Do You Hear Voices? Strange Experiences and Mental Health

Do You Hear Voices?  Strange Experiences and Mental Health

For more than a half century, once it became known that I researched unusual phenomena like dreams, hypnosis, drug-induced states and other altered states of consciousness, as well as parapsychological phenomena, extrasensory perception (ESP), like telepathy, I’ve been contacted hundreds, perhaps thousands of times by people who’ve had unusual experiences*.  Often it’s just intellectual interest, but frequently a common question is some version of “Am I going crazy?”  Occasionally questions were from students of mine, people I knew, but for the most part they were strangers, people who wrote me letters or emails, or came up to talk more privately to me after I lectured somewhere.

I started my graduate training in clinical psychology back in the 1960s, thinking I might work as a therapist, so I learned a little about recognizing and diagnosing mental illness.  But I decided I didn’t have the kind of emotional intelligence a good clinician should have, so I left the clinical training track before completing it, and focused on doing research.  Thus I couldn’t really “diagnose” these inquirers, but the rough impressions I formed were generally that these were normal (for our culture – cultures certainly have funny contradictions in them at times) people who were puzzled and/or frightened by experiences that our culture thought were strange or crazy.  From my study of unusual experiences in our own and other cultures, though, I knew that almost all of these experiences had no relationship to mental health or illness, and their strangeness or scariness was pretty much a matter of the culture’s attitudes toward them.  Attitudes that were often wrong and caused unnecessary suffering.  I would generally tell them the scientific name of what they were experiencing, and they weren’t alone, lots of normal people had experienced it, although they might not talk about it because of cultural attitudes.  That was reassuring in itself for most, they weren’t the only weird person who had experienced it.  And I’d emphasize that the experience in and of itself was not indicative of normality or illness just because it was unusual.  I didn’t know them deeply, they might be perfectly normal or they might be mentally ill, but just having that kind of experience didn’t tell me that. 

With the scientific name, they could look up authoritative information about their experience, although I often had to add that we didn’t really know much about that kind of experience or what it might mean.  But whatever the experience, it could be reacted to in a healthy or unhealthy way.  If they continued to be bothered by it, I suggested they could consult an appropriate mental health specialist.  And/or, if really curious, they might start keeping notes on their experiences and their results, and learn more about what it meant for them personally.  Was the experience in and of itself causing them difficulties in life, or was it their reaction to the experience?

It was ironic in a way.  I had given up becoming a therapist, aware of my own shortcomings, but actually helped many people feel better about their experiences by being a professor, a culturally sanctioned authority, who could tell them something about unusual experiences.

There were some inquirers, who certainly seemed mentally ill to me, and I had no idea if the information I could give them would be of value.  As the years went by and I matured more, mellowing my intellectual/professional training with more practical experience of the world, I realized that while my advice was usually potentially useful from an intellectual and “outside” perspective, there were ways it might seem shallow or ignorant to someone suffering from mental illness: I was an “outsider” intellectualizing about their experience, but they actually knew the experience from the inside.  Luckily for me, my life has not been so stressful that I’ve been mentally ill, I’ll be glad if it stays that way, but I’ll never know much from an “insiders” perspective.

A few weeks ago I was delighted when a colleague introduced me to a brief article by a woman (she calls herself Jean P. Lee, a pseudonym to protect herself from social difficulties) who has been schizophrenic and has auditory hallucinations, as well as  experiences which she believes give her information by ESP.  Published in the prestigious journal Schizophrenia Bulletin (doi:10.1093/schbul/sbz008) )(Downloaded from https://academic.oup.com/schizophreniabulletin/advance-article-abstract/doi/10.1093/schbul/sbz008/5324404 by Università degli Studi di Padova user on 09 March 2019), Ms. Lee, in spite of here problems, observed more carefully and disciplined herself in ways to understand her experiences far better and to avoid having them interfere with her ordinary life.  And she’s an “insider,” so I’m very impressed that the kinds of things I’ve recommended, to various degrees, as an “outside” make sense to her.

Incidentally having an experience which seems to be ESP is not a sign of mental illness.  Such experiences are reported by more than half the normal population, and they don’t correlate with measures of mental disturbance.   

With Ms. Lee’s and journal editor William Carpenter’s permission, here is her essay.  I trust it will be useful to many.

[* I am retired now and no longer giving advice, much as I would like to.]

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Personal Experiences With Auditory Verbal Hallucination and Extrasensory Perception – FIRST PERSON ACCOUNT

Jean P.  Lee

The disease schizophrenia causes to the suffering patient certain pathological maladies.  Fuller Torrey says afflictions with schizophrenia, occur for most, during the teenage to young adult years of life.1  In “Hearing Voices and Seeing Pictures,” I commented that I already had lived with this diagnosis for 20 years.2  I had also experienced psychosis in my midtwenties.  I have encountered auditory verbal hallucinations (AVH).  A few psychiatrists informed me that there was no cure for this disease, and there was no robust model for hearing voices.  Having a disease with no cure was very disheartening, but I learned to adapt to these voices which I endured sporadically.  I keep a schedule to live by, allowing me to socialize, study, and work.  I am pleased to know that since the early days of my diagnosis, there exists now a well established “Hearing Voices Network” (www.hearing-voices.org).

Currently, the experience of hearing voices has taken on another facade.  It is less symptomatic of a disease schizophrenia and more like a communication in the mental realm.  The presence of AVH or extrasensory perception (ESP) in the mind involves a physiological manifestation in the brain.  If a malfunction takes precedence in the brain, it may be accompanied by the presence of AVH in the mind.  Likewise, an enhancement in brain function can be correlated to ESP communication in the mind.  In either of the two cases, what is featured is the dual nature of functioning in the brain and the mind.

The disease schizophrenia is not an easy one to be living with.  To guard my mind from breaking down to psychotic experiences; I became a consumer of psychiatric help and am on a regime of medicines.  But my mind voices included both AVH and ESP.  My doctors agree with me that my reality of hearing voices also involved an encounter with another type of mind voices.  I encountered ESP.  These experiences date from my early teen years before I had the AVH.  The experience of ESP for me involved communication of information via telepathy or premonition.  Telepathy is the transmission of information from one mind to another.  Premonition is information transmitted to a mind foretelling of a future event.

To me it was a priority and necessity, to distinguish one type of voices from the other.  I read a lot of literature on the two topics.  I worked on a personal chart which by comparison of the differing characteristics of these two lineages of mind voices; I was able to classify two types of AVH and three types of ESP.  AVH pathological, AVH nonpathological, ESP telepathy, ESP premonition, and ESP fiction or conflict.  AVH pathological is the classic AVH, recorded in the literature, on schizophrenia patients who have it.  AVH nonpathological acknowledges the presence of a hallucinatory thought which was not pathologic.  I included in my selfanalysis, an AVH that was not morbid.  I have seen this in the literature also! ESP telepathy and ESP premonition are experiences I had, which were similar to those described in the Journal of the Society for Study of Psychical Research.  Although these voices are real ESPs, I may still have a mental struggle.  The information or facts perceived may be nontruths and emanate a conflictual experience with my mind.  These mind voices I classified them as ESP fiction or conflict.

The searches for information from the literature help unravel the puzzle or enigma of mind voices.  I knew some facts now.  If they are AVH pathological, they could be destructive and can initiate the breakdown of both my memory and cognitive functions.  The nonpathological AVH is ephemeral and will not develop into a pathological condition.  In contrast, an ESP experience is the transmission of information, with other minds, mentally.  It is between gifted persons who are able to communicate in the mental realm.  During ESP experiences, the functioning of memory and cognition is enhanced for me.  I validated the existence of ESP in my mind with others, numerous times.  I noticed that psychiatric care mostly was directed at experiences with AVH and not with that of ESP.  I concluded that I would deal with voices on my own also, and for the persistence in searching for more facts, I felt somehow rewarded.

I also involved myself in activities to cope with concurrent voices I lived with.  Sometimes I felt the voices were pervasive.  I made use of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT).  It is a tool to prevent a mental breakdown.  I learned to avoid struggles with bad ideas in my mind, replacing the experiences which were difficult to endure, with positive activities like sports and music.  ESP does not bring on aberrant thinking and is less worrisome for me.  I have an inclination to take action on ESP.  I challenged myself to look at the validity of the facts made known through ESP.  Sometimes I felt a need for a call for action and I talked to others about the facts communicated to me.  Many people were willing to share their experiences through a conversation, as also I did.  I really did also believe that an experience with ESP was for me, an initiation to understand more, the nature of a communication which was extrasensory.

As with all experiences, mind voices needed attention and self-direction.  I put in extra measures not to be overtaken by AVH, and leave from the reality of life experiences to enter that of a psychosis.  As my life experiences definitely included an encounter with the extrasensory and supernatural, I also tried not to be overtaken by those experiences, as well.  It was special to hear voices talk of ideas concerning the supernatural, ideas about ESP, time travel and other topics such as dreams or premonitions.  But certainly, I did keep time with my real activities and thus, take myself back to the experiences of life at hand.  It is a lesson to live, learn, and adapt.

Each voice type is going to alleviate in a different manner.  The follow-up experiences to hearing the differing voices, helped me to understand better what to do for future encounters.  For example, pathological AVH will give cause for psychiatric treatment.  Hallucinations of a pathological derivation can be alleviated with some antipsychotic medication.  Usually, the experience with AVH nonpathological is discontinued on its own.  Telepathy will involve a latent period for which real information will reveal itself, concurrently.  With regards to premonitions, the latent period can be weeks to years in the future.  The ESP fiction or conflict has a follow-up experience peculiar to itself.  Mostly I felt diffident to these voices.  I was not looking forward to a communique which added conflictual thoughts to my mind.  Usually, I made attempts to clarify any facts through the use of the Internet, reassembled my information, i.e., realistic, and not dwell on misinformation.

I now, being able to make identifications of the mind voices, started to sense the brighter sides to these experiences.  The experiences of hearing voices are not as threatening or peculiar.  Like many individuals and organizations, I am positively affected by stories of the Forces in the Universe, and here on Earth.  The study of telepathy, telecommunications of the supernatural, telekinesis, teleportation has inspired fascination for many.  Paranormal psychology have in the past examined the human response and behavior to the supernatural.  Science and technology is advancing fast, and maybe 1 day it can explain human experiences with the supernatural.  From my reading of the research into neurofunctioning, I have learned that new neurons are being created in the brain, even in persons who have brain cancer.  I am on the trail to read more about research into brain plasticity.3 Perhaps 1 day, schizophrenia can be alleviated.  My personal encounter with ESP has lightened the load on my experiences with the mind voices.

This account is very individually oriented.  It may not be a general scheme of experiences, or a story for learning, pertaining to the public.  I am encouraged to think that it will enlighten all those whom, it may interest.  There is hope in it!

References

  1. Fuller Torrey E.  Surviving Schizophrenia, 6th ed.  New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers; 2013.
  2. Psychiatr Rehabil J.  2005;29(1):73-76.
Text Box: Downloaded from https://academic.oup.com/schizophreniabulletin/advance-article-abstract/doi/10.1093/schbul/sbz008/5324404 by Universita degli Studi di Padova user on 09 March 2019

3 comments

  1. Great article Dr. Tart. I am Kevin Williams, the webmaster of http://www.near-death.com and I have schizoaffective disorder which, as you know, is both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. I too have had auditory verbal hallucinations (AVH), visual hallucinations, and ESP associated with these hallucinations throughout my lifetime. I have discovered that my hallucinations, which are now suppressed with anti-psychotic medication, corresponded with NDE testimonies concerning earthbound discarnates; specifically, the NDE testimonies of Dr. George Ritchie and Howard Storm which I will explain.

    Beginning in 1980 when I was twenty-years old (I am sixty now), I began to have yearly bouts of depression that would happen at the same time every year like clockwork lasting as long as a month. At first, the bouts were relatively minor; and I thought these depressions were due to some personality disorder. But as my depressions became more severe over time, frightening hallucinations began occur — hearing hostile voices, seeing distorted faces looking at me, and religious delusions which I associated with demons, hell, and the devil. I was a fundamentalist Christian then and interpreted these mental problems of mine in terms of demons trying to possess my body. At the time, I wasn’t aware of neither Dr. George Ritchie’s or Howard Storm’s NDEs involving earthbound discarnates trying to possess the bodies of living people or how they attempt to “tear apart” the souls of the newly crossed over.

    Then in 1989, I had a bout of depression which was so severe it became a major crisis and caused me to seriously contemplate suicide for the first time in my life. After weeks of being depressed, I came to believe I was under attack by demonic forces battling for control of my mind and body. I was hearing voices in my mind which were not mine and seeing “demons” making faces at me. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was completely “psychotic” which I now know is closely related to being psychic. Coincidences and synchronicities would occur to me which reinforced my psychosis as partly psychic. Later, I learned how mythologist Joseph Campbell once said that, “the schizophrenic is drowning in the same waters in which the mystic swims with delight.” Historically, society in general has regarded people who talk to spirits as being holy. But if spirits talks to you, you’re considered insane. I have learned that people who hear voices and see things that aren’t there can be classified into two groups: people who cannot cope with them who are referred to as “mentally ill”; and people who can cope with them and are referred to as “psychic.”

    During my psychotic bout, trying to sleep was a living hell, so I went for days without sleep. Trying to sleep meant being assaulted by “demons” which I now know to be earthbound human souls who were attracted to my fragmented “aura” due to my psychosis and depression, trying to possess me and drive me to suicide. Finally, I was so exhausted I decided to just give up fighting completely and I knew this would mean demonic possession of my body and mind. But something else happened instead.

    I laid there on my bed, hugging my pillow, and decided to surrender to the demons. I didn’t care what happened to me anymore. When I did, to my surprise, as I was laying in bed with my arms around my pillow, something else happened. I had the sudden realization of laying prone before the feet of Jesus with my arms around his ankles – hanging on for dear life just as one would hang on to a bouy in a raging ocean. No demons were around. Jesus had then calmed the raging storm in my mind. My mind became as clear and as calm as a sea of glass. He didn’t say a word and he didn’t have to. The message was perfectly clear. At that time, I realized that Jesus was giving me the peace and clarity of mind to understand that something was going horribly wrong with my mind – that I was insane and needed a psychiatrist.

    It took Jesus himself to appear in my mind before I would seek help. Admitting to yourself (and maybe even family members) that something is wrong with your mind and you need a psychiatrist is the biggest hurdle a mentally ill person – or anyone – ever has to make. Once you are able to acknowledge or understand the problem, the recovery process begins. It is said the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. And it is that first step that is the most difficult. Once yoiu make that first step to see a psychiatrist or psychologist, you can receive medications that will immediately help you sleep and ease the side effects of depression and psychosis. After admitting you have a mental problem, the rest of the way becomes much easier by comparison – believe me.

    The thought of being mentally ill brings up all the images of Hollywood to mind: Charles Manson, straight-jackets, insane asylums, lobotomies, brain electrocutions. But instead, what I found instead was: a doctor who knew exactly what was wrong, a diagnosis of bipolar disorder which is a genetic mood disorder (my grandmother had it), and prescriptions for medications – many of which began working that very day. In later years, as my schizoaffective disorder fully manifested, I had severe bouts mania, depression, and psychosis of hearing voices and hallucinations that would require visits to a psychiatric hospital where my medicine could be adjusted and myself monitored. The longest stay in the psych ward for me was about a month. And it was nothing like Hollywood portrays. At first, all the images of Hollywood movies came to my mind: being committed against my will for life, people walking around in a medicated stupor, retarded looking people staring at you, sadistic medical technicians, insane laughter, Jack Nicholson with a lobotomy, torture therapy, rats, filth, bugs. Instead, what I found was a normal hospital environment, normal-looking people with mental problems, regular doctor visits, group discussions, recreation rooms, and 24 hour care.

    Since I was first diagnosed, I have been on medications which make the bouts less severe and the hallucinations infrequent. My only regret is that I went untreated for more almost 10 years. I could have saved myself a lot of headaches (This is a lesson for those suffering depression. The sooner you seek help, the sooner you’ll feel better.)

    Then I came across both Dr. George Ritchie’s NDE account and Rev. Howard Storm’s NDE account of a realm in hell, where they described a kind of battlefield of human souls who were locked into harmful mind-sets. Reading these accounts for the first time frightened me because they are remarkable description of the battle I had in my mind with “demons” while I was in a state of profound psychotic depression.

    Jesus took Ritchie on a journey through various realms of the afterlife. They flew toward a large city on Earth where they noticed a group of assembly-line workers at work. They witnesses the soul of a woman trying desperately to grab a cigarette from the workers who were oblivious to her presence. This woman had died severely addicted to cigarettes and was now cut off from the one thing she desperately desired most. Ritchie realized how the souls in these realms immediately know the thoughts of other souls around them through telepathy. Ritchie realized this wa the reason souls tend to group together with other like souls. It is too threatening to be around other souls who knew and disagreed with their thoughts. Jesus then led Ritchie to a house somewhere on Earth where he is shown the soul of a young man following his living family members around and begging them for forgiveness. But the family members were completely unaware of the soul’s presence. Jesus told Ritchie the young man committed suicide and was “chained to every consequence of his act.” They then traveled to a bar somewhere on Earth which was filled with sailors drinking heavily. Earthbound souls surrounded the sailors as the souls tried desperately, and in vain, to grasp the shot glasses to get a drink. Other souls tried to control the sailors’ alcoholic behavior. Ritchie learned that these are the souls of people who died still having a severe alcoholic addiction which went beyond the physical. Ritchie is bewildered as he observes one of the sailors passing out causing the sailor’s protective aura surrounding him to crack open. When it does, it allows an earthbound soul to scramble into the sailor’s unconscious body. This scene was repeated over and over.

    As a bipolar sufferer battling “demons”, and also as a recovered alcoholic from high school to college who would have “pass-outs” and “black-outs,” reading Dr. Ritchie’s NDE was horrifying to me. Ritchie’s experience with the earthbound realm with earthbound souls explained so much about my former alcoholism and mental illness. Ritchie’s NDE of hell’s battlefield is a good description of my battle with “demons” during a psychotic depressions and hallucinations. Now, instead of a religious interpretation of my mental illness, I had more realistic understanding of what had occurred.

    Ritchie described the battlefield thus: “So far in our journeying we had visited places where the living and the dead existed side by side: indeed where disembodied beings, completely unsuspected by the living, hovered right on top of the physical things and people where their desire was focused. Now, however, although we were apparently still somewhere on the surface of the Earth, I could see no living man or woman. The plain was crowded, even jammed with hordes of ghostly discarnate beings; nowhere was there a solid, light-surrounded person to be seen. All of these thousands of people were apparently no more substantial than I myself. And they were the most frustrated, the angriest, the most completely miserable beings I had ever laid eyes on. ‘Lord Jesus!’ I cried. ‘Where are we?’ At first I thought we were looking at some great battlefield. Everywhere spirits were locked in what looked like fights to the death, writhing, punching, gouging. No weapons of any sort, I saw as I looked closer, only bare hands and feet and teeth. And then I noticed that no one was apparently being injured. There was no blood, no bodies strewed on the ground. A blow that ought to have eliminated an opponent would leave him exactly as before. If I suspected that I was seeing hell, now I was sure of it. These creatures seemed locked into habits of mind and emotion, into hatred, lust, destructive thought-patterns.

    “Even more hideous than the bites and kicks they exchanged, were the sexual abuses many were performing in feverish pantomime. Perversions I had never dreamed of were being vainly attempted all around us. It was impossible to tell if the howls of frustration which reached us were actual sounds or only the transference of despairing thoughts. Indeed in this disembodied world it didn’t seem to matter. Whatever anyone thought, however fleetingly or unwillingly, was instantly apparent to all around him, more completely than words could have expressed it, faster than sound waves could have carried it. And the thoughts most frequently communicated had to do with the superior knowledge, or abilities, or background of the thinker. ‘I told you so! I always knew! Didn’t I warn you!’ were shrieked into the echoing air over and over … What was keeping them here? Why didn’t each one just get up and leave? I could see no reason why the person being screamed at by that man with the contorted face didn’t simply walk away. Or why that young woman didn’t put a thousand miles between herself and the other one who was so furiously beating her with insubstantial fists? They couldn’t actually hold onto their victims, any of these insanely angry beings. There were no fences. Nothing apparently prevented them from simply going off alone. Unless – unless there was no alone in this realm of disembodied spirits. No private corners in a universe where there were no walls. No place that was not inhabited by other beings to whom one was totally exposed at all times. What was it going to be like, I thought with sudden panic, to live forever where my most private thoughts were not private at all? No disguising them, no covering them up, no way to pretend I was anything but what I actually was. How unbearable. Unless of course everyone around me had the same kind of thoughts – Unless there was a kind of consolation in finding others as loathsome as one’s self, even if all we could do was hurl our venom at each other.

    “Perhaps this was the explanation for this hideous plain. Perhaps in the course of eons or of seconds, each creature here had sought out the company of others as pride and hate-filled as himself, until together they formed this society of the damned. Perhaps it was not Jesus who had abandoned them, but they who had fled from the light that showed up their darkness. There were beings arguing over some religious or political point, trying to kill the ones who did not agree with them. I thought when I saw this: ‘No wonder our world is in such a mess and we have had so many tragic religious wars. No wonder this was breaking Christ’s heart, the one who came to teach us peace and love.'”

    Now, while I am maintined on proper medications, I still hear voices in my head not my own; but the voices tend to be of a more heavenly nature. For example, sometimes I hear the voice of my deceased father telling me something. I also hear the voice of what I believe to be my so-called “Higher Self”. Nevertheless, I am absolutely convinced that mental illness has a paranormal and parapsychological aspect related to them. This was one of the reasons I was drawn to building my website at http://www.near-death.com and why I am such a fanatic for NDE literature and research. And also, thanks to your research, Dr. Tart, I continue to learn more about my own mental illness and others. Thanks for the info.

    Kevin Williams
    https://www.near-death.com/psychology/synchronicity/the-psychedelic-psychotic-psychic-and-spiritual-visions.html

    1. Thank you for sharing your struggles – and your successful, in many ways, dealings with them.
      Yes, refusing to admit even to yourself, much less others, that you have a problem, could use help, almost always results in making things worse. To complicate things admitting this to others can cause real trouble, in frightens some people and they treat you as “crazy” in order to distance themselves from their own problems or fears.
      Modern medicine and psychiatry can’t deal well with everything, but can often help a good deal. And reframing unusual experiences as “differently abled” rather than crazy or disabled can help sometimes too. Good work!

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