Psychology

‘Hearing voices’: training nursing students to treat patients with mental illness

In the Hearing Voices simulation, students listen to a tape of sometimes disturbing voices that mimic a common symptom of schizophrenia.

LANCASTER COUNTY, Pa. – In an effort to help future frontline health professionals develop empathy for patients with mental illness, nursing students at the Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences in East Lampeter Township completed special training on Nov. 17.

In the Hearing Voices simulation, students listen to a tape of sometimes disturbing voices that mimic a common symptom of schizophrenia.

“It allows the students to try and complete tasks while having voices, some of which are nice, some of which are not nice,” says Stacey Bennett-Fulner, a GP and instructor at the university. “When they’re interviewing a patient or trying to assess a patient, they might feel a little bit of frustration at not being listened to, maybe recognizing from an empathic perspective that they’re responding to internal stimuli.”

Some students reacted viscerally to the voices, which alternated between whispers, loud noises and sometimes explicit insults.

“It’s terrifying. I mean once I posted this [earbud] Then I panicked and wanted to rip it out of my ears,” says Alecia Coughlin, a student in the associate degree in nursing program.

After she graduates, Coughlin wants to work as a nurse in labor and delivery. She expects mental health to play a role in her daily work.

“You will have mothers and fathers who have mental health problems. Looking at the patient as he is and then looking at his full record and then making that care plan is really important, that’s what we learned,” she said.

The simulation comes as psychiatry professionals reported a spike in mental health problems since the start of the pandemic.

The US Preventive Services Task Force recently recommended that all adults under age 65 be screened for anxiety and depression.

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