A new UK-based trial funded by Wellcome Trust and led by King’s College London (KCL) demonstrated the use of avatar therapy in potentially minimising auditory hallucinations for schizophrenia patients when used along with their usual antipsychotic medication.
The experimental therapy involves a face-to-face discussion between the patient, with an avatar representing their auditory hallucination and therapist.
Patients practise standing up to the hallucination by correcting misconceptions and taking control of the conversation.
During the randomised controlled trial, the avatar therapy was compared to a form of supportive counselling over six sessions in 150 people who were suffering from persistent and distressing auditory hallucinations for more than one year, even after treatment.
The KCL researchers observed at a 12-week follow up that avatar therapy was more effective at decreasing distressing auditory hallucinations.
Following 12 weeks, the symptoms in patients who had undergone the therapy were rated as less severe, with their hallucinations being less distressing and less powerful when compared with subjects under counselling.
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While the improvements in the avatar group were sustained at 24 weeks, the counselling group is also reported to have experienced less frequent and less distressing hallucinations during this time.
KCL professor Tom Craig said: “Our study provides early evidence that avatar therapy rapidly improves auditory hallucinations for people with schizophrenia, reducing their frequency and how distressing they are, compared to a type of counselling.
“So far, these improvements appear to last for up to six months for these patients.
“However, these results come from one treatment centre and more research is needed to optimise the way the treatment is delivered and demonstrate that it is effective in other NHS settings.”