Altered Environmental Perceptions
There are many types of hallucinations and each may result from a completely different reason. No matter how unrealistic the description of a hallucination may sound to you, it is very real for the individual who is experiencing it. It is also very tempting for people who don’t experience them, to discount others’ hallucinatory experiences.
We must remember that even though hallucinations are not real, we should not put someone who experiences them in a position of shame or embarrassment. Since hallucinations are powerful to begin with, the last thing that you want to do is to further destabilize their state of mind with insecurity and uncertainty.
Schizophrenics usually experience auditory hallucinations. These are typically voices which are heard coming from the inside of their head. Most will tell you that the voices sound like as if a real person were talking to them! The voices may alternate between male and female, young and old and sometimes even converse among each other.
The voices can be commanding in nature, telling them to do harmful things to themselves or to others. When not controlled by antipsychotics, many people can do quite harmful and terrifying things secondary to command hallucinations. The voices can also be pleasant, demeaning or neutral, either telling them nice things, making fun of them or stating things that are neither harmful nor pleasant.
Schizophrenics usually don’t experience visual hallucinations, but they can! These are mostly experienced when an organic pathology is at play, such as a brain tumor, a traumatic-brain injury or viral infection of the central nervous system. Visual hallucinations are also experienced in people who use drugs such as psychedelics, deliriants, ecstasy and more.
Schizophrenics may also experience olfactory hallucinations or hallucinations of smell. They may complain of smelling dead people! Others with a seizure disorder may smell burning rubber prior to the onset of their seizure. Olfactory hallucinations are not as disturbing, but can still be quite uncomfortable.
Schizophrenics may experience tactile hallucinations or hallucinations of touch. The classic tactile hallucinations experienced by cocaine users is called formication, or bugs crawling on top of their skin. The experience may by very frightening, often causing them to vigorously scratch at their skin or even use more of the drug, with the hope of making the sensation go away.
While hallucinations are just altered perceptions of one’s environment, they feel very real to those who experience them. The best approach to adopt when talking to someone who is experiencing hallucinations, is to compassionately listen to their description and understand where they are coming from. By developing a therapeutic alliance, you are putting yourself in a much better position to potentially guide and help them come back to reality.
Are you Ready? (This is Defeating Stigma Mindfully)