Eleanor Longden, a British psychologist and author, refers to herself as a “voice hearer.” She received a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia in her freshman year of college. Longden took “an aggressive stance against her own mind”¹ and has recovered, but not without questioning the diagnosis and treatment she underwent over 10 years ago. Hearing voices, she believes, does not indicate a mental disease.
Longden, told she would be better off with a diagnosis of cancer (because cancer is easier to cure), faced hospitalizations and anti-psychotic medication. She stumbled through each day with 12 voices in her head. At one point she drilled a hole in her skull to let them out. “Yet inside I still felt sane,” she said.
With no other symptoms other than the voices and odd behavior, did Longden’s condition call for a hopeless diagnosis and heavy medication?
“I think,” she said, “like many young people leaving home for the very first time, I was stressed and unhappy. Going to university, and the lack of support there, tipped me over the edge. All I ever did was hear voices. Now I have learned to deal with them.”² (You can view an interview with Longden here, dated September 2015.)
She now belongs to Hearing Voices Network which originated in 1988 in England and has since spread to other countries including the U.S., Japan, and Australia. According to the network’s web site, “Psychiatry refers to hearing voices as ‘auditory hallucinations’ but our research shows that there are many explanations for hearing voices. Many people begin to hear voices as a result of extreme stress or trauma. … We believe that they are similar to dreams, symbols of our unconscious minds.”³
Longden began to make progress after meeting a therapist who helped her to look at her voices “as a source of insight into solvable emotional problems.” Her therapist, Pat Bracken, had worked with men and women who had been tortured or raped in Uganda, and with child soldiers. “As professionals,” he said, “we need to help people who are depressed or dominated by voices to find a path out of that state. That could be through medication, therapy, religion, or creativity. It is completely wrong to try to use one template for everyone.”4 Longden no longer takes medication.
Milt Greek, featured in a New York Times 2011 article, also has a diagnosis of schizophrenia and depends on medication, yet he also believes the voices and delusions provide valuable insight. According to a National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) summary of his book, Schizophrenia: A Blueprint for Recovery, Greek “feels that many thoughts and hallucinations of schizophrenia are often related to one’s life. The view is contrary to the prototypical one that symptoms are simply meaningless by-products of the illness.”5 Greek, like Bracken, does not believe in one sure-all treatment for the symptoms called schizophrenia.
Brain disease? Deeply troubled soul? A voice hearer –“a human variation” to cope with (Longden’s understanding of her condition)? Did doctors misdiagnose Eleanor Longden’s symptoms?
Unhealthy or unusual behaviors have yet to be fully explained by the best psychiatric theories. The theories shift from generation to generation, or sooner, which leaves individuals with frightening symptoms faced with medical uncertainty . . . or opportunity. The Hearing Voices Network encourages people to explore various treatment options rather than stay locked in to a treatment that does not appear to help at all. Longden credits following her instincts, along with hope, as the stepping stone to her recovery.
Christians have more than instinct to follow. “Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help. His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish. Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord, his God.”(Ps. 146:3-5)
The psalm speaks of a time when men were unable to deliver someone out of trouble, not that men can never offer help. Whatever diagnosis you receive, don’t faint when men fail to deliver you to health. “Only believe,” says Christ.
I leave you with these words from Octavius Winslow:
“When Jesus says, “Only believe Me,” He literally says, “Only trust Me.” … Trust implies, on our part, mystery and ignorance, danger and helplessness. How wrapped in inscrutability, how shadowy and unreal, is all the future! As we attempt to penetrate the dark clouds, what strange forebodings steal over our spirits. Just at this juncture, Jesus approaches, and with address most winning, and in accents most gentle, speaks these words, “Only believe, only trust Me. Trust Me, who knows the end from the beginning; trust Me, who has all resources at My command; trust Me, whose love never changes, whose wisdom never misleads, whose word never fails, whose eye never slumbers nor sleeps—only trust Me!”6
Pray, seek other options if necessary, listen to your “gut,” and believe.
2 http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-512716/The-terrifying-ordeal-brilliant-student-started-hearing-voices-fell-abyss-insanity.html#ixzz216ISeG00, article dated 2/07/08.
4 http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/news/a-firstclass-recovery-from-hopeless-case-to-graduate-1808991.html?printService=print , article dated 2/25/09.
6 Morning Thoughts by Octavius Winslow (Reformation Heritage Books, 2003), pg. 356.