Anderson Cooper Hears Voices and the Media Plays "Telephone"

hearing distressing voices Jun 16, 2014

Do you remember playing the game "Telephone"?  One person would whisper a message to the person sitting next to them in the circle, and that person would pass it along to the next person.  This would continue until the message had come full circle.  Not infrequently, the final version of the message bore little resemblance to the initial one.  The message morphed when members of the circle either added, deleted or in some way altered it. Last week, I witnessed the media's version of "Telephone".

Last Monday, I gave a keynote address on recovery, followed by a workshop on shared decision making for 350 folks in Tarrytown NY. At 2:45pm, a car service from CNN picked me up and zoomed me down to New York City to be interviewed by Anderson Cooper. His segment about Hearing Distressing Voices would air that night on Anderson Cooper 360.  

The next day, when I finally got to see the segment, I was impressed.  It struck me as well- balanced and thoughtful.  Although Anderson had interviewed me for 15 minutes in the studio, only 2 minutes made it to air time.  That was okay with me.  Watching Anderson struggle with a basic mental status exam or trying to do a simple origami paper design was powerful.  Watching him walking down the streets of NYC on a quiet Sunday morning, hearing distressing voices via the simulation was moving. I created the simulation to increase empathy and understanding and felt his segment did just that.

It was a minor issue, but I was caught off guard when I heard him referring to the experience as an "experiment".   It was a simulation, not an experiment, but I figured I could live with that inaccuracy.  However, as the video was picked up by various media outlets, the "Telephone" phenomenon began to unfold.  Mediaite headlined Anderson Cooper Undergoes 'Very Unpleasant Experience of Hearing Voices'.  The Huffington Post took it a step further and headlined, Anderson Cooper Goes Through a Harrowing Mental Illness Experiment.  Medical Daily morphed the headline claiming Anderson Cooper's Schizophrenia Simulator Was An 'Unpleasant Experience'.  Even Perez Hilton (!) picked up on the story with the headline, Anderson Cooper Tests Out a Schizophrenia Simulator!

A schizophrenia simulator!!  Hearing voices does not simulate schizophrenia. Many people have voice hearing experiences and not all experiences of hearing voices are distressing. As my friends at Intervoice have made abundantly clear, hearing voices is a variant of human experience and is not synonymous with having a "brain disease".  As I have written in another blog post, sometimes voices have important and meaningful lessons to teach us. We can move beyond being overwhelmed by voices and can learn to live with them. 

So for the record, it's upsetting to have my message, and the experience of all of us who hear distressing voices, distorted in sensationalized headlines.  Just sayin'...