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Over the last two decades, the approach of the Hearing Voices Network to visions, voices and other unusual experiences has had a big influence on Psychiatry to the extent that hearing voices groups are now commonplace within Mental Health Services. The Hearing Voices Network is pleased that many of its ideas are now accepted and that, as a result, people have more opportunities to talk openly about their voices and visions.

However, the Hearing Voices Network is an independent charity and not in any way a part of Psychiatry. The Network stands as a distinct and very different organisation to that of the Mental Health Services in terms of culture, ethos, philosophy and values.

All groups which come together to focus on voices and visions are, of course, entitled to describe themselves as hearing voices groups but, unless they uphold the values of the Network, not all hearing voices groups are entitled to call themselves a part of the Hearing Voices Network.

While many voices groups work within the Network’s core values of acceptance and self-determination, many other groups work within Psychiatry’s remit of treatment of illness. We welcome the existence of treatment groups and their potential to help people but state very clearly that they are not part of the Hearing Voices Network. Treatment groups and self-help groups are different.

And then, there are many voices groups that fall somewhere in the middle between these two poles. These groups are typically set up and run by mental health workers within both the statuary and voluntary sectors. They may be in tune with the ethos and values of the Network but working within organisations that impose constraints and pressures on how the group must function. We recognise that despite such constraints, there are many amongst these groups that are genuinely working to empower members to eventually run their own group.

As a result of the situation outlined above, there is currently a strong need to clarify the identity of the Hearing Voices Network through establishing criteria by which voices groups can be recognised as members of the Network or not. And so, from numerous conversations within the Network, in particular in the South West, a Charter has been drawn up which identifies clear criteria for membership to the Hearing Voices Network. This includes criteria for full membership and criteria for affiliated status in recognition of those groups unable as yet to fulfil criteria for full membership.

Criteria For Affiliated Group Membership

The Group …

  • Accepts that voices and visions are real experiences
  • Accepts that people are not any the less for having voices and visions
  • Respects each member as an expert
  • Encourages an ethos of self-determination
  • Values ordinary, non-professionalised language
  • Is free to interpret experiences in any way
  • Is free to challenge social norms
  • Sanctions the freedom to talk about anything not just voices and visions
  • Is a self-help group and not a clinical group offering treatment
  • Focuses primarily on sharing experiences, support and empathy
  • Members are not subject to referral, discharge or risk assessment
  • Members are able to come and go as they want without repercussions
  • Members are aware of the facilitator’s limits concerning confidentiality
  • Is working towards fulfilling criteria for full membership

Criteria For Full Group Membership

This involves all of the above criteria but in addition the group:

  • Accepts people as they are
  • Makes no assumption of illness
  • Is a social group not a therapy group
  • Is a community to which people belong
  • Upholds equality between everyone in the group including the facilitator
  • Makes all the decisions collectively
  • Decides on the limits to confidentiality not the facilitator
  • Works out problems collectively
  • Holds responsibility not the facilitator
  • Members join for as long as it suits them
  • Is open to people not using mental health services
  • Is open to people from other geographical areas
  • Does not meet within a clinical setting
  • Facilitator is not under pressure to report back to anyone outside the group
  • Aims to become a user-run group if it isn’t already