Voices carry

By S.I. ROSENBAUM  |  October 21, 2011

Any truly useful approach to madness is going to have to embrace both the biological and the psychological. And so far, this seems to be the Hearing Voices movement's biggest strength.

Over the past few months, Gail Hornstein and leaders of the UK branch of the Hearing Voices movement have held facilitator-training sessions up and down the East Coast. Would-be group leaders have come from all over the country to be trained, and gone home to start their own local Hearing Voices groups.

Hornstein said she hopes the movement takes off here the way it has in the UK and elsewhere.

"The United States invented self-help," she says. "Of all the places in the world, the US culture should be receptive to people taking responsibility for themselves, and helping each other."


In March, Marty's mother dies. Things get bad for a while.

Her thoughts go out of control, and she feels the blood buzzing in her head. When she talks to Amelia — now 26, a registered nurse with a husband and child — Marty hears her daughter's voice saying things that she isn't actually saying. It's like a badly dubbed movie. Marty hears Amelia ask her why she hasn't kept her promises, why she's been such a terrible mother.

If Marty responds, Amelia stares at her with concern. Mom, what you're saying is making no sense, Amelia says. So Marty stops saying anything. She writes to everyone she knows, announcing that she's changing her name.

It helps that she has found a psychiatrist she likes — a man who, when she asks him what her diagnosis is, tells her she's a human being. Together they decide she should go back into the hospital for a while. Oryx Cohen and other members of the Hearing Voices group visit her on the psych ward. They bring her cigarettes and Diet Coke, help her file her release forms.

She comes home after a week.

Not long afterward, Marty and I are sitting in her driveway in the late-afternoon sun. Neighbor kids are playing in the next yard, and every once in a while she calls out to them to banter and joke.

She tells me about reflex-punching a doctor who had tried to give her an unnecessary physical exam during her hospital admission.

"I got a private room after that," she jokes. "A little sparse on furniture, but private."

As I'm getting ready to leave, she suddenly tells me, "I'm not the best person for you to write about."

Why? I ask.

Because she's still unstable, she says, because she can't show that Hearing Voices is a cure. "I have gained some control," she says, "but there are other people in the group who are more stable, less likely to end up in the hospital."

I don't know what to say. I want to tell her that sometimes there isn't a cure. That there doesn't have to be a cure for people to get better.

And if Marty is still struggling — well, look at her. She works and takes care of Amelia's baby son and struggles with her voices and sits in the book-lined room and helps other people struggle with theirs. If her journey isn't over, what else would you expect from a woman whose name means "pilgrim"?


There's a baby crying, somewhere.

Marty has searched the house, upstairs and downstairs, and looked in all the rooms. The siren wail goes on and on, but the house is empty.

Marty sighs with relief.

Thank God, she thinks. I'm only hearing voices.

SI Rosenbaum can be reached atsrosenbaum@phx.com.

CORRECTION An earlier version of this article mistakenly referred to The Western Mass. Recovery Learning Center as The Western Mass. Resource Learning Center.

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