Schizophrenia is not as common as other mental disorders like anxiety or depression, but the symptoms can be quite disabling. The person afflicted with the condition may lose touch with reality and can think, act and behave differently. A recent research suggested that a computer-based approach can be effective in helping people battling schizophrenia.
The researchers found that on interacting with a computer avatar, which represents their hallucinations, patients can feel an improvement in the symptoms. The results of avatar therapy were compared with that of supportive counseling and it was found that the former was effective in reducing auditory hallucinations after a 12-week follow-up.
The study, published in the journal The Lancet Psychiatry in November 2017, comprised 150 participants who were struggling with schizophrenia for the past two decades and were experiencing distressing auditory hallucinations continuously for over a year. Half of the study population was provided with avatar therapy and the remaining was given supportive counseling. All the participants continued taking their antipsychotic medications alongside the therapies.
Avatar therapy versus supportive counseling
Before starting the avatar therapy, the participants worked with the therapists to create their avatars or the computer simulation of the voice which they wanted to tame with features like how it looked and what it said. The avatar sessions lasted for about 50 minutes each, over a period of six weeks. The sessions comprised a three-way dialogue between the patient, therapist and avatar (voiced by the therapist). Every session had a set target and included a face-to-face interaction, lasting for around 10-15 minutes between the patient and his or her avatar. During these one-on-one interactions, patients learned the art of standing up to those distressing voices and clearing any misconceptions. This led to a better control of the situation and a shift in power from the avatar to the patient. Eventually, the avatar realized patient’s strengths, positive qualities, higher control and greater power in the relationship. Each session was recorded and handed over to the patient to listen to when they heard the voices again. The supportive counseling also comprised the same number of sessions and tried helping patients by suggesting ways of improving their overall quality of life. The sessions ended by recording a positive message.
After a period of 12 weeks, the patients who took avatar therapy reported a marked alleviation in the disturbing symptoms and power of the voices they often heard. They fared better than their counterparts who were offered supportive counseling.
Important to seek help
Schizophrenia affects 1.1 percent of the American adult population. The chronic disease can take the form of psychosis, necessitating the need for early interventions. While the novel therapies like avatar therapy looks promising, the disease management usually involves a multipronged approach, comprising medication, family education, counseling, behavioral therapies and skill training.
The mental health experts at Sovereign Health understand that suffering from schizophrenia can make life a living hell for individuals and their families. Our trained staff, doctors, nurses and mental health specialists are committed to providing the best treatment in a safe and compassionate environment. Our recovery programs are tailor-made to suit the specific needs of a patient to ensure a better and illness-free life.