Avatars to help schizophrenics cope with ‘the voices’

One of the most common features of schizophrenia is the inability to control the voices that tell you what to do–at minimum annoying, but sometimes urge you to harm yourself or another. Anti-psychotic drugs do not silence them in 25 percent of cases. This approach from University College London researchers puts faces to the voices–and, by letting the patient create them, gives the patient control. With a therapist, each of the 16 patients in the study created an avatar with a computer-generated face and voice ‘matching’ the ‘voice in the head’.

In up to seven 30-minute sessions, each subject interacted with their entity’s avatar, and were encouraged to oppose its threats and orders. Not only did this allow the subjects to get comfortable with the idea of standing up to the “actual” entities themselves, but because they had taken part in creating the avatars, it helped them realize that the entities actually originated within their own mind. Additionally, each subject received an MP3 recording of their sessions, which they could listen to whenever they started hearing voices again.

Almost all participants experienced a reduction in the frequency and severity of their episodes–and three of the subjects, who had been experiencing hallucinations for 16, 13 and 3.5 years, stopped hearing voices completely. The research team just received a £1.3 million (US$1.98 million) grant from the Wellcome Trust to expand the research starting in July.  Avatars help schizophrenics gain control of voices in their heads (Gizmag)

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