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OBJECTIVE: To explore the phenomenology of auditory verbal hallucinations (AVHs) in a clinical sample of young people who have a 'non-psychotic' diagnosis. METHODS: Ten participants aged 17-31 years with presentation of emotionally unstable personality disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder and frequent AVHs were recruited and participated in a qualitative study exploring their subjective experience of hearing voices. Photo-elicitation and ethnographic diaries were used to stimulate discussion in an otherwise unstructured walking interview. RESULTS: 'Non-psychotic' voices comprised auditory qualities such as volume and clarity. Participants commonly personified their voices, viewing them as distinct characters with which they could interact and form relationships. There appeared to be an intimate and unstable relationship between participant and voice, whereby voices changed according to the participants' mood, insecurities, distress and circumstance. Equally, participants reacted to provocation by the voice, leading to changes in mood and circumstance through emotional and physical disturbances. In contrast to our previous qualitative work in psychosis, voice hearing was not experienced with a sense of imposition or control. CONCLUSIONS: This phenomenological research yielded in-depth and novel accounts of 'non-psychotic' voices which were intimately linked to emotional experience. In contrast to standard reports of voices in disorders such as schizophrenia, participants described a complex and bi-directional relationship with their voices. Many other features were in common with voice hearing in psychosis. Knowledge of the phenomenology of hallucinations in non-psychotic disorders has the potential to inform future more successful management strategies. This report gives preliminary evidence for future research.

Original publication




Journal article


Ir J Psychol Med

Publication Date





196 - 206


Auditory hallucination, interview, personality disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, voice, Adolescent, Borderline Personality Disorder, Hallucinations, Humans, Psychotic Disorders, Schizophrenia, Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic