Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice

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Volume 84 Issue 3 (September 2011), Pages 237-348

Voice hearing within the context of hearers' social worlds: An interpretative phenomenological analysis (pages 256-272)

Objectives. Research has found relational qualities of power and intimacy to exist within hearer‐voice interactions. The present study aimed to provide a deeper understanding of the interpersonal context of voice hearing by exploring participants' relationships with their voices and other people in their lives.

Design. This research was designed in consultation with service users and employed a qualitative, phenomenological, and idiographic design using semi‐structured interviews.

Method. Ten participants, recruited via mental health services, and who reported hearing voices in the previous week, completed the interviews. These were transcribed verbatim and analysed using interpretative phenomenological analysis.

Results. Five themes resulted from the analysis. Theme 1: ‘person and voice’ demonstrated that participants' voices often reflected the identity, but not always the quality of social acquaintances. Theme 2: ‘voices changing and confirming relationship with the self’ explored the impact of voice hearing in producing an inferior sense‐of‐self in comparison to others. Theme 3: ‘a battle for control’ centred on issues of control and a dilemma of independence within voice relationships. Theme 4: ‘friendships facilitating the ability to cope’ and theme 5: ‘voices creating distance in social relationships’ explored experiences of social relationships within the context of voice hearing, and highlighted the impact of social isolation for voice hearers.

Conclusions. The study demonstrated the potential role of qualitative research in developing theories of voice hearing. It extended previous research by highlighting the interface between voices and the social world of the hearer, including reciprocal influences of social relationships on voices and coping. Improving voice hearers' sense‐of‐self may be a key factor in reducing the distress caused by voices.

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