Support group offers a new way of looking at mental illness

Last Tuesday, a group of Portlanders gathered to talk about experiences that many would call “weird,” “crazy,” or “psychotic.” But this group looks at such experiences in a challenging new way.

The Voices and Extreme States Support Group, offered by Portland Hearing Voices, is facilitated by Will Hall, an internationally recognized leader, community organizer and mental health advocate (and board member of Mental Health Association of Portland). The support group provides a safe place for people to talk about their experiences with voices, visions and different states of consciousness in an atmosphere of respect.

Hall advocates recognition of diversity in mental experience. While this concept might sound unusual, it’s actually quite traditional, and it appears in some familiar contexts.

In the Bible, for instance, hearing the voice of God was considered a gift. One spiritual website states that, nowadays, however, “many Christians are threatened by the idea that God speaks to us here and now…. They are comfortable learning about God’s existence and His attributes, but show me a theological seminary anywhere with a class teaching students how to hear God speak. Wouldn’t such a class be controversial!”

God spoke to Elijah, David, Nathan, Ezra, Jeremiah, Hosea, Isaiah, Moses, Noah. Many of the great saints saw vivid visions and heard clear messages. Today, would they be beatified – or medicated?

Shamans throughout the world are revered for their ability to see spirits and communicate with the ancients. If we met a shaman, would we offer respect, or would we back away from the “psychotic” person?

Some people have experiences other than voices and visions, such as fears, extreme high and low moods, or compelling ideas and beliefs. Must these experiences always be treated and suppressed, or can they be opportunities for understanding?

Hall noted that some people have experiences that are distressing. The group honors that experience as well. It’s reasonable that a person might want those experiences to stop, and that’s just as valid as deriving meaning or insight.

At the meeting on Tuesday, individuals shared and gave and received support. The group continues as a valuable resource for Portlanders living with voices, visions, or any extreme states of consciousness.

The next Voices and Extreme States Support Group will be held Tuesday, March 16, from 6-7:30 p.m., at the Downtown Chapel, 601 W. Burnside Street. The group meets every two weeks. For an updated list of meeting dates, see PHV’s website.

For more information, click “PDX Hearing Voices” at the top of this page, or get in touch:

Phone: 413-210-2803

Read a three-part interview with Will Hall