Voices Unlocked Training at the Manuel Bravo Project in Leeds

Manuel Bravo & Mind in Camden


In Spring 2018 Voices Unlocked project provided a one day “psychosis” awareness and support training for staff and volunteers at The Manuel Bravo Project.

The Manuel Bravo Project is a charitable organisation based in Leeds that aims to help asylum seekers who are unable to find adequate legal representation elsewhere. Senior Immigration Caseworker, Holli, reached out to Voices Unlocked for training because her team felt the need for a better understanding of mental health issues.

Many of the people that the Manuel Bravo Project works with have experienced trauma in their home countries or on their way to the UK. None of them know if they will be allowed to remain in the UK. And all are under considerable financial pressure – one of Manuel Bravo Projects’ criteria for helping people is that “they must be unable to pay for a representative – this usually means they will be destitute or receiving asylum support”.

Holli and her colleagues noticed that after going through lengthy legal interviews, many of their clients were struggling with voices and visions and seemed to have no access to support. They wanted to create a more ‘holistic service’, which, as Holli described, “would not only provide legal advice but also use client connections volunteers to provide friendly support and assist male clients to attend appointments, see the doctor/expert when they find it too difficult, and help people to relax after what can be a difficult consultation with their caseworker.”

They launched a pilot project to support clients by pairing them with volunteers (many of whom had been through the asylum application system themselves).

The idea for the project was to have a volunteer who was mental health trained who could meet with the client after they had been in a meeting with me. Often they have to go through the traumatic event they suffered through and this had a huge impact on their mental health. The volunteer would be ready with tea and biscuits to chat about anything the client wanted to for up to an hour. I hoped that by having this conversation it would help to ground the client a little, so they wouldn’t be thinking so much about the traumatic experiences they had had to speak with me about.

The pilot project made a great start, however, volunteers were uncertain about how to support people who were experiencing voices, visions, and other experiences commonly associated with “psychosis”. The training that VU provided explored these experiences and gave some guidance about how to support someone who is distressed by their experiences.

One of the key messages from the training was that supporting someone experiencing voices or unusual beliefs (etc.) is in many ways the same as supporting someone who is not experiencing these things. The most important elements of support are still being present, listening non-judgementally, and believing in the person you are supporting. These are all things the Manuel Bravo Project staff and volunteers were already doing well.

The training also covered coping strategies and techniques that people with lived experience have identified as helpful, with the caveat that what is helpful for one person might not be helpful for someone else.

The last part of the training was a ‘reflective practice’ during which staff and volunteers shared their experiences of working for the Manuel Bravo Project. This was a chance to support one another and recognise challenges of the work.

In feedback, MBP staff and volunteers said that they felt more prepared to support clients who might be distressed by experiences of hearing voices, ‘unusual beliefs’ (etc). We hope that this will help them to continue the excellent work that they are doing to support a marginalised and neglected group of people.

For more information about the Manuel Bravo Project, their website is:

Voices in the context of the diagnosis ‘Borderline Personality Disorder’:

Last month the team attended the Hearing Voices World Congress in the Hague, Netherlands. We attended workshops and delivered some of our own. One of the workshops our development worker Jessica Pons held was called ‘Voices, Visions and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) – whose story counts?’.

Within our work with women in prison and forensic Hearing Voices groups, we come across many women who hear voices and have received a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder/Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder. The diagnosis is incredibly controversial for a number of reasons. Many women feel it’s invalidating, or retraumatising, and can impact how they are believed, perceived and treated by professionals. Women with this diagnosis are sometimes told that voices they hear are ‘pseudo-hallucinations’. In the workshop, we explored how this framing might affect how women understand, speak and relate to their experiences. We also thought about the effect it can have on staff, and how it might affect their ability to hear and support these women. Finally, we put to the group whether we needed to hear more about this diagnosis within the Hearing Voices Movement.

Towards the end of September, Mind in Camden hosted Flick Grey’s workshop ‘Deconstructing Borderline Personality Disorder’. She spoke about how BPD is a label applied predominantly to women, many of whom are survivors of childhood sexual assault, family violence or other overwhelmingly distressing interpersonal experiences. The workshop challenged the pathologizing, de-contextualizing and individualizing concept of “personality disorders” and explored more generative ways in which experiences labelled BPD can be understood – in terms of mis-attuned, disavowed and invalidating relational environments, as creative adaptations and/or (valuable) relational sensitivities.

Both Flick Grey’s training and Jessica’s workshop were fully attended and received positive reviews.

We now plan to talk more explicitly about the impact of a BPD diagnosis within our training and materials. Thinking back to the history of the Hearing Voices Movement, it makes sense that there has been more reflection on the impact of schizophrenia and psychosis. We now think it is now time to hear more about people’s lived experience of the diagnosis Borderline Personality Disorder in the context of hearing voices, having strong beliefs and other non-shared sensory experiences.

We are due to hold a BPD workshop later this month for female service-users on a forensic ward in Essex. We’ll then begin developing a one-day training on BPD to be delivered in February 2019.

Photograph taken at the end of the ‘Voices, Visions and Borderline Personality Disorder’ workshop at the 10th World Hearing Voices Congress. We’d noted down the DSM categories and begun to unpack, critique and think about how we might talk about the impact of this diagnosis in Hearing Voices Groups.

Presentation at the Oxford Migration Studies Society

In February, one of our development workers presented at the Oxford Migration Studies Society about the work that Voices Unlocked does in Immigration Removal Centres. The talk gave an introduction to ‘Hearing Voices’, presenting the Hearing Voices Approach and explaining how it differs from the mainstream bio-medical approach. It then moved on to discuss Hearing Voices in spaces of detention, and Immigration Removal Centres more specifically.


In the Q&A/discussion, students expressed their curiosity about the effects of detention on mental wellbeing. They explained that because they had mainly learned about detention from more abstract political and sociological perspectives, they hadn’t thought so much about the pressures and stresses that individuals in detention are likely to experience. They reflected on how the high levels of uncertainty in Immigration Removal Centres – where, unlike prison, there is no limit to the duration of detention, or known outcome of detention – must be unbearable to live with.

We also had an interesting discussion about ‘intersectionality’ – the overlapping effects of the different categories by which a person is defined. We talked about the intersection of citizenship status (citizen vs non-citizen), race, gender, and mental health status. 

We look forward to future discussions with OMSS!

Facilitation course held for service-users at Shaftesbury Clinic, Springfield University Hospital

10 forensic service users have just finished our 3-day group facilitation course. One attendee had been an inpatient but is now living independently, returning to the ward employed as a peer worker. Three are living in a step-down rehabilitation service and the other attendees are inpatients of three different medium secure wards.

Material covered included language used to discuss experiences, ‘normal’ vs ‘not-normal’ beliefs, different understandings of why people hear voices, voices as messengers, the differences between a peer group and a clinical group, recovery journeys and the Eleanor Longden YouTube video. We also did facilitation skills looking at the role of a facilitator, safety within a group, opening up vs closing down conversations, debriefs and coping strategies.

We had a chance to problem-solve some issues with their current Hearing Voices Group and discussed how they want to use the training in the future. All who completed the training want to go on to co-facilitate their group.

After such a successful result, we plan to roll out group facilitation training for service-users to other organisations next year  🙂

Please get in touch if you’d like to know more!


New group launches at HMP Huntercombe

In December we wrote about the workshops for prisoners at HMP Huntercombe, a foreign national prison in Oxfordshire. They now have launched their men’s weekly Hearing Voices Group and we’ve heard it’s going well.

Since the launch, we’ve had a member of their staff on our one-day Hearing Voices Awareness training. Hopefully, we’ll be able to train more of their staff in group facilitation in the near future.

We shall stay in contact with Huntercombe, providing support for the group’s ongoing development.