“The first time that I heard this voice, I was very much frightened,” the prisoner testified. “When I heard it for the third time, I recognized that it was the voice of an angel … The voice said to me: ‘Go into France!’ I could bear it no longer.”
Joan of Arc, who spoke these words before her execution in 1431, is just one of many notable voice-hearers cited in the literature of Intervoice, an advocacy organization for individuals living with auditory hallucinations. Other examples include Sigmund Freud, Winston Churchill, Socrates, William Blake, and Mahatma Gandhi. According to Intervoice founder Dr. Marius Romme, the lives of these extraordinary figures demonstrate the frequently benign nature of recurring hallucinations.
In many cases, Romme’s research has suggested, the phenomenon can even prove beneficial. “The problem,” he writes, “is not hearing voices, but the inability to cope with the experience.” In 1987, after two decades of clinical work, the Dutch psychiatrist began promoting a drug-free therapy in which patients were encouraged to accept and analyze their voices.
At that time, Romme’s method was the antithesis of mainstream psychiatry. A 1973 Science article, “On Being Sane in Insane Places,” describes an experiment that exposed prevailing attitudes towards hearing voices. In the experiment, eight “pseudo-patients” made appointments at 12 different U.S. hospitals. The pseudo-patients complained of hearing voices that repeated the words “empty,” “hollow,” and “thud.” All were diagnosed with schizophrenia and given anti-psychotic medication. The pseudo-patients were held for between seven and 52 days, even though they had immediately ceased their simulated symptoms upon admittance.