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BACKGROUND: Around two-thirds of patients with auditory hallucinations experience derogatory and threatening voices (DTVs). Understandably, when these voices are believed then common consequences can be depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation. There is a need for treatment targeted at promoting distance from such voice content. The first step in this treatment development is to understand why patients listen to and believe voices that are appraised as malevolent. AIMS: To learn from patients their reasons for listening to and believing DTVs. METHOD: Theoretical sampling was used to recruit 15 participants with non-affective psychosis from NHS services who heard daily DTVs. Data were obtained by semi-structured interviews and analysed using grounded theory. RESULTS: Six higher-order categories for why patients listen and/or believe voices were theorised. These were: (i) to understand the voices (e.g. what is their motive?); (ii) to be alert to the threat (e.g. prepared for what might happen); (iii) a normal instinct to rely on sensory information; (iv) the voices can be of people they know; (v) the DTVs use strategies (e.g. repetition) to capture attention; and (vi) patients feel so worn down it is hard to resist the voice experience (e.g. too mentally defeated to dismiss comments). In total, 21 reasons were identified, with all participants endorsing multiple reasons. CONCLUSIONS: The study generated a wide range of reasons why patients listen to and believe DTVs. Awareness of these reasons can help clinicians understand the patient experience and also identify targets in psychological intervention.

Original publication




Journal article


Behav Cogn Psychother

Publication Date





631 - 645


attention, derogatory and threatening voices, psychosis, schizophrenia, voice-hearing, Anxiety, Emotions, Hallucinations, Humans, Psychotic Disorders, Voice