Laurel House Employment Specialist Elizabeth Fouracre, LMSW, writes this week about her experience with a training program that simulates the subjective experience of a person with schizophrenia hearing voices. CNN news anchor Anderson Cooper undergoes a comparable sensitivity exercise and afterwards describe in terms similar to Elizabeth’s how profoundly difficult and isolating this experience was for him. Watch the video below:
While watching the video of Anderson Cooper struggling through a simulated experience of schizophrenia, I was reminded of the Hearing Voices training that I, along with several co-workers, attended earlier this year. As seen in the video, Cooper attempts to complete various tasks while listening to a recording of “typical voices” that a person experiencing auditory hallucinations reports hearing. While trying to follow directions to make a paper airplane, Mr. Cooper states, “I want to talk back to the voices now, it’s really distracting… It’s also frustrating because they are telling me I can’t do it.”
During my own experience with the training, we were also asked to complete tasks such as going to an appointment with a psychiatrist, filling out a job application, reading and comprehending an article, and completing puzzles that measure one’s cognitive ability. During all tasks, and while trying to follow directions to the location of the tasks, we wore ear phones and listened to a barrage of voices which either seemed to be yelling, whispering, or making some sort of indiscernible sound. Despite the varying volume of the voices, one thing remained constant – the horrible demeaning and assaultive things the voices said to me and about me.The instructors (who role-played as case workers or psychiatrists) asked me questions about the articles I read, assessed my mental status and evaluated the puzzles I was trying to complete. When I could not answer, I was asked why I was not paying attention and was not taking their questions seriously. At the end of the 20 minute training I was exhausted, my head hurt, and I felt humiliated, embarrassed, and incompetent. I cannot imagine how it would feel to not be able to take off the head phones.
After going through the training I had a new perspective on what many of my clients may be experiencing. I adapted my approach to working with people suffering from auditory hallucinations by slowing down my speech and checking in with the clients to ensure they were processing what I had said. The biggest change however, was in the way I reacted to these clients. Instead of becoming frustrated, and ultimately annoyed, I was more able to consider our interactions from their point of view. I would encourage anyone working with people experiencing auditory hallucinations to attend this training. I look around and I see mental health providers who want to help, but are so burnt out that the approach they take with this population ultimately turns unproductive and demeaning. If every mental health professional had a first-hand experience of the difficulties and struggle some individuals experience as a result of their symptoms, they would be more understanding and be able to provide better care.
Elizabeth Fouracre, LMSW, a Laurel House employee and Employment Specialist
You can experience a Hearing Voices simulation and read more about the possible cognitive basis for auditory hallucinations at this link from npr.org: Brain Training May Help Calm The Storms Of Schizophrenia
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