First-person accounts of Voice-Hearing

This strand of CASS research has explored the experiences of those who hear voices that others cannot. This is an experience that is typically discussed in relation to psychosis and associated with mental health conditions such as schizophrenia. However, there are also many individuals who hear voices and do not have any mental health issues.

In collaboration with the Hearing the Voice ( project at the University of Durham, we explored interviews with two different groups of voice-hearers: self-identified spiritualists and people using Early Intervention in Psychosis (EIP) services in the North East of England. Looking at the accounts of those who find personal meaning in their voice-hearing compared with those who seek clinical support for their voice-hearing provided us with a breadth of experience to better understand why it is that some people find voice-hearing distressing, while others live well with their voices.

Using methods in corpus analysis, we have looked at the key differences in the responses provided by each group as part of semi-structured interviews conducted by members of the Hearing the Voice team. In doing so, we have built on the evidence from studies in psychology as to what aspects are most salient to spiritualists and clinical voice-hearers, contributing to debates about the validity of conceptual models in clinical psychology that posit that such apparently disparate experiences can be thought of as existing on a continuum.

We have brought together concepts from literary linguistics and clinical psychology to discuss how ‘characterful’ voices are described as being, and how their ‘person-like’ qualities determine the types of relationship voice-hearers have with their voices. We have explored the use of simile and metaphor, to consider the ways in which our participants try to help others understand what it is like to hear voices. Drawing on principles from pragmatics, we are also investigating what the voices say, demonstrating that while some voices are abusive, others offer support, companionship and dialogue

Our work has challenged us to refine our corpus linguistic approach, drawing on innovative statistical methods and data visualisation, while also requiring us to critically reflect upon basic principles such as normalisation. We have found ways to triangulate these approaches with those in psychology, producing reports and findings that can inform the work on voice-hearing across disciplines.

As we continue our work, we will look at the developing narratives of voice-hearers in the clinical group, tracking these first-person accounts over time. In combination with what we have discovered so far, we can investigate the potential effects of engagement with support services and offer recommendations for how participants can manage the relationships they have with their voices.


Collins, L. C., Semino, E., Demjén, Z., Hardie, A., Moseley, P., Woods, A. and Alderson-Day, B. (2020) A linguistic approach to the psychosis continuum: (dis)similarities and (dis)continuities in how clinical and non-clinical voice-hearers talk about their voices. Cognitive Neuropsychiatry 25(6): 447-465. doi:10.1080/13546805.2020.1842727

Semino, E., Collins, L. C. and Demjén, Z. (forthcoming) ‘Silences in first-person accounts of voice-hearing: A linguistic approach’. In A. Woods, B. Alderson-Day and C. Fernyhough (Eds) Voices in Psychosis: Interdisciplinary Perspectives. Oxford University Press.

Semino, E., Demjén, Z. and Collins, L. C. (2020) Person-ness of voices in lived experience accounts of psychosis: Combining literary linguistics and clinical psychology. Medical Humanities. Epub ahead of print. Available at: doi:10.1136/medhum-2020-011940.


Collins, L. C. and Semino, E. (2020) Corpus linguistics and clinical psychology: examining the psychosis continuum. UCREL Corpus Research Seminar. 16 January 2020, Lancaster, UK. Slide available at:

Collins, L. C. and Semino, E. (2020) Triangulating corpus linguistics and clinical psychology in a study of narratives of voice-hearers. UCREL Corpus Research Seminar. 3 December 2020, Lancaster, UK. Slide available at:

Semino, E. and Collins, L. C. (2020) Similes, creativity and voice-hearing in clinical and non-clinical groups. 13th Association for Researching and Applying Metaphor (RaAM) Conference [virtual]. 18-21 June 2020, Hamar, Norway. Available at:


Principal Investigator: Professor Elena Semino (, Lancaster University

Senior Research Associate: Dr Luke Collins (, Lancaster University

Co-Investigator: Dr Angela Woods (, Durham University


Dr Zsófia Demjén ( University College London Dr Ben Alderson-Day (, Durham University Dr Peter Moseley (, Northumbria University Dr Andrew Hardie (, Lancaster University