auditory hallucinations, CCEF, Christianity and schizophrenia, Elyn Saks, hearing voices, Neel Burton, psychosis, schizophrenia, The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness, World Hearing Voices Day
According to various sources the symptom of auditory hallucinations affects 50% to 80% of persons diagnosed with schizophrenia. Since medication does not always help, how can a person deal with voices that persist? Simply accept them? Would a Christian rebuke them in the name of Christ? Speak scriptures out loud that contradict their existence?
What’s Everyone Else Doing?
Over the past several years a growing number of people diagnosed with schizophrenia have chosen to engage with and accept the voices as part of their emotional range. Eleanor Longden of the Hearing Voices Network speaks openly about her experience (see my post, “Schizophrenia Misdiagnosed?” ) as does Reshma Valliappan, a mental health advocate and subject of the documentary, A Drop of Sunshine.¹ The organization INTERVOICE, which promotes acceptance of the voices, declared September 14 as World Hearing Voices Day.
Others offer options to help minimize them. In a Psychology Today blog², psychiatrist Neel Burton, author of Living with Schizophrenia, advises sufferers to try to reduce the voices through a variety of means. He suggests focusing on an activity such as singing or gardening, discussing the voices with someone you can trust, or talking back to the voices and telling them to go away.
In an SZ Magazine article about the subject, various people suggested cognitive therapy, art and music, and self-help tapes as ways to cope. Cognitive therapy, says Nicola Wright, PhD, “teaches the voice hearer to challenge their thoughts and helps them gain control over their voices.”³ Other suggestions included talking to someone about the voices, having a network of supportive people and keeping busy through volunteering. (The post, Hearing Voices: Talk Therapy, Healthier Lifestyle, or What Else is There? Part 2 contains a more detailed list.)
What’s A Christian Supposed to Do?
Longden, Burton, and Wright agreed that learning to live with the voices takes time and persistence. (My post, Meet Nine Who Recovered (videos & interviews) might give you more insight from people who persisted and have improved.) In the same way their suggestions of singing, talking to others, or listening to music might help to offset the demands and accusations of voices, a Christian might read scripture out loud, pray together with someone, or sing hymns. Whether Christian or not, these methods might seem simplistic or not powerful enough, but they have helped some people gain a measure of control over how they respond when they hear voices.
Christian counselor Todd Stryd carefully points out that scripture does not guarantee that “delusions, hallucinations, or disordered thinking will be fixed”4 by Christian faith. He does believe a biblical counselor can help the person with symptoms address the sense of “persecution, loss of control, or power that accompanies the unwanted experiences.” In his opinion, the fear, anger, and rejection that result from the commanding or accusing voices can be addressed by scripture. So can the emotions that follow hallucinations.
Just as cognitive therapy trains a person to counter negative thoughts and feelings with a more truthful or realistic response, a Christian counselor can help a person turn to truths about “the character of God, union with Christ, and the calling to love one another,” says Stryd. If a person believes he is being followed by the FBI, Stryd would encourage “dependence upon a faithful savior who ‘keeps our coming and our going,’ along with the call to move toward others in love.” He also gives an example of a person who believes he or she has special powers and behaves arrogantly because of them. A caregiver or counselor could explain how “the gospel encourages humility.” He also states that biblical belief does not eliminate a need for medication or social services, when appropriate, and family and community support.
You Really Think that Will Help?
I think an important question that does come to a caregiver or family member’s mind is, “How can someone hearing voices possibly understand if his or her reality constantly changes?” In Elyn Saks’ book, The Center Cannot Hold, she describes the odd combination of psychosis and reality:
“Psychosis is like an insidious infection that nevertheless leaves some of your faculties intact; in a psychiatric hospital, for example, even the most debilitated schizophrenic patients show up on time for meals, and they evacuate the ward when the fire alarm goes off. So it was for me. Completely delusional, I still understood essential aspects of how the world worked.”5
No one can determine how much reality is woven through the unreality produced by symptoms. Regardless, if we treat others the way we would want to be treated, family members can aim at speaking with honesty, dignity, and hope, trusting to be heard on some level. Through the severe ordeal of living with schizophrenia, learning to trust God and rest in His guidance and provision is a challenge for both the sufferer and family members. You are walking through fire. I pray for water to spring up where you least expect it, repeatedly, and that God would soak your life with tender mercies every single day.
1 “A beautiful mind, yet again” by K.P.M. Basheer, The Hindu, http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/article2824178.ece
2 “Schizophrenia: Coping with Delusions and Hallucinations” by Neel Burton, M.D., Psychology Today online blog, 8/31/12, http://www.psychologytoday.com/print/105118 3 “Taking Back Control” by Melissa Churly, SZ Magazine Fall 2011.
4 “Meet the Counselor Todd Stryd,” CCEF Now 2012 newsletter.
5 “Eliciting the Phenomenon of Schizophrenia From an Autobiographical Narrative” by Rene J. Muller, Phd., Psychiatric Times, 8/27/12, http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/schizophrenia/content/article/10168/2098772 (Muller included the quote from Saks’ book in this discussion.)