Help for people who hear voices with UK-first clinics 

Sussex Voices Clinic is a pioneering research clinic for patients who hear distressing voices to help them live their lives to the full, run by Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, is the only one of its kind in the UK, and one of only four worldwide.

The Voices Clinic aims to make it easier for patients who are distressed by hearing voices to access evidence-based talking therapies, whilst continuing to improve the effectiveness of these therapies through research.

Patients receiving therapy at the clinic are given the opportunity to find out about and take part in research studies to help improve the quality of treatments available.

Dr Mark Hayward, Director of Research at Sussex Partnership started the Sussex Voices Clinic in June 2014 and more than 350 patients have so far been referred.

Mark said: “Having a voice telling you what to do and constantly criticising you can be very distressing, especially when this voice seems to be very powerful and knows everything about you. 

“Part of our therapy is to identify how people react to their voices. In the face of a threatening voice it makes sense for people to react instinctively by trying to get away from the voice or fight back. However, these ways of responding can sometimes make things worse, so we help people to respond in a more calm and thoughtful way – in a way that’s more likely to help.

“We can’t make voices go away and we are very clear about this with our patients at the start. What we can do is help people live well and improve their quality of life, even if voices are still around. The therapy sessions help people to make choices about how they respond and what they do with their time, rather than voices being in control.”

Sheila Evenden is a former patient at Sussex Voices Clinic, here’s Sheila’s story…

“Hearing voices is part of my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – I have tried various therapies in the past that haven’t worked. The voices therapy for me has been a life changing experience in a positive way because before I didn’t know what was going on.

“I could hear people I know talking to me. It was a constant dialogue that I didn’t understand. 

“Voices are with you from the moment you get up to the moment you go to sleep. They tell you to do things straight way, they threaten you. They tell you if you don’t do what they say something bad will happen.

“I had no idea what to expect when I started the therapy and by the second session Mark was able to bring out the best in me.

“Therapy taught me to relate to the voices and helped me understand it was part of my condition. 

“I can now enjoy socialising and can cope with other problems. Without the therapy I know I would have ended up in hospital. The outcome has proved therapy has worked for me and has given me quality of life. 

“I am 61 years old now and I know that if younger people going through the same or similar things as me can get this therapy, they would be far more productive in their lives.”

To find out more about The Sussex Voices Clinic see: https://www.sussexpartnership.nhs.uk/sussex-voices-clinic.

Facts about hearing voices

  • The experience of hearing a voice when no-one seems to be there is quite common, and is reported by up to 10% of people in the general population.
  • Voices hearing experiences commonly occur when people are stressed or experience sensory deprivation, and are not always distressing or associated with a mental health problem.
  • When associated with a mental health problem, voice hearing is most common among people with a diagnosis of schizophrenia or psychosis, affecting approximately 200,000 people in England with this diagnosis. Voices can also be heard by people with other mental health diagnoses.
  • Distressing voices typically say the following things: 1) commands to behave in certain ways – often involving harm to the self; 2) critical and derogatory comments that are often very personal; and 3) a running commentary on what the hearer is doing.
  • Voices can sometimes be identified as someone known to the hearer (often someone from a difficult relationship), or they can be a stranger or a supernatural/spiritual entity.
  • Hearers often react instinctively to voices by trying to escape or fight back, and these reactions can sometimes make things worse.
  • The distress caused by voices can be heightened if the hearer has a history of adverse life experience, has low self-esteem, and believes that the voices are powerful and can make bad things happen.
  • Evidence-based talking therapies are recommended by the National Institute for Health & Care Excellence (NICE) and are guided by the principles of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). CBT can help people to re-evaluate the accuracy of their beliefs about themselves and their voices, and to respond to the voices in a more considered way.
  • Newer forms of CBT are incorporating mindfulness practices and assertiveness techniques to help people make choices about how they respond to their distressing voices.