Mental Health

 email page    print page

All Topic Reviews
50 Signs of Mental IllnessA Beautiful MindA Beautiful MindA Bright Red ScreamA Casebook of Ethical Challenges in NeuropsychologyA Corner Of The UniverseA Lethal InheritanceA Mood ApartA Research Agenda for DSM-VA Slant of SunA War of NervesAbnormal Psychology in ContextADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your LifeAddiction Recovery ToolsAdvance Directives in Mental HealthAggression and Antisocial Behavior in Children and AdolescentsAl-JununAlmost a PsychopathAlterations of ConsciousnessAm I Okay?American ManiaAmerican Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical NeurosciencesAn American ObsessionAngelheadAnger, Madness, and the DaimonicAnthology of a Crazy LadyApproaching NeverlandAs Nature Made HimAsylumAttention-Deficit Hyperactivity DisorderAttention-Deficit/Hyperactivity DisorderBeing Mentally Ill: A Sociological Theory Betrayal TraumaBetrayed as BoysBetter Than ProzacBetter Than WellBeyond AppearanceBeyond ReasonBinge No MoreBiological UnhappinessBipolar DisorderBipolar DisorderBipolar Disorder DemystifiedBlack-eyed SuzieBlaming the BrainBleeding to Ease the PainBluebirdBlueprints Clinical Cases in PsychiatryBody Image, Eating Disorders, and ObesityBorderline Personality DisorderBrain Circuitry and Signaling in PsychiatryBrave New BrainBreakdown of WillBrief Adolescent Therapy Homework PlannerBrief Child Therapy Homework PlannerBrief Therapy Homework PlannerCalm EnergyCassandra's DaughterCaught in the NetChild and Adolescent Treatment for Social Work PracticeChildren Changed by TraumaChronic Fatigue Syndrome (The Facts)Clinical Handbook of Psychological DisordersClinical Manual of Women's Mental HealthCognitive Theories of Mental IllnessCommonsense RebellionCommunity and In-Home Behavioral Health TreatmentComprehending SuicideConcise Guide to Child and Adolescent PsychiatryConquering Post-Traumatic Stress DisorderConscience and ConvenienceConsciousnessConsole and ClassifyContesting PsychiatryCoping With TraumaCopshockCrazy for YouCrazy in AmericaCrazy Like UsCreating HysteriaCritical PsychiatryCruel CompassionCultural Assessment in Clinical PsychiatryCulture and Mental HealthCulture and Psychiatric DiagnosisCultures of NeurastheniaDaddy's GirlsDante's CureDarwinian PsychiatryDaughter of the Queen of ShebaDaughters of MadnessDeinstitutionalization And People With Intellectual DisabilitiesDelivered from DistractionDepression In Later LifeDepression SourcebookDepression-Free for LifeDescriptions and PrescriptionsDestructive Trends in Mental HealthDevil in the DetailsDiagnosis: SchizophreniaDiagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-IV-TRDirty Filthy Love DVDDisorders Of DesireDisrupted LivesDissociative ChildrenDivided MindsDr. Andrew Weil's Guide to Optimum HealthDr. Weisinger's Anger Work-Out BookDSM-IV SourcebookDSM-IV-TR CasebookDSM-IV-TR in ActionDSM-IV-TR Mental DisordersE-TherapyEccentricsElectroshockEmergencies in Mental Health PracticeEmergency PsychiatryEmotional and Behavioral Problems of Young ChildrenEmotions and LifeEmpowering People with Severe Mental IllnessEssential PsychopharmacologyEssentials of Cas AssessmentEssentials of Wais-III AssessmentEthics and Values in PsychotherapyEthics in Mental Health ResearchEthics in Psychiatric ResearchEthics, Culture, and PsychiatryEverything In Its PlaceFamily Experiences With Mental IllnessFatigue as a Window to the BrainFear of IntimacyFinding Iris ChangFinding Meaning in the Experience of DementiaFlorid StatesFolie a DeuxFor the Love of ItForensic Nursing and Multidisciplinary Care of the Mentally Disordered OffenderFountain HouseFrom Madness to Mental HealthFrom Trauma to TransformationGandhi's WayGender and Its Effects on PsychopathologyGender and Mental HealthGenes, Environment, and PsychopathologyGetting Your Life BackGracefully InsaneGrieving Mental IllnessHandbook of AttachmentHandbook of DepressionHandbook of Self and IdentityHealing the SplitHerbs for the MindHidden SelvesHigh RiskHope and DespairHow Clients Make Therapy WorkHow People ChangeHow to Become a SchizophrenicHow We Think About DementiaHughes' Outline of Modern PsychiatryHumanizing MadnessHysterical MenHystoriesI Hate You-Don't Leave MeI Never Promised You a Rose GardenI Thought I Could FlyI'm CrazyImagining RobertImpulse Control DisordersIn Others' EyesIn Two MindsInsanityIntegrated Behavioral Health CareIntegrative MedicineIntegrative Mental Health CareIntuitionJust CheckingKarl JaspersKissing DoorknobsKundalini Yoga Meditation for Complex Psychiatric DisordersLaw and the BrainLaw, Liberty, and PsychiatryLegal and Ethical Aspects of HealthcareLiberatory PsychiatryLife at the BottomLife at the Texas State Lunatic Asylum, 1857-1997Life Is Not a Game of PerfectLithium for MedeaLiving Outside Mental IllnessLiving with AnxietyLiving With SchizophreniaLiving with SchizophreniaLiving Without Depression and Manic DepressionLost in the MirrorLove's ExecutionerLoving Someone With Bipolar DisorderMad in AmericaMad TravelersMad, Bad and SadMadhouseMadnessMadness at HomeMadness in Buenos AiresManaged Care ContractingMandated Reporting of Suspected Child AbuseManic Depression and CreativityMary BarnesMasters of the MindMeasuring PsychopathologyMedia MadnessMedicine As MinistryMelancholy And the Care of the SoulMemory, Brain, and BeliefMental HealthMental Health At The CrossroadsMental Health Issues in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Communities Mental Health MattersMental Health Policy in BritainMental Health Policy in BritainMental Health Professionals, Minorities and the PoorMental IllnessMental Illness and Your TownMental Illness, Medicine and LawMental SlaveryMindfulness in Plain EnglishModels of MadnessMothers Who Kill Their ChildrenMozart's Brain and the Fighter PilotMultifamily Groups in the Treatment of Severe Psychiatric DisordersMuses, Madmen, and ProphetsMyths of ChildhoodNapkin NotesNeural MisfireNew Hope For People With Bipolar DisorderNight Falls FastNo Enemies WithinNolaNormalNot CrazyNovember of the SoulOf Two MindsOn Being Normal and Other DisordersOn Our Own, TogetherOn The Stigma Of Mental IllnessOrigins of Human NatureOut of Its MindOut of the ShadowsOvercoming Compulsive HoardingPathologies of BeliefPathways through PainPersonal Recovery and Mental IllnessPersonality Disorder: Temperament or Trauma?Pillar of SaltPoints of ViewPoppy ShakespearePosttraumatic Stress DisorderPsychiatric Cultures ComparedPsychiatric Diagnosis and ClassificationPsychiatric Genetics and GenomicsPsychiatric Illness in WomenPsychiatrists and Traditional HealersPsychiatryPsychiatry and ReligionPsychiatry in SocietyPsychological Dimensions of the SelfPsychology and the MediaPsychopathia SexualisPsychopathologyPsychopathyPsychotic DepressionQuitting the Nairobi TrioRaising a Moody ChildRapid Cognitive TherapyRebuilding Shattered LivesReclaiming Soul in Health CareReclaiming the SoulRecollection, Testimony, and Lying in Early ChildhoodRecovery from SchizophreniaRecovery in Mental IllnessRedressing the EmperorRelational Mental HealthRemembering TraumaRepressed SpacesResearch Advances in Genetics and GenomicsRestricted AccessRethinking the DSMReviving OpheliaRewarding Specialties for Mental Health CliniciansSaints, Scholars, and Schizophrenics: Mental Illness in Rural IrelandSchizophreniaSchizophrenia RevealedSchizophrenia: A Scientific Delusion?Self-Determination Theory in the ClinicShunnedShynessSigns of SafetySilencing the VoicesSlackjawSocial Cognition and SchizophreniaSocial Inclusion of People with Mental IllnessSoul Murder RevisitedSounds from the Bell JarSpeaking Our MindsSpontaneous HealingStop PretendingStraight Talk about Psychological Testing for KidsStranger Than FictionStreet CrazyStudy Guide to the DSM-IV-TRSurviving Manic DepressionSurviving SchizophreniaSurviving SchizophreniaTaking Charge of ADHD, Revised EditionTaking the Fear Out of ChangingTalking Back to PsychiatryTarnationTeen LoveTelling Is Risky BusinessTelling SecretsThe Age of InsanityThe American Psychiatric Press Textbook of PsychiatryThe American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook Of Child And Adolescent PsychiatryThe Anger WorkbookThe Anorexic SelfThe Behavioral Medicine Treatment PlannerThe Betty Ford Center Book of AnswersThe Bipolar ChildThe Bipolar Disorder Survival GuideThe Body in PsychotherapyThe Borderline Personality Disorder Survival GuideThe Broken MirrorThe Burden of SympathyThe Cambridge Medical Ethics WorkbookThe Case for Pragmatic PsychologyThe Center Cannot HoldThe Chemical Dependence Treatment Documentation SourcebookThe Chemical Dependence Treatment PlannerThe Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy Treatment PlannerThe Clinical Child Documentation SourcebookThe Clinical Documentation SourcebookThe Complete Adult Psychotherapy Treatment PlannerThe Condition of MadnessThe Construction of Power and Authority in PsychiatryThe Couples Psychotherapy Treatment PlannerThe Criminal BrainThe Cultural Context of Health, Illness, and MedicineThe Day the Voices StoppedThe Death of PsychotherapyThe Depression WorkbookThe Difficult-to-Treat Psychiatric PatientThe Early Stages of SchizophreniaThe Employee Assistance Treatment PlannerThe Employee Assistance Treatment PlannerThe Epidemiology of SchizophreniaThe Essential Family Guide to Borderline Personality DisorderThe Essentials of New York Mental Health LawThe Ethical WayThe Evolution of Mental Health LawThe Explosive ChildThe Fall Of An IconThe Fasting GirlThe Forensic Documentation SourcebookThe Forgotten MournersThe Gift of Adult ADDThe Good EaterThe Green ParrotThe Healing Power of PetsThe Heart of AddictionThe Heroic ClientThe Insanity OffenseThe Invisible PlagueThe Last Time I Wore a DressThe Limits of Autobiography The LobotomistThe Madness of Our LivesThe Mark of ShameThe Meaning of AddictionThe Meaning of MindThe Medical AdvisorThe Mind/Mood Pill BookThe Most Solitary of AfflictionsThe Mozart EffectThe Naked Lady Who Stood on Her HeadThe Older Adult Psychotherapy Treatment PlannerThe OutsiderThe Pastoral Counseling Treatment PlannerThe PDR Family Guide to Natural Medicines & Healing TherapiesThe Places That Scare YouThe Plural SelfThe Problem of EvilThe Psychology of Religion and CopingThe Quiet RoomThe Real World Guide to Psychotherapy PracticeThe Right to Refuse Mental Health TreatmentThe Rise of Mental Health NursingThe Roots of the Recovery Movement in PsychiatryThe Savage GirlThe Self-Help SourcebookThe Talking CureThe Trick Is to Keep BreathingThe Unwell BrainThe Virtuous PsychiatristThe Way of TransitionThe Wing of MadnessThe Wisdom in FeelingTheoretical Evolutions in Person-Centered/Experiential TherapyTherapy's DelusionsTheraScribe 3.0 for WindowsThis is Madness TooThoughts Without a ThinkerThrough the Looking GlassTo Have Or To Be?Toxic PsychiatryTransforming MadnessTraumaTraumatic PastsTraumatic Relationships and Serious Mental DisordersTreating Affect PhobiaTreating Chronic and Severe Mental DisordersTreating Self-InjuryTreatment and Rehabilitation of Severe Mental IllnessTreatment Plans and Interventions for Depression and Anxiety DisordersTwinsUnderstanding and Treating Violent Psychiatric PatientsUnderstanding Child MolestersUnderstanding DepressionUnderstanding ParanoiaUnderstanding the Stigma of Mental IllnessUnderstanding Treatment Without ConsentUnholy MadnessUnspeakable Truths and Happy EndingsUsers and Abusers of PsychiatryViolence and Mental DisorderVoices of MadnessVoices of RecoveryVulnerability to PsychopathologyWarning: Psychiatry Can Be Hazardous to Your Mental HealthWashing My Life AwayWhen History Is a NightmareWhen Someone You Love Is BipolarWhen the Body SpeaksWhen Walls Become DoorwaysWitchcrazeWomen and Borderline Personality DisorderWomen and Mental IllnessWomen Who Hurt ThemselvesWomen's Mental HealthWrestling with the AngelYou Must Be DreamingYour Drug May Be Your ProblemYour Miracle Brain

Related Topics
Muses, Madmen, and ProphetsReview - Muses, Madmen, and Prophets
Rethinking the History, Science, and Meaning of Auditory Hallucination
by Daniel B. Smith
Penguin Press, 2007
Review by Elizabeth Donaldson, Ph.D.
Dec 4th 2007 (Volume 11, Issue 49)

"You'd better get away from there!  Get away from there!  Leave!"

It's 3am and I wake to the sound of my mother screaming at her apartment door.  Outside there are people--her neighbors and their friends--plotting to hurt her.  She's heard their voices, taunts, and threats for hours.  She simply can't take it any more.

I ask her if I can open the door.  I want to show her that no one is there.  No one is there. 

But this will not help.  My mother hears voices.  But to her they are not voices: they are real.  One of the most frustrating and disempowering aspects of her auditory hallucinations is that she does not recognize them as hallucinations (in psychiatry this is called a lack of "insight").  Opening the door and facing an empty hallway will not bring her any peace and will not stop the voices from plotting against her.  Paranoid thinking has a terrible, inescapable logic.  If the hallway is empty, then that's because the bad people heard us walking toward the door and ran back into their apartments.  After all, she can still hear them murmuring behind their closed doors.

Daniel B. Smith is also a child of a person who heard voices, and his book, Muses, Madmen, and Prophets: Rethinking the History, Science, and Meaning of Auditory Hallucination, is in part an effort to understand his family's experience with voice hearing.  Smith first became aware of his father's voices when he and his brother were helping their grandfather put together a self-published memoir.  In a short piece called "Voices," his grandfather described hearing voices that helped him make decisions, take exams, and even play cards.  For Smith's grandfather, the voices he heard were helpful and non-threatening, required attention and patience to hear, and were seemingly never a cause for anxiety or shame.  For Smith's father, however, the voices he heard, although similarly non-threatening, were commanding and intrusive, difficult to ignore, and a source of deep shame and concern.  Smith's father felt betrayed by his own father's silence regarding these voices: he "felt that he had been denied his salvation" (5).  Had Smith's father known earlier that it was possible to live comfortably with voices, perhaps his life would have been easier.  Perhaps he would have avoided a brief hospitalization for a nervous breakdown (which caused him to lose his job) and a lifetime of fear and anxiety regarding his sanity.  If Smith's father had an understanding of voice hearing that was not dominated by the stigma surrounding mental illness and by a medical model of auditory hallucination that pathologizes the experience, would he have lived a better life?

This is a compelling question, and one that Smith answers with a tentative "yes."  In one of the most interesting sections of the book, Smith describes the Hearing Voices Network, an advocacy group based in Great Britain.  (Smith's recent article, "Can You Live with the Voices in Your Head?," published in The New York Times on 25 March 2007, is an adaptation of this section.)  Building in part on the work of Marius Romme and Sandra Escher's Accepting Voices (1993) and Ivan Leuder and Philip Thomas's Voices of Reason, Voices of Insanity (2000), books that critique traditional psychiatric responses to voices, the Hearing Voices Network (HVN) offers support groups where people who hear voices can talk openly about their experiences and exchange strategies for living and coping with their voices.  HVN is a radical departure from most modern psychiatric approaches, which generally view auditory hallucinations as mere symptoms of mental illness best treated with psychiatric pharmaceuticals.  While some HVN members do use medications to help deal with their voices, others do not and adamantly reject any models that medicalize or diminish the significance of the experience.  It is this loosening of voice hearing from the "biomedical framework" that most interests Smith (81).  According to Smith, as psychiatry developed and public culture in general became more secularized in the 18th century, attitudes toward voice hearing changed: "What was piety and poetry became science and sanity.  In public discourse, voice-hearing became a force of harm and an experience to eradicate" (14).  Smith's book, and groups like HVN, offer an alternative way of conceptualizing and dealing with the phenomenon of voice hearing.

The strength of Smith's book is his ability to synthesize and render in laymen's terms scientific research that is pertinent to understanding voice hearing, such as the physiological process of hearing itself (16-20) and the psychological "White Christmas test," which illustrates how easily auditory images may be created without the presence of actual sounds (102).  In addition to this contemporary material, several chapters in the book examine an eclectic selection of famous historical voice hearers: Socrates, Joan of Arc, and Daniel Paul Schreber.  While this material is interesting, these chapters are a separate thread which is thematically, but not altogether substantively, connected to the contemporary context and to Smith's personal story.  For example, Smith's father's voices were, like my mother's, mundane and persecutory.  Unlike Moses, unlike Joan of Arc, some people's voices are not the voice of God.  An unresolved paradox of the book is Smith's emphasis on the spiritual experiences of voice hearers which contrast vividly with the mundane and banal nature of his father's and his grandfather's voices.

In a chapter which is at turns poignant and comic, Smith attempts to conjure up his own auditory hallucinations or voices.  Such attempts by outsiders to access the heightened psychic states and altered perceptions often associated with mental illness have a well-established history of course, and LSD and other hallucinogenic drugs have been used by both psychiatrists and by the general public for this purpose.  While these attempts are often forms of experimentation and recreation, Smith's attempt is an altogether different exercise in empathy.  Rather than seeking hallucinogenic drugs, he opts for a less mediated method: floating in the silence of a sensory-deprivation chamber.  (It is perhaps ironic that Janssen, a major pharmaceutical company, has recently embarked on a somewhat similar project.  Janssen's virtual reality device, Mindstorm, is a multimedia theatre that simulates the voices and other hallucinations that people diagnosed with schizophrenia experience in order to foster empathy in non-patients and to simultaneously promote the use of medications for treating these symptoms [Janssen].) 

Despite his efforts and intentions, Smith's floatation tank experiment ultimately fails to produce auditory hallucinations.  This failure, however, causes him to rethink his original purpose: "I had paid for silence so that I could hear a voice, but what I really wanted was to hear my father's voice" (139).  More than that, perhaps, he wants his father to hear his voice, to have a dialogue.  He ends the book by returning to the multiple, enigmatic voices of his father: our "modest" duty is "to listen" when voice hearers speak, "no matter what they say" (217).

Listening, however, is not a passive activity, as Smith's book testifies.  Moreover, responding to voice hearers in a way that is respectful, not dismissive, can be a difficult task, especially when those voices are destructive, not divine.  As an observer, I have often wished to wrest away the power of a voice by denying its reality.  However, this is rarely effective.  In the mental health field, one well-used strategy for communicating with someone who is experiencing psychosis or delusional thinking is to respond to the emotional content of the experience, rather than the material content of the delusion.  But perhaps this is a strategy that also might be productively practiced in reverse: observers can acknowledge their own emotional response to an experience that occurs beyond their purview and that is not amenable to rational explanation.

And so, after listening to my mother's long explanation of her voices and what they have said, in that brief moment when she pauses for a breath, I say, "I wish there were something I could do to make things better."  And she responds, "I wish so too."  Smith's book is a special type of listening: it is a response to his father and a dialogue with his father's voices that might have made things better, if only he had a chance to hear it before he died.

Works Cited

Janssen.  "Janssen's A Virtual Hallucination: MINDSTORM." 1 December 2007.  24 August 2007.

Smith, Daniel B.  "Can You Live with the Voices in Your Head?" The New York Times. 25 March 2007.

---.  Muses, Madmen, and Prophets: Rethinking the History, Science, and Meaning of Auditory Hallucination.  New York: Penguin, 2007.

© 2007 Elizabeth Donaldon

Elizabeth Donaldson, Ph.D., Interdisciplinary Studies, New York Institute of Technology

Comment on this review


Welcome to Metapsychology. We feature over 8200 in-depth reviews of a wide range of books and DVDs written by our reviewers from many backgrounds and perspectives. We update our front page weekly and add more than twenty new reviews each month. Our editor is Christian Perring, PhD. To contact him, use one of the forms available here.

Metapsychology Online reviewers normally receive gratis review copies of the items they review.
Metapsychology Online receives a commission from for purchases through this site, which helps us send review copies to reviewers. Please support us by making your purchases through our Amazon links. We thank you for your support!

Join our e-mail list!: Metapsychology New Review Announcements: Sent out monthly, these announcements list our recent reviews. To subscribe, click here.

Interested in becoming a book reviewer for Metapsychology? To apply, write to our editor.

Metapsychology Online Reviews

Promote your Page too

Metapsychology Online Reviews
ISSN 1931-5716