Schizophrenia is a severe, long-term mental health disorder that causes a range of different psychological symptoms.
Described by doctors as a type of psychosis, someone with schizophrenia can sometimes feel unable to distinguish their own thoughts and ideas from that of reality. These symptoms can of course, be very disabling and distressing.
Symptoms of schizophrenia include:
• hallucinations – hearing or seeing things that don’t exist
• delusions – unusual beliefs not based on reality
• muddled thoughts based on hallucinations or delusions
• changes in behaviour
In a study led by King’s College London and published in The Lancet Psychiatry journal, AVATAR therapy was trialled as a new treatment approach for the condition. During this experimental therapy, people who hear voices, would engage in a dialogue with a digital representation (or avatar) of their presumed persecutor – voiced by the therapist. The avatar then responds by becoming less hostile and concedes power over the course of therapy.
‘A large proportion of people with schizophrenia continue to experience distressing voices despite lengthy treatment, so it is important that we look at newer, effective and shorter forms of therapy,’ says lead author Professor Tom Craig from King’s College London, and the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, UK.
A randomised controlled trial compared avatar therapy to a form of supportive counselling (adapted specifically for the study). It found that avatar therapy was more effective at reducing hallucinations at 12-week follow-up, and had a large effect size.