T.M. Luhrmann writes about an innovative therapeutic approach to auditory hallucinations that was pioneered by Dutch psychiatrist Marius Romme and his spouse, Sandra Escher:
The new post-psychoanalytic psychiatric science that emerged in this country in the 1980s argued that mental illnesses were physical illnesses. Many Americans and most psychiatrists took away from this science a sense that serious mental illnesses were brain dysfunctions and that the best hope for their treatment lay in the aggressive new drugs that patients often hated but that sometimes held symptoms at bay.
[R]ecently a new grassroots movement has emerged. It argues that if patients learn to address their voices directly and appropriately, as if each voice had intention and agency, the voices will become less hostile and eventually go away. From the perspective of modern psychiatry, this assertion is radical, even dangerous. But it is being taken seriously by an increasing number of patients and psychiatrists.[...]
Lurhmann describes a young Dutch patient, Hans, a diagnosed schizophrenic who suffered from highly disturbing delusions and auditory hallucinations. Treatment with Clozaril didn't make the delusions or the hallucinations go away, but the medication calmed his reactions to them. Hans also existed in a chronically sleepy, mentally foggy state. Physical side effects of the medication included a 90-pound weight gain and itching.
Then Hans joined a group of people like him who met once a week. They talked about their voices, and they were encouraged to talk back to them. They were even encouraged to negotiate with their voices. One of Hans’s voices thought he would be better off if he devoted his life to Buddhist prayer. Hans is not a Buddhist—like many Dutch, he grew up as a secular Protestant—and he did not want to follow the voice’s command. The group persuaded him to cut a deal with his voices. He told his voices that he would read a book on Buddhism every day for one hour—but no more. He would say one Buddhist prayer every day—but no more. And if he did this, he told them, they had to leave him alone.
They did, more or less. He began to feel better. His psychiatrists began to lower his Clozaril from its high of 500 mg per day down eventually to a dose of 50 mg. He lost weight. He became more alert. He moved out of the hospital. The voices didn’t disappear immediately, but they got nicer. When he was moving into an apartment by himself—and petrified by the prospect—he heard a voice say, “Buck up, we know you can do it.” By the time I met him in 2009, he hadn’t heard a voice in more than a year.
The entire article is a worthwhile read, but the usual cautions apply. This approach needs much more investigation before we can conclude anything about its potential for wider application.