– Sid Chopra and Sharla Cartner, 30th April, 2021

Last year was a difficult year for many things, including research, academia and clinical work. At the end of 2020, Swinburne University hosted the first free virtual conference for the Early Career Hallucinations Research, Australia and New Zealand group (ECHR ANZ), which became an academic highlight for the year. The conference was held over two days and focused on a range of interdisciplinary perspectives on unusual perceptual experiences and hearing voices, including insights from epidemiology, psychology, neuropsychology, sociology, and neuroscience.

Assistant Professor Nev Jones and Associate Professor Ben Alderson-Day were the keynote speakers for the conference, and the format short oral presentations and poster presentations by early career researchers. One of the unique features of the conference were breakout rooms, which provided open discussions around hallucination research, and possible future pathways. 

Day 1

Dr Imogen Bell opened the conference welcoming everyone before introducing Assistant Professor Nev Jones as the first keynote speaker. A/Prof Nev Jones presented a much needed and fascinating presentation titled: ‘Experiencer Involvement in Clinical ‘Hallucinations’ Research: Unpacking Epistemic Agency’. Here, she presented an applied philosophical analysis of the injustices that occur at an epistemic and practical level, when those of us who experience unusual perceptual experiences are excluded, or only tokenistically included, in research and inquiry into such experiences. The questions asked by the audience led to a compelling discussion into the role of expertise, power, and social status in the context of early intervention mental health services. 

Mikaela Bere chaired the 10-minute oral presentations, which included presentations on: 

  • Hybrid: Virtual Reality, Neurofeedback and cognitive behaviour therapy for the treatment of auditory hallucinations by Carli Ellinghaus, 
  • Factor structure and age invariance of the Cardiff anomalous perceptions scale (CAPS) in healthy older and younger adults by India Kelsall-Foreman, 
  • The Role of Attention Focus on Auditory Verbal Hallucinations by Sharla Cartner, and; 
  • Disentangling Altered Brain Connectivity in Antipsychotic-Treated and Antipsychotic-Naive Experience of Psychosis by Sidhant Chopra. 

“Presenting at the conference was an honour, and I was quite speechless when discussing the news with my supervisors. I was very nervous as I had never presented research at a conference before. I remember thinking my audience is a mixture of Masters or PhD students, or fully qualified researchers and some researchers with many years of experience researching hallucinations, and I was only an Honours student. However, my presentation went well, and I felt accepted and respected despite my “Honours” status. I highly recommend others take opportunities that ECHR ANZ offers as the experience was confidence-building, and the people in ECHR are very welcoming, open, and knowledgeable. It is also a great way to meet other researchers and to discuss future research ideas.” – Sharla Cartner

The award for the 10-minute oral presentation went to Sidhant Chopra from the Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health.

“I am starting to realise that the most valuable and interesting conferences are those which attempt to break down the silos of academic and clinical research, and this was exactly such a conference. The research I presented focuses on brain changes due to antipsychotic medication, and throughout the conference I found myself viewing my own work from a variety of different perspectives which I am not often exposed to. One of the added benefits of this conferences was that it was Australia and New Zealand specific, so we were exposed to the variety of multidisciplinary work being done locally, which was especially valuable to me as someone about to complete their PhD and looking for further opportunities. “ – Sidhant Chopra

The day ended with breakout rooms which encouraged open discussion on various topics, including digital interventions for hallucinations, multisensory hallucinations, neuroimaging, the transdiagnostic approach, and trauma and hallucinations. 

Day 2

Day two started with a quick introduction from Dr Rachel Brand before passing to Dr Caitlin Yolland, who chaired the three-minute thesis style presentations. There were eleven posters presented by Caitlin Reddyhough, Darcy Gordon, Dr Ilias (Leo) Kamitsis, Kriti Sharma, Laura Strachan, Mikaela Bere, Natalie Feary, Dr Rachel Brand, Sarah Maisey, Scott Pennay, and Sophie Richards. Breakout rooms for the second day continued discussions in digital interventions and hallucinations, lived experience, multisensory hallucinations, neuroimaging, and the transdiagnostic approach. Day 2 closed with the second keynote speaker, Associate Professor Ben Alderson-Day, who presented Hearing the Voice: Eight Years of Interdisciplinary Research on Voice-Hearing. Here, Ben took us through milestones, controversies, and lessons from an 8-year long multidisciplinary endeavour to understand voice-hearing, informed closely by voice-hearers.

The winners of the poster award were:

People’s Choice award: Sophie Richards – Listening amongst voice-hearers: A systematic review of neuroimaging studies.

Third Prize: Sarah Maisey – The role of self-compassion on the relationship between trauma and hearing voices

Second Prize: Mikaela Bere – Distinguishing multimodal versus multisensory hallucination in psychosis: Key Definitions and a way forward.

First Prize: Rachel Brand: – Multimodal versus unimodal auditory hallucinations in clinical practice: Clinical characteristics and treatment outcomes.

A huge thankyou to all the organisers, speakers and attendees for making this a great conference to attend. Further details about the conference can be found here and we are very much looking forward to what the 2021 ECHR-ANZ conference has to offer!