Rise of the ‘Hearers’

Why has society changed its attitude toward people who hear voices?

Hearers remember 1987 as the year hearing voices became normal. “[I]t remains difficult to dispute that 1987 marked a turning point in the history of voice-hearing,” wrote Angela Woods in a 2013 Journal of Mental Health article titled “The Voice-Hearer.” Traditionally, people who heard voices in their head that nobody else could hear were diagnosed with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder and became social outcasts. But, since 1987 there has been a shift in how society reacts to hearers. Rather than trying to stop the voices or give hearers medical treatment, psychiatrists are encouraging people to engage with the voices they hear, and they want society to view this behavior as normal and acceptable.

People who hear voices in their head are more common than you might think. In 1991, the Department of Mental Hygiene at Johns Hopkins University published the largest survey ever on voice hearing in the general populace outside of mental health clinics. Of the 18,000-plus people assessed, 10 to 15 percent had experienced some sort of audible or visual hallucination.

Is Hearing Voices Normal?

In a June 2017 article for the Atlantic titled “Psychics Who Hear Voices Could Be on to Something,” Joseph Frankel discussed growing networks that are aimed at helping people manage and control the voices in their heads. His piece revolves mainly around the work of Yale psychologist Phillip Corlett and Yale psychiatrist Albert Powers.

Corlett and Powers are trying to help people learn to control the voices in their heads rather than getting rid of them. Their approach is to study and observe psychics. Psychics voluntarily allow voices into their minds and claim to be able to control them.

Frankel wrote that every psychiatrist he spoke to “shared the belief that unusual behavior should only enter into the realm of diagnosis when it causes suffering.” They say people who hear voices do not need to seek medical help unless those voices are causing harm.

In some ways, this approach can be good. Often, the medication that doctors prescribe actually amplifies the problem. But what is troubling about Frankel’s views and the authorities he cites is that they believe that hearing voices is not strange and not a problem as long as you can control what you hear and your reaction to it.

“The influence of social context was part of what motivated Corlett and Powers,” wrote Frankel. “When they set out to design their study, they needed an otherwise healthy group of people who hear voices on a regular basis, and whose experiences are accepted in their social group.”

A major point Corlett and Powers set out to make was that society’s view of mental health has a big impact on the way people feel about hearing voices in their head. Psychics embrace those voices and interact with people who do not think hearing voices is strange or dangerous. Corlett and Powers believed that if society as a whole stops labeling people who hear voices as schizophrenic or bipolar, those people will feel better about it, and will be more able to control their symptoms.

Homosexuality went through the same process, Frankel noted. In the 1970s, homosexuality was a mental disorder. Then it became widely accepted. Today it is seen as normal and is promoted.

Starting a Conversation

In the mid-1980s, a woman in the Netherlands named Patsy Hage was struggling to cope with the voices in her head. She sought medical attention. The drugs weren’t working, and Patsy grew more frustrated and became more alienated. In 1987, she confronted her psychiatrist, Marius Romme. The two of them agreed that the traditional approach of medication and suppressing the voices wasn’t working. They decided to stop treating voice-hearing as a mental illness and to begin speaking about it openly.

They went on a national television talk show to openly discuss with the world the things Patsy was experiencing. Hundreds of people responded to the program admitting that they heard voices but had managed to live with them without the help of psychiatry.

This is when the Hearing Voices Movement began. Angela Woods wrote that “the world’s first hearing voices congress was held in Holland later that year [1987], and from there an international voice-hearing movement spread first to the UK, which now has a network of over 180 hearing voices groups, and then to Europe, Australia, America and beyond.”

The Hearing Voices Movement is a loose network of locally organized groups with the goal of helping hearers cope with the voices in their heads.

“The groups encourage an approach in which, with the help of a facilitator or counselor, hearers listen to, speak back to, and negotiate with the message they hear in hopes of learning to cope,” Frankel wrote. The New York Times reported that these types of groups “have tripled in number over the past several years, to more than 80 groups in 21 states.”

Who Is Really in Control?

Psychiatrists admit they do not know very much about the science behind voices. For the intellectual community, it is hard to decipher the physical cause of what appears to be a spiritual problem. In his article, Frankel quotes from an anthropologist named Tanya Luhrmann. When asked about voice hearing and its relationship to mental health, Luhrmann responded, “There’s so much we don’t understand.”

Encouraging people to embrace those voices and then trying to normalize that behavior, however, is the most dangerous approach yet.

The mystifying source of these voices becomes clear and simple, however, if you believe the Bible and understand that there is a spirit world.

“Do evil spirits affect even your own life?” Herbert W. Armstrong asked in his book Mystery of the Ages. “It is a mystery to almost everybody, but the Bible reveals a very real but invisible world—another dimension, as some choose to call it—existing along with our own, absolutely indiscernible to our five senses. It is the spirit world,” he wrote.

The Bible describes a “god of this world” who is also “the prince of the power of the air.” This being also “deceiveth the whole world”: It is Satan the devil. The Bible says that Christians “wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12). It also says specifically that Satan and the demons have been cast down to Earth.

The Bible also reveals how to respond to this evil spirit world. James 4:7 says, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” Ephesians 5:11 says, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (Revised Standard Version). This is the opposite of what doctors are advising people to do.

Scientists who reject the existence of the spirit world will say the Bible is nonfactual and invalid. Yet at the same time they offer no explanation for why people hear voices. If they worked from a foundation that acknowledged the spirit world, they would be able to understand why so many people are hearing voices—and even why these numbers have increased since the mid-1980s. They would understand that encouraging people to entertain voices is the most dangerous prescription they can give! It is extraordinarily dangerous for society to try to normalize this sort of behavior.

Even many Christians doubt there is a real, literal devil or real, literal demons. Yet Jesus Christ encountered Satan (Matthew 4) and demons many times and warned about their evil influences (e.g. Mark 1:23-27; Matthew 8:28-34; 17:18; 12:43-45).

The spirit realm is real, and human beings are definitely influenced by it. It is responsible for more of the troubles in this world than people think.

Under the influence of Satan the devil, society wants to normalize behavior that directly contradicts what God teaches in the Holy Bible. But just keep watching, because the more people embrace this sort of behavior the crazier this world is going to get. The academics are just as confused about how to solve the problem as the people going to them looking for answers. But it doesn’t have to be a mystery. You can understand why this is happening. You can understand who is involved and how they’re involved. And that will lead you to the real solution.