– ECHR Committee, 9th October, 2019

Last Month Durham University hosted the Second Annual Meeting of the Early Career Hallucinations Research (ECHR) group. With over fifty attendees, 20 ECR presentations, two keynotes, and a panel, this year’s meeting was a big step up in scale and organisation for ECHR. Thanks to our Events lead Cathy Bortolon, everything went smoothly and a stimulating day was had by all.

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The day started with two parallel sessions of research presentations from ECRs. It was particularly great to hear from so many new faces in the network, including Martin Fortier (Institut Jean Nicod, France), who spoke on the comparative phenomenology of hallucinogenic drugs, Ana Pinheiro (Uni. of Lisbon, Portugal), who uses ERP methods to explore non-clinical voice-hearing, and Viktor Dlugunovych (Walden University, USA), who explained the challenges of conducting research with voice-hearers in the US penal system. The sessions were chaired by our ECR’s, and for many this was their first time chairing. The presenters and the chairs delivered a wonderful job creating an example of the ECHR as a rich learning platform.

One of the main characteristics of this meeting was diversity. There was diversity both in terms of research background (with psychology, psychiatry, philosophy, language sciences, and neurosciences represented on the day) but also via geographical origin, with ECRs attending from Portugal, France, UK, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Canada, the United States and Australia. This diversity enriched the content of the meeting and discussions among the ECHR.

In the afternoon we headed off any post-lunch coma by plunging into Open Space with Mary Robson from Durham’s Hearing the Voice. Open Space is a method used to encourage and facilitate group conversations (if you want to know more about the technique, see here, and find the full set of discussion summaries here). This prompted discussions on topics as broad as the psychosis continuum, soundless voices, and the sense of agency. Our mentoring lead, Candela Donantueno, also began discussions on a new ECHR/ICHR mentoring scheme (if this is something that interests you, please get in touch).

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We also heard from our codemaster, David Benrimoh (McGill University), on the pleasures and pitfalls of learning to code. He was joined by fellow ECHR committee member Steph Allan (Uni of Glasgow) and Joe Barnby (KCL) for an illuminating and grounding panel discussion afterwards.

Our keynotes for the day came from two crucial and contrasting researchers – Iris Sommer (UMG), who gave a tour of her work on hallucinations across the lifespan, and Tanya Luhrmann (Stanford), whose work in comparative anthropology has involved experiences of voices in the context of mediumship, shamanism and charismatic churches.

During the day, we also had the pleasure of being joined by Vaughan Bell (UCL), our keynote from the first ECHR Annual Meeting, and Charles Fernyhough and Angela Woods – the lead investigators of the Hearing the Voice project and hosts of the ICHR meeting. Thanks to the support of Hearing the Voice, we were able to financially support the attendance of over 20 ECRs at the Durham meeting, and many of them stayed on for the full ICHR meeting later that week. The ECRs made a real impact, leading working group presentations on metacognition, computational modelling, psychedelics, shame, and open science (in no particular order!).

Further details on the meeting can be found here, and discussions about future initiatives and collaborations will be available via the ECHR Slack group.