‘You don't talk about the voices’: voice hearers and community mental health nurses talk about responding to voice hearing experiences

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Aims and objectives

To explore service user and community mental health nurses views on responses to voice hearing experiences.


People who hear distressing auditory hallucinations (voices) are often in contact with mental health services. Nursing responses to this experience have been limited, although emerging evidence suggests some utilitarian alternative interventions, such as discussing the content and meaning of the voices.


Using exploratory interviews, this study investigated the response to voice hearing, with a purposive sample of community mental health nurses (n = 20) and service users (n = 20). This paper reports on a thematic content analysis of transcribed interviews, which highlighted differences in perspectives of voice hearers and the nurses supporting them.


Voice hearers reported that interventions from community mental health nurses were limited to reviews of medication, access to the psychiatrist and non-directive counselling. They identified alternative needs, which involved talking more about the content and meaning of their voices. Conversely, community mental health nurses regarded their responses to voice hearing as being considered, titrated and demonstrating an awareness of the personal contexts of service users. These responses were however restricted by their perception of skill limitations.


The contrasting views of nurses and users of services demonstrated in this study, reveal multiple social realities that represent a challenge to accepted professional responses in the provision of mental health care.

Relevance to practice

People who hear voices express an interest in more helpful responses from community mental health nurses. The findings of this study indicate that nurses must begin to orientate themselves towards a more critical practice stance that encompasses available knowledge on the voice hearing experience.

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