Counselling, Mindfullness, Psychosis, Reflective Practice

Finding my voice

I have started singing lessons. After nearly fifty years of being told “You’re a growler”, “Terry, we don’t need you.” and other similar comments I thought it was time to see if I could learn to sing in tune. I was introduced to my singing  tutor via some mutual friends, which broke the ice somewhat. I went feeling that she was not going to humiliate me for being a “growler”. I have now had three lessons and cannot express my delight and joy in beginning to sing. I am discovering whole voices I never knew I had. (My fantasy is to sing “O sacred head surrounded..” as a solo one day. The Albert Hall seems like a suitable venue!)

Being a counsellor and a psychiatric nurse I began to play with the idea of “Voices.” Of having a voice; being denied a voice; never knowing how to use my voice, the list of associations is long. Voice hearing is, as we know, a common experience for those people who have a psychotic illness. (It is also a common experience amongst people who are not psychotic. The work of Ron Coleman and his team in the Hearing Voices Network is impressive. See http://www.hearing-voices.org for more details.) There are numerous theories about the nature and source of psychotic voices but, essentially, they come from within. They are our own thoughts expressed and experienced in a particular way. As a psychoanalytically trained counsellor I take the view that “voices” represent those thoughts which we wish to deny. (“Thoughts” here represent our whole mental life-our fantasies, desires, self image, self value, hopes, dreams, nightmares etc.) But psychotic voices often are used as ways of expressing what we cannot otherwise express. They become a kind of  naughty, persecutory imaginary friend.

Two examples come to mind. One a story I was told, one an example I witnessed. The story I heard was a man who told his female worker that he was tormented by his voices telling him to masturbate over the face of a blond woman. He was at pains to assure his blond, female worker that this was the wish of his voices. He had no such desire.

The incident took place many years ago in a psychiatric ward. It is not directly about “voices” but is a similar event. A female patient was bending down to pick up something from the floor.As  she was bent down a male patient promptly kicked her on the bottom. When she remonstrated with him he simply looked down at his foot and said “Naughty foot!”

What both these incidents represent is a desire that cannot be given voice. The man whose voices were urging him to masturbate over the face of a blond woman was trying to say something about his sexual desire. Sadly there seemed to be no way in which he could voice this desire. So it became split off and denied. Had he been able to talk openly about this wish, he might have found some relief. And gained an understanding of his view of women. His view of sex. His view of his own aggression and several other areas that were clearly an issue for him. Sadly this did not seem likely to happen.

My patient with his “Bad” foot was doing something similar. (Although I suspect he knew very well what he was doing.) Nonetheless he was able to put his aggression away from himself and into his foot.

So, where do my singing lessons and psychotic voices fit together? Broadly they are both about having a voice that can be heard and valued. But i will write more about that in a following blog.

singing lessons

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