Avatar Therapy Shows Promise for Voice Hearers

While technology has given therapists a whole new way to explore exposure therapy with patients with PTSD and anxiety disorders, other mental health issues haven’t gotten quite the same boost. Recently, however, psychiatrists have been exploring a technological approach to treating enduring auditory verbal hallucinations of the sort that are sometimes experienced by people with schizophrenia or affective disorder.

AVATAR therapy allows participants to create a digital representation of the face and voice of their “presumed persecutor,” as researchers put it. A trained therapist speaks to the participant through the avatar, becoming less hostile and ceding power to the participant as the therapy progresses. The goal is to give participants more control within their relationships with the voices they hear.

A recent study published in The Lancet trialed AVATAR therapy with a group of 75 participants, with another 75 assigned to a control group receiving supportive therapy. The results were very promising. Through multiple scales, AVATAR therapy led to significantly greater reductions in auditory hallucinations than supportive counselling, and participants reported decreased frequencies of voices and reduced distress. That improvement lessened over time, but was still significant at a 24-week followup.

In the video above, Professor Tom Craig from King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience demonstrates the software used for Avatar therapy. Prof. Craig and his team plan to research this therapy further, but the initial results are certainly promising.

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