Individuals who experience auditory hallucinations are more likely to develop psychosis, schizophrenia, or other significant mental health problems than those who don’t. Most auditory hallucinations take the form of voices and can be perceived as either harmful or helpful. Some people who hear voices describe the voices as being omnipotent and powerful. The type of voice hearing can lead to intense psychological distress. Other voice hearers report less omnipotence but clearer intent. These individuals describe the voices as perhaps not as powerful but specific in their objective, either to cause harm (malevolent) or to be helpful (benevolent). Understanding how activity or intent relates to the level of psychological distress is important for clinicians who work with individuals at risk for psychosis.
Emmanuelle R. Peters, of the Department of Psychology at King’s College in London, recently led a study to determine what aspect of voice hearing most influenced psychological distress. For his study, Peters assessed 46 individuals with a history of voice hearing using the Beliefs About Voices Questionnaire—Revised. He looked specifically at the power of the voices (omnipotence), the intent (benevolent or malevolent), and the way in which these aspects affected the behavior of the individuals through either engagement with the voices or resistance to them.
Peters found that power was the strongest predictor of psychological distress in the participants, regardless of the intent of the voices heard. However, intent directly influenced the participants’ behavior. In this regard, participants engaged with benevolent voices but tended to resist the malevolent voices. Peters said, “Thus, voice hearers tend to act in accordance with their beliefs about the voices’ intentions towards them, but their distress is related to how powerful they consider their voices to be.” Peters also discovered that by itself, the frequency of voice hearing was unrelated to psychological distress in the participants. The study also revealed that how voices were perceived, thus the belief related to the voices, was the primary predictor of distress manifested in many forms, including anxiety, decreased self-esteem, depression, and even thoughts of suicide. For clinicians, these results present evidence that the appraisal of voices is a core element of the behavioral outcome in those who hear voices.
Peters, E. R., Williams, S. L., Cooke, M. A., Kuipers, E. (2012). It’s not what you hear, it’s the way you think about it: Appraisals as determinants of affect and behaviour in voice hearers. Psychological Medicine, 42.7, 1507-1514.
© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.