The Meaning of Voices in Understanding and Treating Psychosis: Moving Towards Intervention Informed by Collaborative Formulation


  • Aoife Lonergan


From a medical perspective, hearing voices is perceived as a symptom of mental illness and their content as largely irrelevant. The effectiveness of antipsychotic medication has made it central to the treatment of psychosis. However pharmacological treatment alone is rarely sufficient for this disabling condition. This review examined the feasibility of formulating an understanding of the meaning of voices in psychosis to inform intervention. Examination of the literature demonstrated the need for a paradigm shift to a recovery model, drawing on biopsychosocial factors in formulating an understanding of the meaning of voices in the context of a person’s life. Providing the opportunity to talk about their experiences may aid the development of an interpersonally coherent narrative representing opportunities for psychological growth. Findings have implications for treatment planning and assessment of outcome. Collaborative formulation regarding the subjective meaning of voices may aid in understanding their development and maintenance and guide intervention. Hearing voices with reduced negative effects on wellbeing and functioning may reduce distress and improve quality of life even in the presence of voices. CFT, CBT, Relating Therapy and Open Dialogue may be effective in applying these principles. Findings are limited by the lack of controlled studies. Further controlled studies and qualitative explorations of individual experiences are recommended.