Kate Hill, Director of Portland Hearing Voices
By Jenny Westberg, Portland Mental Health Examiner, Oct. 10, 2013
With groups on hiatus and events on hold, you may wonder whether Portland Hearing Voices disappeared – but nothing could be further from the truth. Behind the scenes there’s all sorts of activity, the pre-work of being able to have groups again in the future.
There has also been a major change in leadership. Founder and longtime director Will Hall, who is only living in Portland part-time now, stepped down from the director’s post, naming Kate Hill as the new director. Hall will still be part of the leadership, as the assistant director.
I interviewed Kate, 32, a North Portland resident, by phone this afternoon. The best news for those concerned about whether groups will be back is that Kate is confident, as soon as PHV gets the resources it needs (being worked on daily) the organization will be back in full force. Get to know Kate — you’ll be seeing and hearing a lot more from her!
Jenny Westberg: I remember you from the Downtown Chapel! So you were one of the very first people to come there.
Kate Hill: I was! That was quite awhile ago.
JW: What drew you to PHV, and what kept you coming back?
KH: Well, I first found out about it through an official networking site online, and someone – I don’t think I ever met this person, but she put a post up, and it said, “Embrace Mental Diversity.” So I was very excited, and so I just followed the links back to the Portland Hearing Voices page. And I was very impressed by it.
It was actually a strange moment in my life, because I had never thought about relating my experiences to what most people call schizophrenia. So, I had this kind of very, very, very strange, paradoxical moment right then, where I realized that I both could be diagnosed with schizophrenia, and at the same time, sort of found a place that – well, it didn’t seem like they were interested in diagnosing me with schizophrenia! (laughs) It seemed like a safe place to go, so I decided to go and check it out. And when I went there, I had never before told anyone about my experiences – I had attempted to, one time, but immediately got negative feedback from it. So I just never really talked about it again. And that wasn’t really happening here. Will was very open, and it seemed like just a very safe place.
I didn’t talk – I didn’t talk for at least the first few months I went there, but I still went there. And I heard how people were openly communicating about their experiences, and everything was fine. Nobody got carted away or started getting treated like an alien. It was really a wonderful environment.
JW: When was it you started facilitating groups?
KH: I started facilitating groups about two years ago.
Will Hall, Assistant Director of Portland Hearing Voices
JW: Was that subbing for Will?
KH: Yeah! It was when Will just had something else to do one day, and he sent me a text message, asking me if I would “take group today.” And I said, “Yeah, sure!”
JW: And the rest is history, right?
KH: Yeah, the rest is history.
JW: So, now you’re the director. How long has it been that you’ve been in that position?
KH: About 2 months ago, I think.
JW: What do you think prepared you for this challenge? And how do you feel about it right now?
KH: I think probably the major thing that prepared me for this challenge was having Portland Hearing Voices as a support, for a number of years. I guess I was able to make up everything that I lost over those years, due to my situation – the experiences I’ve had, and our culture’s response to those things. It gave me a safe place to – I don’t really like the term “recover” — but kind of recover.
JW: Many people who go through these kinds of experiences in young adulthood, they kind of get derailed, and not finish college or anything – did that happen to you?
KH: Yeah! Yeah, it really happened to me! I feel like I’m learning things now that I should’ve been learning as a child.
JW: Are you back in school now?
PHV visit to the Portland campus of Oregon State Hospital. (Kate’s in the back row, on the left.)
KH: Yes, I’m going to two schools.
JW: Oh, wow!
JW: Which schools?
KH: I’m going to the Process Work Institute and I’m going to the Knightsbridge Institute.
JW: Do you have a background in community organizing?
KH: No, not really! (laughs)
JW: So you’re learning as you go!
JW: Is Process Work giving you some interesting things to try out, as far as community work?
KH: Yeah, they’re all about community, and they’re all about culture, and identity, and one of their big things is that it takes everybody to represent reality. You know, if there’s one portion of the population that isn’t being represented, then nobody has a clear vision of exactly what’s going on. Right?
JW: Oh, yeah, that’s very good.
KH: And that’s just logic. (laughs) So, that’s one of the things I’m learning from the Process Work Institute. And how to approach the various aspects of both one person, and a community, at the same time, because their parts kind of have similar responses and relationships with each other.
JW: Right now, Portland Hearing Voices is working really hard to find a landing place, and find some funding. Are you pretty confident that PHV is going to continue, and groups will be back?
KH: I am pretty confident. Really, it’s about the sustainability factor. So there’s a portion of it that’s not exactly in my control. But if we were to get the resources – I’d feel, I would say, VERY confident that we’d be able to make it a sustainable operation. We went through it one time before, and it was pretty sustainable with very little funding. So I think we could do a spectacular job if we had all the resources we needed. There’s no doubt that people need us, because we hosted so many groups, for so long, and they were well-attended, by people who would just gush over them!
JW: Oh, definitely! –My own personal view is that Portland would be a poorer place without Portland Hearing Voices.
KH: I agree.
JW: Just the fact they exist here makes it a better city. Last question: What are some of your hopes and dreams for Portland Hearing Voices?
KH: Well, I would say the two primary elements of my dream for Portland Hearing Voices include getting back up to at least two groups a week, if not extending our groups into another women’s group, maybe an ex-con group, I’ve heard the idea of having groups that are specific to people’s religions. But at least two groups a week would be nice, and to have regular facilitator training. Because there’s just a wealth of knowledge that needs to be passed on, to people who want that knowledge. So it’s just a matter of making that connection, and helping it to continue to grow.
JW: How can people help? If someone reads this article, and they go, “Whoa! I really want this to start up again!” What can they do?
KH: They can donate money, donate their time, effort, help us to get the word out – those would be the major things.
JW: And they can get in touch with you how?
KH: My PHV email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.