I recently attended a workshop run by a fantastic man called Dr Rufus May. Rufus featured in the TV documentary called “The Doctor Who Hears Voices” in which his amazing work is explored.
Rufus suffered from hearing voices himself but didn’t find that taking medications was enough help and so started to explore other methods of treatment. Rufus came across the work of Professor Marius Romme from Maastricht University in Holland and realised that there were other treatment methods he could use.
Rufus is now working as a clinical psychologist in the NHS and also runs training workshops for people who hear voices and interested professionals. The workshop I attended had Doctors Psychiatrists and Social Workers attending. It was interesting and nice that the professionals were outnumbered by sufferers as Rufus seems committed to people helping each other.
Rufus advocates the use of a self help group called the Hearing Voices Network, a self help group for voice hearers. He is not against medications, just as we are not, but like us, he is frustrated that often is it only medication that is on offer when there are so many other treatments out there.
The main thesis of his training seems to be that if people are hearing voices, they can learn to gain better control of them by engaging in a dialogue with them. Several members of the audience talked about either trying to ignore the voices, or medicate themselves so much that they couldn’t hear them. In fact, most found this just made things worse. One of the interesting exercises we did was to try and have a conversation with someone while a colleague would talk to us through a rolled up piece of paper straight into one of our ears. As you can imagine, it was so hard to remain focused, especially if the content of the other voice was related to the conversation we were trying to have. So many times I found myself stuttering or just stopping mid sentence, just as I have seen voice hearers do in the past. We did this to gain some insight into how distracting the voices can be and what it is like to have this problem.We also did exercises learning to role play with the voices. The voice hearer would go into the role of one of the voices and then as the facilitators we would try and engage them in a dialogue, asking what they wanted for the person and to explore when they came into the persons life and to try and find out what purpose they may be trying to serve. By giving the voices time to talk, it seems that voice hearers can negotiate a lot more time for themselves to get on with every day life.
I love this approach because it totally bypasses the whole discussion about if the voices are real or imagined.It just doesn’t matter, all that matters is that the voice hearer comes to feel a lot more in control of their experience. I feel the same way about so many other areas of mental health. So much time is spent wondering exactly what the diagnosis is when really what matters is can the person get some relief from their problems.
This work reminded me a little of some training I did with Zerka Moreno in Psychodrama, where people act out their problems, externalising their internal psychology.
I can see a lot of value in Rufus’s work, even for those of us not aware of hearing voices. Most of us have some form of internal dialogue and, when we are feeling low for example, this can become rather self deprecating. Externalising these voices and engaging them in a dialogue could be a very interesting way of managing them.
The course was held in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire and this was a truly beautiful venue and the area that Rufus lives and works in. I came away thoroughly inspired by Rufus and the other voice hearers on the course. I hope I have another opportunity for training with him.