A team of scientists from King’s College London has developed an avatar therapy for auditory verbal hallucinations to help people with psychosis.
In most cases, symptoms can be weakened with medication, but even then voices are heard by a quarter of the patients, author of the study, professor Tom Craig, wrote in an article published in the medical journal The Lancet Psychiatry.
Scientists invited 394 people aged 18 to 65 to British hospitals to take part in the study, with 369 of them being assessed for eligibility. Of these people, 150 were eligible and were randomly assigned to receive either avatar therapy (n=75) or supportive counseling (n=75).
To create an avatar the researchers, together with the patients, created avatars with voices most often heard by patients during their psychotic attacks.
The patients were then asked to communicate with these virtual voices daily for a month and a half, while a doctor controlled the avatar and the phrases it uttered. Hence, it was a therapy that was carried out by the avatar on behalf of the doctor.
“Participants were randomly assigned to receive avatar therapy or supportive counseling with randomized permuted blocks [the block size randomly varying between two and six]. Assessments were done at baseline, 12 weeks, and 24 weeks, by research assessors who were masked to therapy allocation,” the article in the journal read.
According to the findings, a total of 124 patients (83 percent) met the primary outcome, as a significantly greater reduction in hallucinations was achieved using avatar therapy than supportive counseling. There was no evidence of any adverse events attributable to either therapy.