Although auditory verbal hallucinations (AVH) are common in people with psychosis, they are also evident in individuals with no history of psychosis. Frequency of AVH varies from hearing voices at only one time to hearing them over a period of years or decades. The content of the AVHs varies as much as the frequency. For some individuals, AVHs are negative and threatening, while for other people, AVHs are comforting and safe. Theories suggest that people with childhood abuse are more susceptible to AVHs than people who have never experienced childhood maltreatment. But it is unclear if the type of abuse experienced predicts the content of AVHs later in life. Also, it has yet to be established if the nature of AVHs is different for people with and without psychosis.
To address these questions, Kirstin Daalman of the Department of Psychiatry, Neuroscience Division at the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands conducted a study comparing the content of AVHs heard by 100 participants with psychosis, 127 non-psychotic participants and 124 with no history of mental illness. She looked at the type and severity of childhood maltreatment and how it influenced the different characteristics of the AVHs.
Daalman found that the participants with psychotic and non-psychotic symptoms had higher rates of both emotional abuse and childhood sexual abuse when compared to controls. However, the frequency of trauma did not alter the frequency of AVHs in those two subject groups. Also, there was no indication that one specific form of abuse led to negative or positive AVH content. In other words, Daalman could not find evidence that sexual abuse led to more negative and threatening AVHs than physical, emotional, or verbal abuse. Likewise, there was not one particular form of abuse that led to more incidences of positive AVHs. Daalman added, “Thus, trauma may be able to trigger both negative and positive voices, either in the absence or in the presence of a psychotic disorder.” In sum, these results demonstrate that people with a history of childhood abuse are more vulnerable to AVHs than those without an abusive past, but the type of AVHs varies from person to person. Future work should look at what other factors could shape the valence and content of AVHs in those at risk for non-psychotic and psychotic illnesses.
Daalman, K., et al. Childhood trauma and auditory verbal hallucinations. Psychological medicine 42.12 (2012): 2475-84.ProQuest Research Library. Web. 30 Jan. 2013.
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