From Psyche: “In a sense, by looking beyond the surface level of what their loved ones said or did, our interviewees had been practising hermeneutics – the art of interpretation – the ability to take something and look beyond it, within it, behind it, in order to understand it more fully. This is in noticeable contrast with dominant medical approaches to psychosis, which have dismissed the voices people hear, their visions, or sensing something that isn’t there, as all meaningless, while ignoring the content of any unusual beliefs, such as believing you are being persecuted or watched, and the related feelings of distrust.

Unfortunately, this view of psychosis as meaningless has filtered into popular consciousness through media representations of madness, where the person is seen to have lost touch with reality. Thankfully, the psychiatric survivor movement has done much to challenge this view through first-person testimonies that describe the meaning and significance of unusual perceptions and beliefs for people who experience them. Contemporary support groups such as the Hearing Voices movement argue that these experiences are meaningful, if we can see symptoms as symbolic representations of the person’s life experiences.

Our interviewees engaged in what’s called ‘hermeneutic labour’, which provided them opportunities to contact and ‘meet’ their loved ones in ways that felt shared. Understanding, being understood and sharing a meaningful life are central to feelings of belonging. In turn, belonging is fundamental to wellbeing and recovery from mental health problems.”

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