Hearing Voices

An audio simulation at The F. Marie Hall SimLife Center allows participants to better understand schizophrenia.

An audio simulation at The F. Marie Hall SimLife Center allows participants to better understand schizophrenia.

I had a nightmare in my head for 79 minutes.

Demonic whispering sent chills up and down my arms as I combed my hair and washed my face.

A woman insisting I was the chosen one distracted me as I attempted to choose an appropriate outfit to wear to work.

A man calling me worthless and claiming I stink made me flinch as I tried (and failed) to apply mascara without making a mess.

Long before the two audio tracks to which I was listening finished, I just wanted the voices to stop.

But unlike the more than 2 million Americans who suffer from schizophrenia, I was able to get rid of the voices I was hearing by pushing the “off” button on an MP3 player and removing a headset.

Deciphering the Voices

Hearing Voices That are Distressing is a training exercise developed by Patricia Deegan, Ph.D., director of training for the National Empowerment Center, to allow future health care and law enforcement professionals to understand the day-to-day challenges faced by people with psychiatric disabilities.

Deegan herself has had personal voice-hearing experiences.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, schizophrenia is a chronic, severe mental disorder that makes it difficult to tell the difference between real and unreal experiences, to think logically, to have normal emotional responses and to behave normally in social situations.

People with schizophrenia may hear voices other people don't hear, according to the institute. They may believe other people are reading their minds, controlling their thoughts or plotting to harm them. This can terrify people with the illness and make them withdrawn or extremely agitated.

A Better Understanding

Students who participate in the Hearing Voices exercise at The F. Marie Hall SimLife Center in Lubbock listen to a voice simulation that at times is a chorus of mumbles, and at others is an onslaught of menacing shouts.

They are then asked to perform common tasks such as filling out job applications, interviewing for jobs, counting money, grocery shopping and reading.

Several students who have participated in the exercise report feeling disturbed, and say they were unable to concentrate or listen to their own thoughts.

“The students were shocked and amazed in regards to their inability to concentrate and perform simple cognitive and motor tasks required in daily life while hearing constant voices," said Belinda Gallegos, R.N., MSN, instructor in the School of Nursing. "The students developed a new understanding and a deeper level of compassion and empathy for patients suffering from schizophrenia.”

“The voices were hard to ignore, I couldn't do it,” one student said.

"I couldn't figure out how to do the tasks; the voices took all my thinking,” said another.

Sharon Decker, Ph.D., R.N., professor in the School of Nursing, director of Clinical Simulations at The F. Marie Hall SimLife Center and the Covenant Health System Endowed Chair in Simulation and Nursing Education, said she believes Hearing Voices is an excellent way to teach students in the health care field empathy for people who suffer from conditions that are not easily understood or cured.

"The hearing voices simulated experience provides the student with a realistic experience, allowing students to develop empathy for clients," Decker said.

There is no cure for schizophrenia, but treatment including prescription medication and counseling can help. However, most people with the disorder cope with symptoms throughout their lives.

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