Avatars Ease Voices for Schizophrenia Patients

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Use of an avatar can help treat patients with schizophrenia who hear voices, a UK study suggests.

The trial, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, focused on patients who had not responded to medication.

Using customised computer software, the patients created avatars to match the voices they had been hearing.

After up to six therapy sessions most patients said their voice had improved. Three said it had stopped entirely.

The study was led by psychiatrist emeritus professor Julian Leff, who spoke to patients through their on-screen avatars in therapy sessions. Gradually he coached patients to stand up to their voices.

The avatar gradually changes to saying, ‘all right I’ll leave you alone’”

“I encourage the patient saying, ‘you mustn’t put up with this, you must tell the avatar that what he or she is saying is nonsense, you don’t believe these things, he or she must go away, leave you alone, you don’t need this kind of torment’,” said Prof Leff.

“The avatar gradually changes to saying, ‘all right I’ll leave you alone, I can see I’ve made your life a misery, how can I help you?’ And then begins to encourage them to do things that would actually improve their life.”

By the end of their treatment, patients reported that they heard the voices less often and that they were less distressed by them. Levels of depression and suicidal thoughts also decreased, a particularly relevant outcome-measure in a patient group where one in 10 will attempt suicide.

by Lorna Stewart, BBC

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