Sensitive and rigorous

'Can’t You Hear Them? The Science and Significance of Hearing Voices', by Simon McCarthy-Jones (Jessica Kingsley; Pb £13.99).

Hearing a voice that no one else can hear can be intensely distressing and debilitating, or a positive and spiritual experience central to people’s lives. It wouldn’t be easy, then, to write a book that is sensitive to the stories of individuals with lived experience, is scientifically rigorous, and manages to inject a good dose of humour into the mix; yet, with this book, Simon McCarthy-Jones manages all of these things.

The book powerfully drives home that the strongest predictor of whether someone experiences voice hearing is childhood trauma, regardless of any specific psychiatric diagnosis. McCarthy-Jones laments the psychiatric establishment’s focus on simplistic biomedical explanations, highlighting the importance of social and cultural factors, and critically dissecting the evidence (or lack of) on the efficacy of antipsychotic medication.

In addition to this, McCarthy-Jones gives us an in-depth discussion of findings from neuroimaging and the latest results from trials of therapeutic neurostimulation techniques. The problem is less the importance of neuroscience and biology, more how they can be used to ‘explain’ (or, you might say, ‘explain away’) experiences to those in distress.

Aside from discussions of evidence and therapeutic efficacy, there is also a call for social justice and to look further upstream to societal causes of voice hearing. Can’t You Hear Them? is an excellent book for those wanting to learn more about this complex and multifaceted experience.

- Reviewed by Peter Moseley, Research Associate, Durham University and Lecturer in Psychology and Neuroscience, University of Central Lancashire

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