Just heard a great talk about hearing voices by Dr. John Swinton (chair of the Center for Spirituality, Health and Disability at the University of Aberdeen. (Pathways to Promise conference, Houston, TX, offered online this year and attended by more than 2,600 worldwide, including me.)

It turns out that voice hearing is a very common experience. It occurs in 5-28% of the non-diagnosed population. And voice hearing is not typically disabling in itself, but becomes disabling in countries — like the US — where it’s treated as an illness, not an experience.

[One of the odd cross-cultural differences is that in the US, where we treat voice hearing as an illness, people tend to hear only negative, hectoring voices. In Ghana and India, Stanford anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann found the voices heard were more often benign, encouraging or even playful.

In essence, the disability is social stigma, not the experience of what USD psychiatrists call psychosis. In this part of his talk, he drew on Luhrman’s cross-cultural research on the experience of voice-hearing, published in the Annual Review of Anthropology.

Food for thought.