An avatar system that enables people with schizophrenia to control the voice of their hallucinations is being developed by researchers at UCL with support from the Wellcome Trust.
The computer-based system could provide quick and effective therapy that is far more successful than current pharmaceutical treatments, helping to reduce the frequency and severity of episodes of schizophrenia.
In an early pilot of this approach involving 16 patients and up to seven, 30 minute sessions of therapy, almost all of the patients reported an improvement in the frequency and severity of the voices that they hear. Three of the patients stopped hearing voices completely after experiencing 16, 13 and 3.5 years of auditory hallucinations, respectively. The avatar does not address the patients’ delusions directly, but the study found that they do improve as an overall effect of the therapy.
Even though patients interact with the avatar as though it was a real person, they know that it cannot harm them… As a result the therapy helps patients gain the confidence and courage to confront the avatar, and their persecutor.
The first stage in the therapy is for the patient to create a computer-based avatar, by choosing the face and voice of the entity they believe is talking to them. The system then synchronises the avatar