In the experiment, patients suffering from schizophrenia or affective disorders, described the appearance and voices of individuals who during the periods of exacerbation are constantly "tortured" their minds.
More research into the treatment's effectiveness in other healthcare settings will be needed, so the treatment is not yet widely available.
Auditory verbal hallucinations, which are typical of a derogatory and threatening nature, are reported by approximately 60-70 percent of people with schizophrenia. The first group received the avatar therapy, while the second stuck to counselling.
In the therapy, delivered over six weekly 50-min sessions, the participants spent 10-15 min of each session face-to-face with the avatar, wherein the therapist facilitated a direct dialogue between the participant and the avatar.
Cognitive behavioural therapy for psychosis (CBTp) can also be helpful but is a lengthy therapy with at times limited effects on voices. The therapy was used in people with schizophrenia who had had persistent and distressing auditory hallucinations for more than a year, despite treatment.
According to the research by King's College London (KCL), the new treatment for schizophrenic hallucinations could be twice as effective as counseling. This way, they were capable to control the voices in their heads as well, and saw significant improvements as compared to the counselling group.
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Professor Tom Craig, a study author from King's College London, highlighted the potential of avatar therapy "After 12 weeks there was dramatic improvement compared to the other therapy.With a talking head, patients are learning to confront and get replies from it".
Craig said, speaking to AFP.
Seven people from the avatar therapy group and two from the counseling one said their hallucinations had completely disappeared after 12 weeks.
The study, published in The Lancet Psychiatry journal, included 150 people aged 18 to 65 years and were randomly assigned to receive either Avatar therapy or supportive counselling. At the end of the study, patients who underwent avatar therapy were less distressed by the voices and heard them less frequently than those who had counselling.
As a result, there were no differences in outcomes between the two groups at 24 weeks.
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