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Avatar therapy holds potential as adjunct therapy for schizophrenia

Published on 24/11/17 at 09:08am

Experts have developed a new form of therapy for patients living with schizophrenia, by allowing those individuals to speak to a generated ‘avatar’ of a voice they are struggling with.

This type of therapy allowed the patients to speak directly to the image they had created of their voice, in order to gain control over the voice and minimise its impact on their lives.

The research involved 150 participants, who were equally divided into standard one-to-one counselling and three-way sessions between the therapist, patient and the voice they wished to minimise.

A counsellor, through voice-altering technology, was able to mimic the voice troubling the patient, allowing the patient to gain the upper-hand in conversations.

The latter form of treatment was shown to rapidly minimise the auditory verbal hallucinations by the 12-week period, with some patients reporting the complete disappearance of the voice. By the 24-week analysis, outcomes were found to be largely even between those treated by traditional counselling and those that received avatar therapy.

However, it should be noted that the avatar therapy only took place over six sessions, over a six-week period. This opens up the potential to see that, if the therapy is sustained, outcomes could be vastly improved over traditional methods alone.

Ann Mills-Duggan, from Wellcome’s Innovations team who funded the £1.3m trial, said: “Avatar therapy is a promising new approach and these early results are very encouraging. If the researchers can show that this therapy can be delivered effectively by different therapists in different locations, this approach could radically change how millions of psychosis sufferers are treated across the world.”

To create the avatar, the patients worked with a therapist to design an image that fit the voice they were most keen to stop hearing. This resulted in images, such as the above, where every aspect of the face could be tweaked to fit the patients’ impressions.

Schizophrenia is a psychiatric disorder that approximately one in 100 people suffer globally.

All participants in the trial received therapy alongside anti-psychotic medication and the therapy offers hope that innovative means of therapy may be able to offer valuable adjunct therapies that, in combination, can allow patients to go on to live unaffected by their condition.

Ben Hargreaves

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