Hearing voices is not an unusual phenomenon. As many 1 of every 25 people hear voices on a regular basis, therefore it is a rather common "symptom" among people. But such is not the case for all who hear voices.
Sometimes hearing voices can be disturbing; a reaction to troublesome life events: stress; emotional, physical or sexual abuse; traumatic events; electrical or chemical dysequilibria in the brain ...or even sometimes without any discernible cause.
William James, in The Varieties of Religious Experience supposed that exposure to disturbing visions [which included hearing voices] was somehow an unexpected leap into realms that only mystics are adequately trained to experience; for others it would be a ride of complete psychic terror.
On such occasions, it would seem understandable that the hearer might seek help in explaining their presence, or try to mask the intensity of the experience with things such as alcohol or drugs.
In aboriginal cultures, voice hearers are often seen as visionaries; learning how to manage the voice-hearing experience delegated to working with a shaman or healer. And there are others who believe that hearing voices is clearly a spiritual matter.
In contrast, for the most part, in urban, materialist "westernized" cultures the tendency is to turn to psychiatry and mental health to address the phenomena; a process that oft-times does dis-service to the hearer.
The conventional mental health response is to, 1- suppress the intensity of the experience using psychotropic drugs; 2- invalidate the experience by calling it a set of "delusions" and 3- consign the voice hearer to institutional placement. Yet the drugs don't stop the experience, which continues to be quite real to the hearer [albeit blunted], and institutional placement often lacks any real ways to provide comfort and solace. Clearly a different approach is required.
In the coming days, I shall be posting here a compendium of links that relate to this phenomena. Stay tuned.
IMAGE SOURCES: [upper right] Will Brady's photo collection; [lower left] Out-take from Terry Gilliam's dark visionary film Brazil