Latest results of a years-long national expansion and ground-breaking research study
Six years ago, Open Excellence launched an ambitious project to develop and study a nationwide regional infrastructure of Hearing Voices groups in the United States, led by psychologist and author Dr. Gail Hornstein in collaboration with the acclaimed training team at Wildflower Alliance (the Western Massachusetts Recovery Learning Community), Caroline Mazel-Carlton and Cindy Hadge.
Cindy and Caroline traveled the U.S., providing multi-day workshops for new group facilitators and and recruiting study participants. By 2020, their work resulted in more than 100 new support groups across the United States, hundreds of newly trained facilitators and provided critical support to the research team at Mt Holyoke. The first analysis of study results came out in April of last year, How do hearing voices peer-support groups work? A three-phase model of transformation. The second of what Dr. Hornstein hopes will be a series of papers is just out.
The diverse functions of hearing voices peer support groups: findings and case examples from a US national study
Hearing voices peer-support groups (HVGs) enable people coping with voices, visions, or other unshared perceptual experiences to explore the particularities and potential meanings of their experiences while receiving support from others facing similar challenges. HVGs have now spread to 30 countries on five continents, and many members report profound life changes as a result of participating. Yet systematic research exploring how and why these groups work is still in its early stages. To understand the diverse functions that HVGs can serve, we analyzed the experiences of 111 group members across the US, who provided detailed accounts of their voice-hearing histories and group participation. Using phenomenological and thematic analyses, our collaborative team of voice hearers and researchers identified key elements that make HVGs distinctive, including their prioritizing of self-determination; de-emphasizing behavioral targets or pressure to change; respecting and welcoming multiple frameworks of understanding; cultivating curiosity about perplexing experience in any form; and fostering egalitarian collaboration and genuine relationships among members seen as “experts by experience.” We illustrate the dynamic relations among these elements through case examples, and then outline comparisons between HVGs and other types of groups, as well as directions for future research.
The authors gratefully acknowledge the contributions of Jacqui Dillon, Lisa Forestell, and Andrea Weisman to initial phases of the project; Maria Narimanidze to the follow-up interviews; and Caroline Mazel-Carlton, Cindy Marty Hadge, and Sera Davidow to participant recruitment.
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.
This work was supported by Grant GD8911 from the Foundation for Excellence in Mental Health Care to Mount Holyoke College.
Gail A. Hornstein, Alison Branitsky & Emily Robinson Putnam (2021): The diverse functions of hearing voices peer-support groups: findings and case examples from a US national study, Psychosis, DOI: 10.1080/17522439.2021.1897653