Recent therapeutic approaches to auditory verbal hallucinations (AVH) exploit the person-like qualities of voices. Little is known, however, about how, why, and when AVH become personified. We aimed to investigate personification in individuals’ early voice-hearing experiences. We invited Early Intervention in Psychosis (EIP) service users aged 16–65 to participate in a semistructured interview on AVH phenomenology. Forty voice-hearers (M = 114.13 days in EIP) were recruited through 2 National Health Service trusts in northern England. We used content and thematic analysis to code the interviews and then statistically examined key associations with personification. Some participants had heard voices intermittently for multiple years prior to clinical involvement (M = 74.38 months), although distressing voice onset was typically more recent (median = 12 months). Participants reported a range of negative emotions (predominantly fear, 60%, 24/40, and anxiety, 62.5%, 26/40), visual hallucinations (75%, 30/40), bodily states (65%, 25/40), and “felt presences” (52.5%, 21/40) in relation to voices. Complex personification, reported by a sizeable minority (16/40, 40%), was associated with experiencing voices as conversational (odds ratio [OR] = 2.56) and companionable (OR = 3.19) but not as commanding or trauma-related. Neither age of AVH onset nor time since onset related to personification. Our findings highlight significant personification of AVH even at first clinical presentation. Personified voices appear to be distinguished less by their intrinsic properties, commanding qualities, or connection with trauma than by their affordances for conversation and companionship.
Bibliographical note© The Author(s) 2020. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center.
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Funding: This research was supported by a Wellcome Trust Collaborative Award (WT108720) awarded to B.A.D., A.W., and C.F.