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seminar: Dr Angela Woods (Durham) Relating to Leah's Voices

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Location: R0.14 Ramphal building, University of Warwick

Presentation, discussion, refreshments. All are welcome.


Research into the experience of hearing voices (or “auditory verbal hallucination”) has recently moved away from a focus on auditory phenomenology to considering voices as social agents. At the same time, there has been an increase in the interest in and provision of psychological therapies for distressing voices which recognise an agent or entity behind the voice, encourage an interaction (of some kind) between the voice-hearer and that entity, and seek to improve the voice-hearer’s relation with that entity. In scholarly as well as clinical contexts, then, interesting questions are being raised about the ways in which agency, identity, characterfulness and personification are intertwined, or not, in the experience of hearing voices, and about how and why people’s relation to their voices changes over time.

The longitudinal Voices in Psychosis (VIP) study is seeking to address some of these questions through in-depth phenomenological interviews with users of Early Intervention in Psychosis services in the North East of England. This paper offers a sustained close-reading of one of these interviews in order to explore the complexity of relationality in the context of hearing voices. Leah describes the voice she hears through her heart as a speaker, a washing machine picking up other people’s vibrations and thoughts, a tornado, a cyclone. Who, or what, is Leah relating (to) in these experiences? By offering insights into the embodied, affective and fragmentary intensities of voices, Leah’s testimony records or rather invites a further relational challenge at the level of interpretation: how can or should “we” relate to the speaker in her heart? If one consequence of the scholarly and therapeutic focus on the personification of voices is the reframing of agency as “the agent,” the part/ial as “the person behind the voice,” what concepts and theoretical tools could help us think differently?

Angela Woods is Associate Professor of Medical Humanities at Durham University and Co-Director of Hearing the Voice. Her research in critical medical humanities focuses on the interplay between theoretical and subjective accounts of unusual experience.

black and white photo of woman looking away

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