Marius Romme M.D, PhD is a psychiatrist, trained in a time in which biological ideas did not dominate thought nor practice. At the time we saw psychiatric problems as the result or reaction to social-emotional problems Medication was not the most important treatment mode but talking and understanding the patient problems were. He has been 25 years a full professor of psychiatry at the university of Maastricht at the medical school. His specialty was social psychiatry. This means the study of the interaction between the person's mental health problems and what has happened or is still happening in a person's life. His practice was mostly formed by patient's long-term psychiatric problems. Since 1987 he has been studying the hearing voices experience and its background.
Sandra Escher M.phil., PhD. originally was a journalist who worked at the department of social psychiatry of the Maastricht university medical school helping young researchers to write their articles. As a journalist she was well trained to interview people with the purpose to learn to know them better. This quality was very important for the study of the hearing voices experience. She participated in the hearing voices research over 25 years. She interviewed more than 300 voice hearers and organised 8 national and international congresses. She wrote together with Marius Romme 7 in English published books about hearing voices and many chapters in Dutch and international books. She specialized herself in children hearing voices and got an M.Phil. degree and a PhD. for this study at the city University in Birmingham and a PhD at the university of Maastricht. She also wrote a psych-educational book informing youngsters and their parents about hearing voices, published by PCCS Ross-on Wye UK.
How did it start?
Our interest started when a patient made it clear to me ( Marius) that for her the psychiatric approach was not very helpful. Because as a traditional trained clinician I was only interest in her experience as a "hallucination" and with that and some other symptoms, I then created a diagnoses. But Patsy Hage
was interested in the voices and the power they exerted over her; in the hinder they gave her; in what they told to her etc. She did not like my reductionist approach. Because she was hindered by the voices and medication did not work with her, she became more and more isolated, understandable with voices thatnforbid her all kind of social activities.
In order to break through this isolation we organised a meeting with another patient hearing voices and they got very enthusiastic in talking about their voices. They recognised each other experience. But still they did not know how to cope with their voices. To solve this problem we asked, with the help of Sandra Escher, for support from a TV talk show, because that was a way to contact people.
Our aim was to meet in this way somebody who not only heard voices, but also was able to cope with them. In this talk show Patsy, the patient, told her story and I asked if there was somebody who knew how to cope with the voices to contact us. To our astonishment 700 people reacted. To organise the information we constructed together with Patsy Hage, a questionnaire. From those who returned the questionnaire we selected people who could explain rather clearly what they did in coping with their voices. They became the speakers on a congress we organised.
It was then that we met quite a number of people who heard voices and had never been a psychiatric patient. They were functioning socially quite well. This was a shocking experience for me as a psychiatrist who had always identified hearing voices with psychopathology.
This experience however made the following research questions of interest:
- Is hearing voices in itself a sign of psychiatric illness?
- Is the presence of hearing voices related to a particular psychiatric illness?
- Do certain features or characteristics of hearing voices give indications for the presence of problems in the person's life?