The experience of hearing voices is as old as the history of mankind and has been found in many cultures (Watkins 2008). Evaluating voices as possibly positive or negative did change fundamentally when it was finally declared solely pathological in the mid-19th century. Since this time voice hearing had been regarded as the unmistakeable core symptom of a psychiatric disorder and since the 1st half of the 20th century as a core symptom of schizophrenia in particular.
Since that time voice hearing would normally be considered as distressing in the psychiatric context and as not open to voluntary influence by the voice hearer. The main approach to voice hearing was therefore usually to try to minimise voice hearing with medication or ideally get rid off it entirely. The success rates in this context are, however, for many voice hearers, only partially or not at all applicable.
This traditional approach has been questioned in particular through the work of Romme and Escher and the Hearing Voices Movement in the last 27 years.
In a survey in 1987 by Professor Romme and Dr Escher (University of Maastricht) among 450 persons who were hearing voices, 150 people stated that they were coping well with their voices. It also became evident in subsequent research by Romme and Escher, that it was indeed possible to live a normal life when hearing voices, even when medication had not helped.
This research was of particular interest, since around the same time scientific understanding developed further and recognised that the majority of voice hearers could live well with their experience of hearing voices.
Learning from these psychiatrically inexperienced voice hearers was particularly important in recent years. A crucial understanding in this context was that it was the respective coping style of the voice hearer which would usually be decisive in whether voice hearers would become patients or not. It appeared to be not helpful to use rather passive explanatory approaches for the voices, which would make it difficult to rise above the voices. For example, when voices were explained with electrical influences such as coming from the radio or TV. A similarly passive explanation is also denoted by the biological-psychiatric approach, and was found to be of only limited help for persons who wanted to learn to deal constructively with the voices, since the phenomena were removed to outside of their sphere of influence.