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Avatar therapy helps silence voices in schizophrenia
Date:5/29/2013

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 a reduction in the frequency and severity of the voices that they hear. Three of the patients stopped hearing voices completely after experiencing them for 16, 13 and 3.5 years. The avatar therapy does not address the patients' delusions directly, but the study found that these do improve as an overall effect.

The team has now received a 1.3 million Translation Award from the Wellcome Trust to refine the system and conduct a larger, randomised study to evaluate this novel approach to schizophrenia therapy. The study will be conducted at King's College London Institute of Psychiatry.

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's lips with its speech, enabling a therapist to speak to the patient through the avatar in real time. The therapist encourages the patient to oppose the voice and gradually teaches them to take control of their hallucinations.

Julian Leff, Emeritus Professor of Mental Health Sciences at UCL, who developed the therapy and is leading the project, said: "Even though patients interact with the avatar as though it was a real person, because they have created it they know that it cannot harm them, as opposed to the voices, which often threaten to kill or harm them and their family. As a result the therapy helps patients gai
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Contact: Jen Middleton
j.middleton@wellcome.ac.uk
44-207-611-7262
Wellcome Trust
Source:Eurekalert

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