When something happens in our mind that is new, unusual and perhaps outside of our ordinary experience, it’s understandable to feel unsure of how to make sense of this experience. At times this uncertainty can lead us from a place of natural curiosity to disjointed feelings of distraction, manipulation or even an all consuming desire to “Make It Stop!”
While some immediate intervention may seem necessary or important at times, we have discovered that there are thousands who are taking advantage of other creative ways to explore, work with and navigate extra-ordinary experiences – even distressing ones. We have found that these gentle approaches have helped us relate to these experiences from a place of peace, calm and wisdom. Below, we describe five approaches we’ve had experience with and that have proved to be wonderfully helpful in assimilating these kinds of different, unusual experiences in healthy and productive ways.
1. Hearing Voices. Since 1987, people have been appreciating the gentle approach of the Hearing Voices Network (and Hearing Voices U.S.A.) – and its space where people can share their experiences in a safe, non-clinical, social exploratory group. The involves open hearing and sharing about anything someone is experiencing, without a label, harsh judgment, or pressure (review the HVN-USA Charter here). After decades of experience, there is an extensive body of literature exploring and confirming the positive effects of this approach over the long-term (click here to review some personal reports). It was Eleanor Longden’s powerful Ted Talk in 2013 that really raised the profile of this gentle, creative way of approaching voices. If you think there may be value in this approach to experiences you are having this short film Beyond Possible: How the Hearing Voices Approach Transforms Lives, is a valuable resource and may provide some answers.
There are many in-person groups you can consider checking out – and a few online groups as well. After experiencing the power of this approach ourselves, we offer a Rocky Mountain Hearing Voices group as well (send a note to Rachel at MountanHVN@gmail.com for more information). Note: These groups are only for those who hear voices or have unusual experiences they want to explore and seek support to navigate. For families, friends and professional supports who want to learn more, there is another group where you can get information (email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information). Read this to find out how this approach has been beneficial for youth and adolescents as well.
There are also a number of powerful books that provide practical guidance in how exactly a gentle, creative approach to unusual experiences such as hearing voices can help people navigate these different, sometimes scary, experiences.
2. Mindfully working with unusual thoughts, feelings and experiences. There are many elements of mindfulness in the hearing voices approach – gentleness, compassion, presence, non-judgment. In addition to participating in a group that embodies mindfulness, learning to practice mindfulness individually can also be helpful. There are a ton of great mindfulness books, apps, and free practices available.
If you’d like a gentle way to get up to speed with working mindfully, gently, creatively with our inner experience, Mindweather 101 is online course developed by mindfulness teachers with mental health expertise includes 7+ hours of guidance from 32 different mindfulness teachers, clinical researchers and therapists (see bios here) exploring a gentle, and creative approach to intense, painful emotions and dark, disturbing thoughts (click here to access a full written transcript; although the full class is available at Mindweather.org, direct links to the videos are available here as individual class segments; check out our own analysis of sustainable healing themes in the class here). We’d especially encourage these lessons for those facing unusual or scary thoughts, from Part 3’s emphasis on “Working with Difficult Thoughts”
- Lesson 12 One way of thinking about thinking (Part I, Part II)
- Lesson 13 Re-thinking thinking (Part I, Part II, Part III)
3. Open Dialogue/Community Re-integration. In addition to being heard, there are innovative, creative approaches to engaging with voices dialogically that are worth exploring, including the Open Dialogue approach. Pioneered in Laplands Finland in the 1980’s, they have experimented with surrounding those experiencing psychosis with substantial increases in community support – reaching out to friends and family and encouraging an intentional, purposive re-integration. The results have been so encouraging that we’re creating some resources to support families in moving in this direction generally (click here to access those). To go into more depth on this approach, training in North America is provided here and a comprehensive list of open dialogue resources is available here (See, for instance, this Psychology Today piece). To ask specific questions about voice dialogue, email Rachel here: MountanHVN@gmail.com.
4. Therapeutic Lifestyle Change. Given the measurable benefits of gentle approaches to lifestyle over time with depression, anxiety and ADHD – there’s every reason to believe this can be a help for other kinds of struggles. Check out these final two lessons in Mindweather as a way to learn more about therapeutic lifestyle change as applies to general mental/emotional distress:
- Exploring the full range of contributors to mental/emotional distress (Part I, Part II)
- Considering the full range of options (Part I, Part II, Part III)
5. Healing deeper pains that may be contributing. Over the last decade, there has been a flowering of fresh, innovative approaches to support people in finding deeper healing from past abuse and trauma (along with grieving that continues over major losses) and that very often influence our present emotional/mental state. From tailored trauma-oriented therapy to various kinds of body-work focused on similar healing, we’d encourage you to reach out and explore some of these approaches as applied to your own situation. Because the effects of serious trauma almost always go beyond mental/emotional experience to the body itself (The Body Keeps the Score), it can be especially encouraging to consider the cutting-edge science of epigenetics and the exciting research on the brain’s ability to change, known as neuroplasticity – both fascinating discoveries that you may wish to investigate to inform your plans for deeper healing.
If you have questions about any of these options, consider joining one of our online Community Councils offered for individuals, families and professionals. We meet monthly, and you are always welcome to participate. (To join one of our weekly meetings please go here.)