanding and “fighting to be included in the idea of equality” as much as in any other place.

Where I grew up there’s a colloquialism “same difference” and perhaps those words are  imprinted within me and inform how, for a long time I have believed that we are each as different as we are the same.

More recently though, I have come to see how experiences of being deemed “too different” and “psychosis” are intertwined,  part of the same experience.

For me, experiences that get called “psychosis” are at the heart of the difficulty of living with human difference. For whatever reason we find ourselves deemed “too different” – and it seems we are constantly making up new ones – we can find ourselves overwhelmed and struggling in ways that affect every aspect of our being.

That inner struggle expresses itself in many forms and from time to time it can overwhelm us,  and it comes to the surface in ways others use to deem us even more different: “disconnected from ‘reality'” whatever that means; and “in-psychosis” again, whatever that means.

Whatever the roots of and route towards our own personal “too-differentness”, living through difficult experiences that get lumped together under the heading “psychosis” is where many of do us find ourselves.

We are now further down the road to being cast-out, trapped and seemingly condemned to remain stuck there.

“Madness is supposed to be the beginning of a journey, it’s not supposed to be the end result”
–Jeanette Winterson.

If we are fortunate, this can be a blessing, for those of us who are able to take advantage of it and see that the energy we were using up trying to fit-in, or being some version of ourselves that others would have us be; and that we can better invest that energy into breaking-free, learning and being who we can best be.

Sadly, not everyone is offered that opportunity, or able to create it for themselves and even then many are not lucky enough to be able take advantage.

My own experience has shown me that life is often about surfing that precarious, dynamic balance between fitting in just-enough and also being free-enough to be who I am.

Straying too far from either side of that can be uneasy, scary and lead to me becoming exhausted, and if I’m there long enough, not well.

A couple of years ago I was part of organizing a conference Psychosis 2.0, where one of the keynote speakers was Keris Myrick. At the pre-conference get together the evening before, I well remember hearing her talk of how pleased she was to see the city dressed up, and making a show of being very welcoming.  It was, I think, the week before Toronto Pride which was also that year hosting World PRIDE. So it was quite a show, even more than the usual show. I remember her saying something to the effect “I don’t know if it’s always like this…”  and that giving rise to rumblings in the audience that no, it wasn’t.
More particularly I remember, as she was drawing to a conclusion, speaking to her personal experience of living as a black woman in a world run and dominated by people not many of whom as she said, “look like me”.

”Difference is difficult and dealing with difference is not easy – yet we have no other option but to learn how.”
– Keris Myrick

Difference can be challenging enough when it is at the surface. Perhaps, though it is the differences that lie beneath that are most difficult – how we are affected by our difference, our too-differentness.

Whatever the nature of our own differentness we can be driven or trapped into concealing, withholding, and protecting it: from a world that does not understand and does not know how to accept, our too-differentness.

We can also be driven to protecting the world from our too-differentness, our very being, by wearing a mask or masks that show us in ways that do not cause opprobrium to be aroused in others.

Of course, we can only struggle like this so much, and for so long.

The energy it requires to live like this is just too much to sustain. From time to time it surfaces, and manifests in many ways, some of which stray beyond the boundary of what society regards acceptably different.

I can only imagine how difficult and exhausting it is to live in this world as non-male, none-white person: I only know how difficult it has been and is for me sometimes.

Hearing voices is one of the ways I am different – though, truth be told, even though some people talk of it as “unusual experience” it is really not all that unusual. Three-in-four of us will hear a voice no one else does at least once, usually around significant life events and about one in seven of us of us do regularly.

Like Tom Jones sang, admittedly in a wholly different context, “it’s not unusual” – hearing voices is, actually, remarkably bloody common.

It is, though, another of the ways we can be too-different in a way that our society has yet to develop the capacity to understand, to accept,  and to accommodate such differences, and so instead we construct stories that would have us fear what is a not that unusual at all but very human experience.

It strikes me that within the many ways that we can be different, there is perhaps some shared experience in the many ways we might find ourselves  deemed  too-different.

For whatever reason we that are first deemed to be too-different, that we don’t fit in, and that we’re not good enough to be worthy of being considered as a being-being, as fellow human, the pain that we can feel as a result sits deep within us.

The wound is embedded within every fibre, every synapse and every fleeting second of our being.

William James, who first coined the term psychological trauma, also described this effect as like “thorns in the spirit”.

At those times when life overwhelms us, and which for some of us can be a near-constant experience, the pain from those thorns pops-up to the surface and expresses itself into the world, often in one of the many ways that come, at some point, to be called ‘psychosis’.

And so, once we have been deemed “too different”, we become a sticky target- to which other sticky labels stick themselves all-to-easily.

We too easily find ourselves boxed into categories of others’ making and it can easily happen that we find ourselves cast out to what Franz Fanon called the “zone of nonbeing”, outside of “self”, even beyond “other”, beyond worthy of being regarded as human, more a denial of existence and right to exist as human.

Eventually those cast out there come to believe: “I deserve this”.

This zone serves a function: it allows us to separate ourselves from those who have now been placed within it, so that we can feel ok about whatever is done to them.

And then, one day, we find that we too have been placed within this zone –   or that it’s boundary has been extended far enough that it now includes us too.

I’m interested in dialogue, so I’d like to sign off by asking you to share something:

Q. In what ways have you found yourself deemed “too different”?
Q. And what helped you find your way?

Kevin Healey

 

References

 

 

Bio

Kevin Healey hears voices that you don’t and has done for as long as he or his voices can remember.  Founder and coordinator of www.recoverynet.ca, Toronto Hearing Voices group and the Hearing Voices Café.

Drawing on skills and experiences gained from three decades of group work in organizations, in peer support and the wider community he develops innovative trainings and workshops that enable others to better understand and support those who struggle with the kind of experiences that get called “psychosis”.

A member of the hearing voices worldwide community, in Oct 2016 was honored to receive the Intervoice annual Award for Innovation at the World Hearing Voices Congress in Paris.

Website: www.recoverynet.ca

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Minority Mental Health Awareness Month: Spotlight on Psychosis

Faith Ringgold, Listen to the Trees

July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month . According to the website for the National Network to Eliminate Disparities in Behavioral Health, Minority Mental Health Awareness Month was started in 2008 by the US government in an effort to improve access to mental health treatments and services through public awareness. In an effort to raise awareness about BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) individuals and psychosis specifically, I wanted to blog a few facts and resources I recently learned about:

 

  1. Black people seeking mental health services are three to four times more likely than their white counterparts to be diagnosed with a psychotic disorder (Schwartz & Blankenship, 2014).
  2. Black patients are prescribed higher doses of antipsychotic medication than white patients (Arnold et al., 2004).
  3. Black patients are are more subject to polypharm prescribing practices than white patients (Chaudhry, Neelam, Duddu, & Husain, 2008).
  4. The pattern for over-diagnosing black people with schizophrenia been long-standing throughout the history of the United States, with the association between schizophrenia and blackness  developing as a direct reaction to black protestors during the Civil Rights era (Metzl, 2010).
  5. Although comparative studies have not been done in the United States, the over diagnosis of schizophrenia in Afro-Caribbeans in the UK (including non-immigrants) has been the subject of marked controversy (Ayonrinde, 1996; Pinto, Ashworth, & Jones, 2008).
  6. Public health researchers have explored the reasons behind this over-diagnosis from a variety of angles including, cultural bias among clinicians, acculturative stress, genetic predisposition, greater cannabis-use, and other social factors, including racism and poverty (Pinto et al., 2008). It is important to note that psychosis does not occur more frequently in Afro-Caribbeans living in the Caribbean, indicating migration/immigration and sequelae as highly important (Pinto et al., 2008).
  7. In Haitian populations specifically, paranoia and suspiciousness have been found to be common symptoms of depression. Bibb and Casimir (1996) state that the common presence of symptoms such as persecutory delusions, suspiciousness, and paranoid ideation in depressed Haitians is a leading factor in the misdiagnosis of schizophrenia in this population.
  8. Irrespective of depression or other mental health issues, Bibb and Casimir (1996) state that paranoid discourse is common in Haitian clients, and has “historical, political, and religious underpinnings” (p.107). Specifically, mass intergenerational traumas of the Haitian people, including colonialism, torture by dictatorial regimes, oppression, and slavery have all led to the development of a “socio-cultural paranoia” that is not necessarily “pathological” in nature.
  9. Racism is a risk factor for psychosis.
  10. Mental Health Foundation & SurvivorResearch created a highly informative document called “Recovery & Resilience: Lessons in Healing From Black Women’s Stories” – a must read!
  11. Icarus Project offers a free guide called Madness & Oppression that can help inform personal wellness as well as illuminate important connections between oppression and mental health
  12. My Damn Mind is a harrowing interview with Alan Pean, a young black man shot by police while attempting to seek treatment for psychosis.

This year, ISPS-US’s national conference is focusing on the issue of psychosis and intersectionality. Here’s a description:

Extreme mental states and psychotic experiences occur within a context that includes a person’s unique family story, ethnicity, religion, race, socioeconomic status, gender and sexual identity, trauma experiences, and more. The attempt to isolate these states and experiences from the soil in which they grow often results in diagnosing people instead of understanding them. Yet individuals’ reactions and adaptation to the nexus of social constructs, cultural beliefs, and personal and collective histories that form the backdrops of their lives are sources of their strengths and their suffering alike. How can those who are struggling come more fully to appreciate the complexities of who they are, why they hurt, and what the possibilities might be for transformation? And how can helpers better understand the intersection of these layers of relevant factors so that assistance can be provided that truly fits the person?

ISPS has focused on psychological and social approaches to psychosis, madness, and extreme states of mind for over 50 years. The ISPS-US 16th Annual Meeting will feature a diversity of perspectives on psychotherapies, research on recovery, and theoretical developments. The points of view of experts by experience and family members will be highlighted. A main focus will be intersectionality or the interconnected nature of social identities as they relate to systems of discrimination and oppression.

Come join us in Portland November 17-19th as we discuss these complex questions.

References:

Arnold, L. M., Strakowski, S. M., Schwiers, M. L., Amicone, J., Fleck, D. E., Corey, K. B., & Farrow, J. E. (2004). Sex, ethnicity, and antipsychotic medication use in patients with psychosis. Schizophrenia Research, 66(2-3), 169-175. doi:10.1016/S0920-9964(03)00102-6

Ayonrinde, O. A. (1996). Schizophrenia in Afro-Caribbean immigrants. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 89(8), 480.

Bibb, A. & Casmir, G.J. (1996). Haitian families. In M. McGoldrick, J. Giordano, & J.K. Pearce (Eds.), Ethnicity & family therapy, 2nd edition, (pp. 97-111). New York: The Guildford Press.

Chaudhry, I., Neelam, K., Duddu, V., & Husain, N. (2008). Ethnicity and psychopharmacology.    Joural of Psychopharmacology, 22(6), 673-680. doi:10.1177/0269881107082105

Metzl, J.(2011)  The protest psychosis: How schizophrenia became a black disease. Beacon Press.

Pinto, R., Ashworth, M., & Jones, R. (2008). Schizophrenia in black Caribbeans living in the UK: an exploration of underlying causes of the high incidence rate. British Journal of General Practice, 58(551), 429-434. doi:10.3399/bjgp08X299254

Schwartz, R. C., & Blankenship, D. M. (2014). Racial disparities in psychotic disorder diagnosis: A review of empirical literature. World Journal of Psychiatry, 4(4), 133-140. doi:10.5498/wjp.v4.i4.133

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Interview with ISPS member Gregory Shankland

One of the things I like most about ISPS is the diversity of its members. We are truly a creative mix of people including (but not limited to): people with lived experience of voices, visions & extreme states, researchers, students, psychologists, psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, academic scholars, sociologists, nurses, social workers, artists, family members, friends, allies, activists and community leaders.

In “The Beauties of Nature and the Wonders of the World We Live In”, 19th century polymath Sir John Lubbock once said:

“What we do see depends mainly on what we look for. … In the same field the farmer will notice the crop, the geologists the fossils, botanists the flowers, artists the colouring, sportmen the cover for the game. Though we may all look at the same things, it does not all follow that we should see them.”

Each month I will interview a member of ISPS to highlight the uniqueness of perspectives within the organization as well as see how each person views the “field” of psychosis through their own eyes. 

This month I interviewed Gregory Shankland. Greg is a voice-hearer,  business strategist and the creator of MADSense a unique model for helping voice-hearers, their family members/friends and mental health professionals better understand and cope with the experience of hearing voices. 

Gregory Shankland

So, tell me a little about yourself…

I grew up in small towns in South Africa which made for a great childhood close to nature. We (I have two brothers) had plenty of room to play and explore, going fishing and canoeing somewhere most weekends.

I did well at school and went on to qualify as a Civil Engineer, which wasn’t as exciting as I had hoped for. I studied Business Economics and Operations Research as a route toward something more stimulating and found my niche in business consulting – which had the right balance between science and people for me.

Consulting can be a nomadic life and working for an international consultancy gave me the opportunity to work abroad – I moved to the UK in 1997 and then to the USA in 1999.

It was while living in New York City at age 55 that I suddenly began to hear voices, out of the blue. The first year was hell!

Quite early on in my experience of voices I realized that I was coping better than most, and doing something different. I was responding directly to the phenomenology as it happened, applying the neuro linguistic programming (NLP) skills I had learned as a business consultant to maintain healthy thinking patterns.

I realized that my response could be turned into a structured methodology and tools for a break-through approach to reducing the lead time to recovery and now offer workshops for clinical professionals and those who experience all types of intrusive phenomena.

How did you find out about ISPS-US? What made you want to be a member?

I wanted to make a difference on a larger scale and decided that the best route for doing so was to tailor my “expert by experience” services toward service delivery professionals and researchers. One professional can reach many customers and I think the recovery movement can be most successful helping the established professionals be more successful too.

ISPS is the obvious group to work with – members are already engaging in searching for innovative alternatives.

What advice would you give someone that just started hearing voices?

What the voice hearer thinks and believes is important – that’s what shapes the relationship with voices. I may be a little unconventional here in that I refuse to be bullied by my voices and assert my right to be happy, in spite of them.

It is a scary, confusing and complicated experience – until you discover:

  1. That many have recovered and you probably will too – be optimistic
  2.  Agonizing over finding an answer to what voices are or what causes them adds fuel to their abusiveness. We haven’t answered this question in millennia, so instead, focus on real world relationships and activity where you have the power to shape your life
  3.  Voices can make your own thoughts scary, that’s the crazy part. Know that you can retreat to a safe couch and say to your voices “Do your thing, I will be here when you are done”. It won’t be pleasant – though it gets easier every time.

How do you think family members can help support their loved ones?

Most of all, believe in your loved one and be yourselves – bring attention to the real world and appreciate it together – shared experiences displace voices.

Voices introduce distortions of expectations and extreme emotions that become difficult to explain or talk about because we have no constructive frame of reference for doing so.

Make it easy by talking about this ‘unwelcome friend’ that arrives when it arrives, in a matter of fact way. Think of it as an anomaly of short duration and reduce the drama you attach to it. This helps you be objective, avoids making the voice hearer the problem and helps shift attention the real world.

Acknowledge that there may be occasional acute phases . Here, we hearers need to feel secure – knowing that there is a safe space and loving support will reduce the severity. Call this a plan – “if this happens, then we will… ”

Better still – learn to identify early warning signs and use breathing to bring the focus to the body and prevent anxiety from escalating to fear.

Have your own life – it builds the resilience you need to offer care to others.

What about the role of mental health professionals? 

As it relates to the experience of heard voices and other intrusive phenomena – I find it much more helpful to think of hallucinations as unusual inputs and madness as a predictable brain/mind response to unusual information. Our brain works fine – a constant stream of weird information leads to strange outcomes in quite predictable ways. The bio-medical model misses the mark in that it does not consider the relationship between information and emotions (body) – and ISPS members are open to this challenge.

Mental health professionals play an invaluable role in that they offer someone to talk to that isn’t personally and emotionally invested in the voice hearer – as friends and family are. They can ask different questions, offer different insights than those we are closest to and help move us out of the experience of voices and into a more objective perspective.

Having said that, I think we benefit more from a forward looking, coaching style than from “analysis-paralysis” focused on our past.

This is what the recovery movement, Hearing Voices Network, first episode programs, open dialogue all share – a way to provide support while people focus their mind on moving forward.

Looking ahead is what brings hope and optimism.

What type of research do you think we need more of? 

I would like to see and work in research in three areas in particular:

  1. Everything flows from the phenomenology – in quite predictable ways – there are transactional patterns that we should be studying
  2. Stories are our outward expression of the experience. There is a structure to them shaped by the nature of the phenomenology and content of voices
  3. The success factors underpinning recovery.  I believe we can learn much more from success stories.

Other than ISPS-US, what resources have you found helpful and want to share with others?

When I first started to hear voices, I found it very difficult to find practical help in dealing with voices. Online searches offer a wide variety of opinions – which isn’t always helpful.

With this factor in mind I would highly recommend a book I recently read: “On the Frontline with Voices” by Keith Butler

It has sections that highlights factors for the three communities you listed in these interview questions: voice-hearers, friends and family, and clinical professionals.

My own book will follow in the near future!

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Coffee & Psychosis

My newest Internet discovery is a podcast from the UK called Coffee & Psychosis. The podcast was created by a young man with his own lived experience of psychosis and is described on the website as: “a collection of human stories around the subject of madness. What society neatly calls ‘mental health’. Should you lend your feet, the path is lit with curiosity for what lies behind the doors labelled: Schizophrenia, Psychosis, Bipolar, Depression, Anxiety – and so forth. This is an attempt to unearth a deeper humanity behind the sometimes saccharine view of ‘unwell-being’. The story behind the script. The death of metaphor. This has nothing to do with coffee.” Currently there are three episodes of the podcast and it seems like it will have weekly installments (at least I hope so!) The first two episodes follow the journey of Luke Sandifer, a college student who began to hear the voice of God after a time of intense stress. Sandifer and host look at his experience in a way that is at once humorous, informative and completely genuine. The third podcast explores one women’s journey through an intensive supernatural or mystical experience. All three podcasts explore the topic of psychosis in rich and dynamic ways, bringing into the conversation opinions about how treatment can be improved, the meaning behind “symptoms” and tips for recovery. The host does an excellent job in allowing his guests to speak from their own perspectives while simultaneously drawing from his own experience. All together the podcast is not unlike a really great episode of The Mighty Boosh, (…well, if The Mighty Boosh developed a penchant for talking about mental health in really amazing and unique ways…) I highly recommended Coffee & Psychosis for anyone who has recently experienced first episode psychosis as well as clinicians working with young people. Funny, cool and insightful Coffee & Psychosis is a new and refreshing voice in youth mental health.

 

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Hearing Voices World Congress in Boston

Hearing Voices World Congress is coming to the United States this summer and it’s going to be awesome. The Hearing Voices World Congress is an annual international meeting for people interested in the Hearing Voices Movement. The meeting has always been held in places quite remote for North Americans… Paris (2016), Spain (2015), Greece (2014), Australia (2013), Wales (2012), Italy (2011), England (2010) and the Netherlands (2009)… but this year it’s located right in our own backyard… BOSTON!

What makes the conference so special this year?

Aside from being the first time the Congress has ventured to American shores, the Hearing Voices World Congress planning committee has gathered together a bunch really excellent Keynote Speakers including (but not at all limited to…)

Reshma Valliappan (aka Val Resh):  An artist-advocate for a number of issues related to mental health, disability, sexuality and human rights. Val Resh is the protagonist of the Public Service Broadcasting Trust PSBT documentary A Drop of Sunshine which is based on her true story of recovery and living with schizophrenia without medications. Being compared to John Forbes Nash as ‘A beautiful mind, yet again’ she is a creationist with a beat of her own.

Gogo Ekhaya Esima: An initiated Sangoma Traditional Healer in the Zulu culture of South Africa, certified Peer Recovery Specialist in mental health, trauma survivor, and a spiritual teacher. Gogo Ekhaya is as strong advocate for challenging standardized mental health concepts in America, her work has appeared in the edited collection, “Women & Psychosis:Multidisciplinary Perspectives”, and her shamanic journey of healing and recovery is featured in the documentary CRAZYWISE. Her gifts include seeing and hearing voices of the ancestors, mediumship, and earth based medicinal healing.  Gogo Ekhaya has a full-time shamanic healing practice in Southern California.

David Walker, Ph.D.: A liberation psychologist, writer, and musician. Since 2000, he’s consulted with the Fourteen Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation in central Washington, while his personal connections to Indian Country reach back to his childhood and Missouri Cherokee heritage. His recent critiques and historical analyses of the U.S. mental health system’s checkered role with Native Americans for Indian Country Today (ICT) are both well-regarded and controversial.

The conference will also feature workshops and plenty of time to interact with people from around the world interested in growing compassionate approaches to understanding hearing voices, seeing visions and other unusual experiences.

Things kick off with a FREE event on INTERVOICE DAY:

Wednesday August 16th 2017

9-4:30pm

Description: A day for people involved in the Hearing Voices Movement to come together, share experiences and hear about new initiatives around the world. Featuring: speakers, open space discussions about topics decided by attendees and the chance to share what’s happening in Hearing Voices Networks in your country.

Metcalf Hall,

George Sherman Union,

Boston University Campus,

775 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA

Then, starting Thursday August 17th and continuing until August 18th is the official Congress. Registration is now open!

See you there!

 

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They Heard Voices documentary premier and discussion in NYC July 13

PRESENT

THEY
HEARD
VOICES

A movie by Jonathan Balazs

Co-sponsored by ISPS-US and Hearing Voices NYC

When: JULY 13TH 2017 at 6:30 PM

Where: JEFFERSON MARKET LIBRARY
425 Ave of the Americas
(6th ave & 10th Street)

FREE! 

TRAILER: https://vimeo.com/185557072

THEY HEARD VOICES is a documentary film exploring the Hearing Voices Movement, chronic psychosis and the schizophrenia label. The film is a series of wide-ranging interviews with voice hearers, medical historians, anthropologists and psychiatrists from Britain and America, presenting different people’s views and inviting conversation

Featuring: Erin Emiru, Rai Waddingham, Kevin Healey, Mark Roininen, Angela Woods (Ph.D.), Edward Shorter (Ph.D.), Dr. Avery Krisman, Dr. Albert Wong, Suman Fernando, and Steven Ecks (Ph.D.).

Special Community Screening and Panel Discussion.Join us for a discussion with members of ISPS-US & Hearing Voices NYC: Matt Estrada, Tami Gatta, Peri Zarella & more.

In celebration of Worldwide CreativeMaladjustment Week (July 7-14).
Visit http://cmweek.org for more ideas on how to celebrate MAD PRIDE!

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