Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice

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Volume 87 Issue 3 (September 2014), Pages 253-371

Exploring the experience of hearing voices from a first person perspective: A meta‐ethnographic synthesis (pages 278-297)


The purpose of this review was to identify, appraise, and synthesize the current peer‐reviewed qualitative literature which explores the phenomenon of hearing voices from a first person perspective.


A comprehensive systematic search of the literature was conducted. Seven studies utilizing various qualitative methodologies met the criteria to be included in the synthesis. An appraisal tool (Walsh & Downe, 2005, J. Adv. Nurs., 50, 204–211) was used to assess their quality. A meta‐ethnographic approach was used to synthesize the data extracted from them.


The interpretation of the findings suggested five key themes: identity of the voice(s), power of the voice(s), impact of hearing voices on relationships, relationship with the voice(s), and the distinction between thoughts and voices. The identity of the voices seemed inextricably linked to the perceived power the voice(s) wielded over the voice hearer. The quality of the studies included in the synthesis varied greatly.


The findings of this synthesis highlight the importance of the voice hearer's individual frame of reference for understanding their experience. Clinical implications include the need for mental health professionals to explore an individual's understanding of their experience of hearing voices and address the perceived power of the voice(s). Further research is indicated in this area with a focus of improving the quality of qualitative research studying this phenomenon.

Practitioner points

  • There are multiple frames of reference in which to understand an individual's experience of hearing voices.
  • Mental health professionals should attend to the meaning and understanding voice hearers give to the experience.

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