What are the six kinds of hallucinations?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Auditory, Visual, Tactile, Olfactory, Gustatory and Proprioceptive Hallucinations.

Six types of Hallucinations.
Photo courtesy of pixabay.

Of the six types of hallucinations, one is a characteristic of mental illness, two are most commonly found coupled with drug use or abuse and the others are rare occurrences.

Auditory hallucinations:

Hearing voices is one of the commonly reported symptoms of psychosis. For perfectly normal people hearing all sorts of sounds and not being able to find a source is common. Mostly this happens at night or when there some sort of sensory deprivation. Many people have had the experience of thinking they heard someone calling their name only to look around and find no one there. But if someone has psychosis the sounds they hear occur when others are present who don’t hear them.

People with schizophrenia have described the progression of these sounds to me. No one pattern seems to be consistent but here is the way in which auditory hallucinations might develop.

In the early stages, the person might hear humming sounds. They may get their hearing checked and there is nothing wrong. Later on, the sounds become voices. But the voices are mumbling, the person can’t make out what they say. The voices may get louder over time.

There may be one voice or many. The voices can be men, women or a group of people. Occasionally the voice will sound just like someone from the persons past.

The voice may comment on them – say “you’re no good” or “you will never be anything.” The voice may tell them to do or not do something. The most troubling auditory hallucinations are the “command” hallucinations when the voice or voices tell the client to harm themselves or others.

Occasionally the voices may be experienced as good or helpful voices. Sometimes the person experiencing auditory hallucinations can’t tell the difference between their own thoughts and “voices” as their thoughts become more negative and persecutory.

An occasional “hear your name and no one is there” or “hear chains rattling in the night” can be written off, but voices that recur or say negative things about the person are a sign of a serious mental illness and they need immediate treatment.

Visual hallucinations:

Seeing wisps or shadows can happen from lack of sleep, low light levels or other physical problems. Most of the more elaborate visual hallucinations are the result of drug use, intoxication or withdrawals. Seeing things when withdrawing from alcohol is life-threatening and needs immediate medical treatment.

A few people with mental illness only and no reports of substance abuse see things but most of the time if someone sees things they are doing drugs. Seeing things on drugs is so common that if the client knows that the drugs caused this we don’t diagnose it as a psychosis.

Three types of drugs cause visual hallucinations. Hallucinogens like LSD etc are a well-known cause. High levels of stimulants especially methamphetamine can cause Amphetamine-Induced Psychotic Disorder.  Collectively all the psychosis caused by stimulants is referred to as “Stimulant Psychosis.”

Meth users are familiar with “petting the shadow puppy” and being chased by the giant green meth monster.

Drug-induced visual hallucinations often persist even after the eyes are closed.

Alcoholic Delirium Tremens (D. T’s) also involve visual hallucinations.  This is life-threatening and is usually a lot more terrifying than the prosaic references to “pink elephants.”

Tactile hallucinations

These involve feeling things on your skin and body that aren’t there. These are almost exclusively drug induced.

Alcoholics may report the sensation of snakes crawling over their legs, mostly associated with restless leg syndrome.

Stimulant abusers are all familiar with Meth or cocaine bugs. They feel these sensations so often and scratch so much the characteristic scabs appear.

Olfactory hallucinations

Some people smell dead people, even before the people die. This makes good horror flick material but in real life, olfactory hallucinations are a lot rarer than auditory or visual hallucinations.

Smelling things that are not there and hypersensitivity to smells may have a physical cause or more rarely it may be a mental illness.

Gustatory hallucinations

This one makes me think I need a doctor, sometimes for the client, sometimes for me. If the client thinks they taste metal or poison this may be a medical issue, side effect of meds. Some clients have delusions of being poisoned and anything can taste like poison to them.

This is also a relatively rare issue in my experience.

Proprioceptive hallucinations:

This was covered under the category of sleep paralysis. These sensations of floating, flying, out-of-body experiences and other dissociative movement events are most likely when in bed before and after sleeping.  They have also been reported under the influence of anesthetics and other hospital-related incidents.  There are some historical references to this type of hallucination being caused by certain herbs and potions but most likely it is the result of sleep disruptions. I can think of no mental illness that features these sorts of hallucinations.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Three David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

SasquatchWandering through a hole in time, they encounter Sasquatch. Can they survive? The guests had come to Meditation Mountain to find themselves. Trapped in the Menhirs during a sudden desert storm, two guests move through a porthole in time and encounter long extinct monsters. They want to get back to their own time, but the Sasquatch intends to kill them.

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Does sleep paralysis cause or is it caused by mental illness?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

More on Sleep paralysis.

Sleep paralysis.
Photo courtesy of pixabay.

Remember this is written from a therapist’s point of view. If there is any chance that you or someone you know has a medical problem, have it checked out by a doctor first. But if the doctor finds nothing medically wrong with you that does not mean you are going crazy. It might mean that you can benefit from some counseling to help you better cope with stress.

Many people who experience sleep paralysis, hypnogogic hallucinations or “exploding head syndrome,” think they are going crazy or fatally ill. Knowing that these are explainable phenomena and have simple treatment can reduce the concerns. Sleep Paralysis and many related sleep problems are often triggered by stress. More stress, good or bad stress, and the chances of an attack increases.

People who become fearful of another occurrence of Sleep Paralysis can “prime the pump” and increase the risks of a second bout in the same way people who experience panic attacks begin to worry about having another episode.

If clients describe these events as dreams the doctor is likely to reassure them that it is normal. Patients who explain these events as demons, spirits or believe they actually saw a supernatural being are likely to be prescribed a psychiatric medication. Antipsychotics, antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications (Benzodiazepines) are all believed to increase the incidence of Sleep Paralysis and Hypnogogic Hallucinations (Gangdev, 2004.)

Other things that have been reported to increase the risks of having an episode of Sleep Paralysis include being physically ill, such as having the flu, watching or experiencing emotionally upsetting events, such as having an argument.

If the paralysis or hallucinations only occur when going to sleep and waking up they are most likely sleep-related and not the result of a mental illness. Gangdev, in his article, asked the question: “It is possible that a small proportion of patients diagnosed with schizophrenia who experience hallucinations may actually be experiencing escaped REM-related dream activity during the wakeful state?”

There is a significant overlap between sleep paralysis and Narcolepsy. Narcolepsy includes not only sleep paralysis but hypnogogic and hypnopompic hallucinations, daytime sleepiness and Cataplexy (sudden unexplained loss of muscle tone.)

Sleep Paralysis without any cataplexy or daytime sleepiness is not considered to be associated with Narcolepsy and is referred to as Isolated Sleep Paralysis (ISP.) Penn reported that 16 % of medical students reported at least one episode of sleep paralysis. That makes me think that long hours and sleep deprivation may be a major cause of many of these events.

Sleep Paralysis is far more common in African-Americans and in one study of Nigerian subjects more than half had experienced ISP. It is also common in Japanese Subjects.

People who have a Sleep Paralysis event find it helpful to get up move about and make sure they are fully awake before attempting to return to bed. People who do not get out of bed have an increased risk of having multiple episodes of sleep paralysis in the same night. Sleeping flat on your back looking up at the ceiling (supine position) is much more likely to cause a Sleep Paralysis experience than sleeping on your side.

Knowing that episodes of Sleep Paralysis and Hypnogogic Hallucinations are relatively common and most often harmless can help someone cope with these experiences.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

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Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Sleep Paralysis – What causes it? Is it related to PTSD or demons?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Sleep paralysis.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Is Sleep Paralysis related to PTSD or the supernatural?

Imagine awakening suddenly in the middle of the night. Sitting on your chest is a demon; there are ghosts, dead people or spirits standing around your bed. You try to scream but nothing comes from your throat. You would run if you could but your legs won’t work. You are awake and paralyzed. Looking up at the demons you are helpless to do anything beyond saying a silent prayer inside your head. You are experiencing Sleep Paralysis.

Sleep Paralysis is one of those unusual problems. This condition is especially terrifying to someone who has the disorder.  If you have a belief in the supernatural you may dread falling asleep.

Sleep Paralysis has long been more the province of legends and the supernatural than included in the area of mental health. This experience has been connected to many other worldly phenomena. Similar experiences were described during the Salem witchcraft trials.

Today we have a scientific explanation that satisfies some, some of the time, but are we sure?

In Sleep Paralysis you can see, move your eyes and breathe, but the rest of your body is unable to move.  Some episodes of Sleep Paralysis last seconds. The average is six minutes. Occasional an episode of sleep paralysis will last longer than 6 minutes or on rare occasion’s hours.

Many people with Sleep Paralysis, up to 30% also have a history of Panic Attacks. It is more common among those with PTSD or anxiety disorders. Sleep Paralysis is also most common among those with minority status, especially African-Americans (Sharpless et al 2010.)

Other researchers have suggested that dissociation may be related to the old or “Lizard brains” freeze response to threat or danger. The same mechanism might explain the inability to move despite overwhelming terror found in Sleep Paralysis. Fear and anxiety may both cause and be the consequence of Sleep Paralysis.

Sleep paralysis is more common with overtired or sleep deprived individuals. It is also associated with taking Antidepressants, Benzodiazepines and some other medications. Ohayon et al., 1999 (Cited by Sharpless) also suggested a relationship between SSRI’s and Sleep Paralysis but Sharpless did not find a connection.

Sleep paralysis can occur when falling asleep or when awakening from sleep. Its main characteristic is not being able to move for an extended period of time. This condition occurs naturally during REM sleep but we don’t know we are becoming paralyzed when we are asleep.

The episodes of paralysis while awake are most often accompanied by very vivid hallucinations. The more vivid the hallucinations the more terrifying the Sleep Paralysis. Sometimes the person will experience hearing sounds. Even when experiencing the full symptoms of Sleep Paralysis, both the visions and the inability to move, many people describe the experience as a “dream” (Fukuda et al, 2000.)

If the hallucinations occur when falling asleep they are called Hypnogogic. Hallucinations that occur when awakening are called Hypnopompic.

Sleep paralysis may be connected with a physical disorder such as Narcolepsy. Reports suggest that those who hear sounds are most likely to also have narcolepsy. Sleep paralysis has also been associated with Migraines. If this occurs more than once or causes significant distress it is wise to seek medical attention.

Sleep paralysis is more likely to occur when someone has moved to a new location, is under stress or has consumed an excessive amount of alcohol.

Mental health practitioners, therapists, and counselors are mostly concerned with two relationships between sleep and mental health. Is the problem with sleep caused by a mental illness? Symptoms of depression include changes in sleep and appetite. Depression can be seen as the cause of a sleep problem.

Sometimes sleep issues can create symptoms that are diagnosed as mental illness. Nightmares play a role in maintaining depression and PTSD.

Beyond those two alternatives, most other sleep issues are in the providence of medical doctors. There are plenty of sleep problems that are in the International classification of sleep disorders that are not directly included in the DSM.

The following are past posts on connections between sleep and mental health issues.

Getting Rid of Nightmares that Maintain Depression and PTSD

Trauma Steals Your Sleep 

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Is it a medical problem or a mental health problem – Axis III

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Medical record

Diagnosis.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Which Axis does that go on?

UPDATE

Under the DSM-5 system, mental health professionals no longer separate the information onto five Axis. We do still look for this information.

Several questions have come in on the relationship between medical issues, physical symptoms and the five-axis system of the DSM. This is the lay version of that discussion. For a full discussion, you would need to consult the APA site or the full DSM-4-TR. I see from the search terms coming into counselorssoapbox.com that there are several questions about this.

The mental health profession is focused on mental illnesses. The DSM it the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” for a good reason. So if the problem is medical it is outside what we are doing. If you have ANY doubt, please see a medical doctor first and get any possible physical illness or condition ruled out before seeing a therapist. The DSM, however, does not see psychical and mental disorders as two separate things even though different professions may treat different aspects.

Some mental disorders can create symptoms that are physical. People who are depressed may not be able to sleep or they may sleep excessively. Nightmares can be a symptom of PTSD. These sorts of mind-body problems can be helped by therapy. Some disorders have elements of both physical illness and learned behavior. If a mental illness is caused by a medical problem it is diagnosed as a mental illness and goes on axis I. The DSM cites a thyroid condition that results in depression as an example of this. Drug-induced hallucinations would be another.

Short answer – Mental illness goes on Axis I

(Axis II if it is long-term or hard to treat like Personality Disorders)

Some physical conditions can affect your mental health even though they are not the direct cause of the illness. If you become depressed as a result of a cancer diagnosis then the therapist and the psychiatrist would want to know about the cancer when treating your depression. Medical conditions affecting your mental health show up on Axis III. Which is a sort of “oh by the way” thing for therapists.

Medical condition that “influences” your mental health – AXIS III

One reader asked about coding Pregnancy. As I see it if I were treating a client for OCD and she gets pregnant, the pregnancy does not have to be coded. If I were treating this same person for depression and anxiety as a result of a rape and now she finds out she is pregnant, well the pregnancy may now have an effect on her mental health.

Sleep disorders are especially troubling. Poor sleep can be a symptom of a mental illness as in depression. Poor sleep can cause mental illness as in a breathing problem (sleep apnea) that prevents good sleep and creates depression or irritability. Intrusive nightmares can be a sign of PTSD. They can also be causing or maintain the symptoms.

There are some sleep disorders listed in the DSM but that list is not as inclusive as the list in the International Classification of Sleep Disorders. Sometimes there is a connection and sometimes people have a mental illness and sleep disorders that may influence each other but are not directly linked.

Sleep disorders are a highly specialized area. If you have a problem with sleep I recommend that you talk with your physician and you may need a referral to a sleep specialist.

In a future blog post or two, I want to discuss some conditions that get mistaken for other things and mixed up with mental health diagnosis.

More on Sleep Paralysis, Hypnagogic Hallucinations (Hypnagogia), Hypnopompic Hallucinations, Lucid Dreaming and their relationship to mental illness in posts to come.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.