Ron Coleman is a self-described ex-rugby player and ex-schizophrenic. He is also an author, mental health trainer, and consultant. Karen Taylor, Coleman’s wife and director of their organization Working Toward Recovery, is a psychiatric nurse with over 16 years experience working in England.
Thursday evening, the duo talked to a packed audience of clinicians, peer support workers, and mental health students at the Jefferson Market Library about working with people who hear voices.
Coleman and Taylor expressed concern that the current mental health system is not promoting recovery, but instead contributing to cycle of chronic illness. Taylor discussed the lack of training in treating psychosis professionals are given and feeling currently that the more training one does receive, the more alienated from their clients they become. Often losing sight of what is important; Taylor stated that it is crucial for mental health workers to remember what working with people with psychosis is really about: “love, compassion, and being a friend”.
Coleman and Taylor frequently referred to psychosis as a “journey”, stressing that psychosis is not a chronic condition, but an experience of influx and movement. The goal of the clinician or peer support worker is to help an individual develop a relationship to their voices and act as a guiding force through the complicated process of recovery. Once a client feels they have completed their journey, there is no longer any need for the guide. Coleman said, “The idea is to make yourself redundant to a person’s life, redundancy is what we want.”
Coleman feels that one of the most important events in his own recovery happened the first time he went to a Hearing Voices meeting– one of the other voice-hearers in the group told him “the voices are real, you know.” This comment shifted his perspective on the voices from one of intense negativity to one of positivity, “If the voices are real, they belong to me and not an illness.” Coleman, who feels that hearing voices stems from lived experience and not from faulty biology, questioned current mental health models by stating, “Why are we treating behaviors and not emotions?” He says that voices can be used as a tool to gain more information about what is happening within a client and that it is important to ask the voices questions, such as “Who are you?” and “What is your message?”
Voices are able to engage in dialogue and serve a unique purpose for every individual voice hearer. Be respectful with the voices, and you can gain valuable insight. Through techniques such as Voice Dialoging, a clinician can help a client come to understand who the voices are and what their purpose is. Karen Taylor believes, “In every delusion is a kernel of truth.” Engaging with delusions, voices, hallucinations, and other extreme experiences can help peel back the layers and discover the truth within. This is in stark contrast with what Ron Coleman humorously calls the current mental health protocol of “radical non-intervention” or the tendency for mental health professionals to fear “colluding with delusions”.
The evening turned quickly from a lecture format to an excited dialogue between attendees and Taylor & Coleman. Various people asked questions about everything from medication and over-prescribing practices to working with dementia and forensic clients. The answers were overall ones of optimism, stressing that from any one client, the most important thing is always begin with a perspective of recovery. “Recovery is a fundamental human right” Coleman said. Karen Taylor responded, “Not only for our clients, but also for ourselves.”
Learn more about working with voices:
Hearing Voices Network USA
Intervoice: Hearing Voices International Community
Gail Hornstein: Author, Psychologist, & Activist
Madness Radio: Interview with Ron Coleman
Voice Collective: For Teens Who Hear Voices
Voices of the Heart, Inc.
Marie Hansen is a guest blogger, ISPS-US Member and Hearing Voices Network Group Co-Facilitator in NYC.