abstract blue painting of two heads that are interlinked

Voice Hearing within Eating Disorders

Introducing the Eating Disorder Voice study

Student and project co-lead, Sarah Roberts introduces the research project.

Exploring voice hearing within eating disorders with girls and young women

Eating disorders are on the rise in the UK, with 2022 seeing new records in the number of young people accessing treatment for eating disorders (NHS England, 2022). During UK medical training, aside from child and adolescent psychiatry training, teaching on eating disorders can amount to as little as two hours; learning which is rarely assessed (Ayton & Ibrahim, 2018). Due to the risk of severe health and illness, mortality and multimorbidity associated with eating disorders, it is essential we know more about what helpful support would look like. It is also essential that research attends to factors that can maintain the eating disorder and undermine recovery.

One such mechanism is the eating disorder voice, which is the experience of hearing a voice others don’t, which has been described by a recent review as “powerful, negative and omnipotent [in] nature” (Aya et al., 2019), increasing feelings of defeat and entrapment within the disorder. Addressing the eating disorder voice through relational and interpersonal talking therapy approaches has potential to bring about better outcomes for people with eating disorders (Aya et al., 2019), although the eating disorder voice can prevent people from seeking help in the first place.

Therefore, there is a need to learn more about the eating disorder voice in community and clinical groups, developing a broader understanding of the voice itself and how it affects the choices people feel they have for recovery. However, there are three key challenges to address as part of this process.

What is this study about?

Our research study aims to develop an understanding around voice hearing and multisensory experiences (seeing, hearing, or feeling things that aren’t there) with young women who live with an eating disorder. We are particularly interested in experiences of voice hearing in connection with disordered eating, this is sometimes called the Eating Disorder Voice. Voice hearing experiences can make it harder for young women to recover from an eating disorder. We hope by developing a clearer understanding of this experience, we can make recommendations for improving support services.

We are hoping to gather stories of experience from around 20 young women about their experiences of voice hearing alongside an eating disorder. They can share their story as a piece of writing, poem, letter, notes, voice note, picture or photos. If they choose to take part, they will have access to a secure online platform where they can safely share their story with the researchers.

Who can take part?

Individuals who:

  • Identify as a young woman.
  • Are between the age of 16 and 25 years old.
  • Currently or previously experience voice hearing or another multisensory experience, such as visions, feeling the presence of another, or feeling more than one person in one body.
  • Currently or previously have experienced an eating disorder.

How can you take part?

There are three stages to this research study, participants can take part in as much or as little of each of the stages as they feel comfortable with.

Please scan this QR code to direct you to the questionnaire for stage 1.

Black and white QR code for the study's questionnaire

Share your story of experiences of voice hearing alongside an eating disorder via an online platform. It is completely up to you what type of work you wish to submit. It could be a piece of writing, artwork, voice note etc.

You can attend an online group ran by Sarah and Phoebe to discuss the stories we have gathered and how they represent your experience.

Attend one or both of the following online groups:

  • An online group with Sarah – “How do you experience voice hearing or internal speech in connection to your eating disorder”
  • An online group with Phoebe – “What have been your experiences of head mates, multiple voices or selves alongside the eating disorder”

The benefits to taking part

There is a chance to win £25 for participating in each stage of the research project. The winner will be selected at random. You may find participating in the study interesting, and your involvement within this research and the information you share will also help us to further understand how voice hearing and multisensory experiences impact individuals with eating disorders. This will help us to improve the support that services can offer to this community.