Psychologists create first-ever body maps of hallucinations

But what does this mean for those suffering from hallucinations, and how could it affect future understanding of related conditions?

Psychologists from the University of Leicester have created body maps of the sensations that arise during hallucinations in those experiencing psychosis. The recently published study provides extensive, descriptive data covering the feelings and sensations individuals report experiencing in their body during hallucinations. Amongst the most common reported included feelings of confusion, fear, and frustration.

Participants experienced very different variations of feelings, however, each individual reported feelings repeatedly occurring in particular areas of their body. These areas would often experience repeated feelings such as heat, pain, or tension.

Corresponding author for the study, Dr Katie Melvin from the Department of Neuroscience, Psychology and Behaviour at the University of Leicester, commented:

“During a systemic review of existing research, we found indicators of the contributions that multiple senses, emotions and feelings may make to hallucinations. We designed a study and developed a novel but simple method to investigate these features further.

“The range of feelings in the body and around the body were particularly interesting. Participants often described that the method helped them share experiences that were difficult to put into words.

“The methods and outcomes of this study can contribute to advances on how we understand hallucinations and how we can support people who experience them. The next steps for this area of research will be further understanding the embodiment and feelings of hallucinations in different populations and developing interventions to support with this.”

What is psychosis?

The term psychosis is used when someone loses touch with reality, causing the line between what’s real and what isn’t to become blurred. This can prevent someone from thinking clearly, and can result in them confusing reality with their imagination.

Each individual’s experience with psychosis – how they perceive and interpret what is happening to them – can be very different from others. Commonly, it can cause unusual thoughts, feelings and behaviours. This may or may not include hallucinations (where you see, hear, or believe something that other people do not) or delusions (a belief that is unlikely to be true which others do not share. These are often either delusion of grandeur, or paranoid delusions), as well as disorganised thinking or speech, or lack of insight.

Counselling Directory member and experienced integrative psychotherapist, Joshua Miles, explains more about how psychosis can affect individuals.

“The effects of psychosis differ for each person. It can be that psychosis is not always distressing. An example of this could be seeing the faces of loved ones who have died, which could be comforting. For others, it is highly distressing and difficult to manage.

“Psychosis can make you feel anxious or stressed, scared, confused, angry, mistrustful, victimised, or persecuted. You may feel threatened, misunderstood, alone or isolated, depressed, or tired from worrying all of the time.”

Those experiencing psychosis can struggle to concentrate, trust others, and maintain relationships. They may find it becomes harder to complete everyday tasks such as eating, sleeping, or keeping up with personal hygiene. Going outside may become difficult, and they may begin avoiding certain situations, activities, or other people.

Counselling Directory member and therapist, Warren Vinciguerra, explains more about what it’s like to experience psychosis.

“Losing touch with reality is a frightening concept. It’s very scary to not know what’s real and what isn’t. Auditory or visual hallucinations are extremely disturbing. Families worry, doctors worry, friends worry, and the general public worry. The knock-on effect is huge for the patient.

“The good news is some people do recover. In fact, they can transform and excel. Whether it’s medicine, family support and psychological support, or in fact that precise combination: people can heal. Talking therapy can be effective.”

What causes psychosis?

Rather than a condition that is diagnosed by itself, psychosis is a symptom of many different mental health problems. Those with diagnoses of severe depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder, paranoid personality disorder (PPD), postpartum psychosis, or paranoid personality disorder may experience psychosis.

There are many different causes and reasons why someone may experience psychosis. These can include genetics, head injury, sleep deprivation, extremely low blood sugar levels, as well as traumatic events or abuse.

Finding help and support

A combination of medication and talking therapy is often recommended to help deal with the symptoms of psychosis and subsequent distress. Your GP can offer more information and advice about medication options.

Therapy can offer a way to better understand and explore how you are feeling. By taking the opportunity to work through hand acknowledge how you are feeling, you can better understand negative thoughts, develop sustainable coping strategies, and work towards positive change. Different kinds of therapy options are available in many different formats, including:

individual or group sessions
face-to-face appointments
online therapy (via video, audio, email, or live messages)
telephone counselling

To find out more about counselling, types of therapy, and how they can help, visit Counselling Directory.

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