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Harv Rev Psychiatry. 2010 Jan-Feb;18(1):22-35. doi: 10.3109/10673220903523706.

Hallucinations in nonpsychotic disorders: toward a differential diagnosis of "hearing voices".

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, CA, USA.


While auditory hallucinations (AH) are prototypic psychotic symptoms whose clinical presence is often equated with a psychotic disorder, they are commonly found among those without mental illness as well as those with nonpsychotic disorders not typically associated with hallucinations in DSM-IV. This incongruity presents a significant challenge for clinical work and efforts to revise the next iteration of the DSM. Auditory hallucinations found among "normal" people suggest that either AH are not as pathologic as they are typically taken to be, or that less-than-hallucinatory experiences are routinely mischaracterized as AH. Such hallucinations in the context of conversion disorder, trauma, sensory deprivation, and certain cultural settings strengthen an association between AH and psychopathology but suggest limited diagnostic specificity and relevance. It may be useful to think of AH like coughs-common experiences that are often, but not always, symptoms of pathology associated with a larger illness. Although these issues have been known for many years, they are rarely discussed in American psychiatry and need to be addressed in future research and clinical work.

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