New Avatar Therapy Helps Schizophrenia Patients Control Their Voices

The King’s College of London will be conducting a broader study based on an already proven effective therapy method that helps patients suffering from auditory hallucinations that are symptoms of schizophrenia. The University College of London (UCL) has recently developed a therapy method for schizophrenia patients that has proven very successful at helping patients manage, ignore, and even completely do away with their auditory hallucinations (voices). The new therapy is called Avatar Therapy and involves the use of a computer generated avatar that represents the patient’s “voice” that they hear in their head. The patient chooses the face and voice of the entity that they hear, and the computer synchronizes the avatar’s lips with its speech, enabling the therapist to speak to the patient through the avatar in real time. The therapist then encourages the patient to oppose the voice (avatar) and teaches him or her to take control of the hallucinations. With constant reinforcement that the “voice” is not real, the patient loses his or her fear of the voice, and in some cases, no longer suffers from auditory hallucinations.

In some ways this is similar to how I manage the voices that I hear. Although admittedly, I was never convinced that the voices I heard were symptoms of schizophrenia (I always believed that they were attached to real people), with a therapist’s help, I was able to manage, control, and eventually completely ignore the voices I heard. I still hear voices, sometimes whispering in my head, sometimes shouting out loud, but I am no longer afraid of them, and I no longer listen to them. I never gave them a face, like that of an avatar, nor did I need to give them a voice (they already had one), but my therapist and my husband did encourage me to ignore anything that I heard. By making every effort to ignore the whispering and the yelling, I was gradually able to leave the voices in the background of my life, even though at times I may be still aware of their presence.

Rainbow Wave

Rainbow Wave

I think Avatar Therapy is a wonderful idea for schizophrenia patients. It is a completely different approach than subjecting a patient to the trial-and-error method of finding the “perfect” combination of meds out there among the vast slew of anti-psychotics on the market today. I know it is possible to train the brain and mind to oppose auditory hallucinations without medication because I have done it. It isn’t easy however, and it takes constant effort. Hopefully, this type of therapy can be utilized by all schizophrenia patients.

Download My Memoir Chapter “Buddhism!”

I am currently offering my memoir chapter “Buddhism” as a free downloadable PDF file on my website. Please feel free to download as many copies as you like, as many times as you like.

  Click on the link below to download or view the PDF file.

Buddhism

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I really appreciated Brooke Warner and Howard VanEs’s valuable advice at their Self-Publishing Summit this past weekend. I have so many more new ideas about how to move forward with my memoir and my career as a writer. I am also really excited about publishing my “mini” ebook on Kindle. I’m going to finish up with the Chapter 3 revisions and then I’ll be set! I haven’t heard back yet from Kindle Singles, but I’m hoping for the best. Brooke and Howard also had some great ideas about making blogs more interactive, and encouraging my readers to leave comments for me. I also plan on starting a 1-2 page bimonthly newsletter that I will make available to my subscribers. My newsletter will offer updates and announcements about my memoir, my Kindle ebook, and anything else I plan on writing in the future. I will also devote a section to mental health tips, advice, suggestions, and awareness in addition to whatever else might be happening in the mental health and wellness community including spirituality related to Buddhism and women’s issues. The newsletter will also have a small area for Buddhist and non-Buddhist quotes that I and my readers find encouraging – similar to the Quote section that is currently posted on my website.

Thanks for reading!

Jennifer

The Voices Never Stopped

I’m planning on publishing a portion of my memoir electronically, hopefully sometime in July. I’m revising the last portion of what will be about a 50-60 page Ebook available on Kindle. This first part of my memoir covers my early experience with Buddhism, my depression while I was a college student at UC Santa Cruz, and my first hospitalization in Massachusetts General Hospital. The last section describes the circumstances during which I first began to experience the harassment, persecution, threats, and voices both inside and outside my head that continue to this day. I will be publishing the Ebook under the title “The Voices Never Stopped.”

I was recently put in touch with a young British filmaker who is working on a documentary about mental health and mental illness. He is currently looking for people who would like to be interviewed for his film and he can be contacted at his website, http://semperestsperare.wordpress.com.

I’ve been in Colorado visiting my dad this week. We’ve been cooking some good meals, eating at some good restaurants, and enjoying each other’s company. This afternoon we pick up my mom at the Denver airport. I had another bad headache starting on Monday that lingered on until yesterday evening. I left my headache medication at home, so it didn’t do me much good! Today I’m feeling better and am able to finish this blog post. My headaches cause a lot of pressure on my eyes and around my head. They also are very painful and I don’t get much done. Last night I woke up in the middle of the night and chanted in bed lying down for over an hour. I chanted to overcome and defeat the “devilish functions” in my life and to become a successful writer. I always feel better when I chant. After chanting, I feel back asleep and woke up around 7am. Fortunately, I don’t have these kinds of headaches too often. When I do, it’s very difficult to get anything done, especially reading or writing. I’ll be here another few days and then it’s back to California and my Self-Publishing Summit in Berkeley!

What Are the “Negative” Symptoms of Schizophrenia?

After the CureTalk Mental Health Panel last week I received an email from a woman at Genentech in New York. She inquired if I might be interested in hosting a Q&A with an expert on schizophrenia who is also familiar with Genentech’s research. The Genentech representative stated that in her experience, “the media/public focus is on the ‘positive’ symptoms of schizophrenia [and other mental illnesses including bipolar] such as the hallucinations and the delusions, and tends to exclude the ‘negative’ symptoms such as low motivation and withdrawal.”

I believe this is true for the anti-psychotics on the market today. They are used to treat what are known as the “positive symptoms” of schizophrenia:

  • Delusions – strongly held false beliefs such as:
  1. paranoid delusions
  2. delusions of grandeur – thinking you are famous
  3. delusions of reference – thinking that characters on a TV show are talking to you
  • Hallucinations – relate to the 5 senses (can be auditory, tactile, visual, olfactory, or gustatory):
  1. hearing, seeing, tasting, smelling, and/or sensing (feeling/touch) sounds or things that no one else does

The “negative symptoms” of schizophrenia include important abilities that are lacking in those people suffering from the illness, and which make social interaction and living a fulfilling life (with work, family, friends) more difficult:

  • low energy
  • low motivation
  • limited facial expressions, limited physical movements
  • difficulty speaking or an inability to speak
  • inappropriate social skills
  • inability to make friends, social isolation

I’m not sure what psychiatrists can prescribe (if anything) for schizophrenia’s negative symptoms. I know that much of these symptoms can be improved with training, practice and a consistent, conscious effort on the part of the individual. I have been working on improving my own abilities (or lack of) in these areas for a couple of years now – mostly due to my husband’s constant encouragement. Low energy can also be physical, so I took steps to try and increase my energy level during the day. I added wheat germ to my breakfast cereal or oatmeal, I started eating lighter lunches so I wouldn’t get sluggish in the afternoons, and I slowly but surely started waking up earlier in the mornings. I’ve tried to focus more on our marriage and our future together as well as my writing to be more motivated and finish my memoir manuscript, rather than dwelling on the negative events of the past.

More recently, I’ve begun work on being more conscious and aware of myself and my facial expressions/reactions when I talk to other people. Rather than sitting silently with a blank expression on my face during a conversation, I respond with a nod, smile or verbal response. This doesn’t come naturally to me, I have to make a very conscious effort. I learned how to improve my social skills with my husband’s advice. He tells me to keep the conversation going, don’t respond to a question with a one-word answer, and ask questions. This is great advice, but I never thought of it on my own. I needed someone else to teach me, help me, motivate me, and push me along on the right path. For many people, not only those suffering from mental illness, social skills do not come naturally. They can be learned, however, with education and encouragement.

The Genentech representative mentioned that Genentech’s current research is focusing on these negative symptoms, and I would like to host a Q&A with a psychiatrist to learn more about their research and how it can help people with schizophrenia and those who suffer from similar “negative” symptoms. If you or anyone you know is interested in participating in the Q&A with a question(s) of your own, please feel free to email me. I will be in touch with more information next week. Thank you!

Jen

If you are interested in Genentech’s schizophrenia clinical trial program, please visit www.searchlyteschizophrenia.com.

 

Finding the Right Medication for Each Individual – CureTalk Mental Health Panel on May 14th

Yesterday afternoon I participated in my first mental health call-in talk show with Priya Menon from CureTalk, Dr. Kamran Fallahpour, Jennifer Robinson, and Erin King Reitz. This was such a great experience for me and I was very nervous! Everything went well, however, and I hope that the listeners found Dr. Fallahpour’s information helpful. I am so glad that other people, especially other women are getting the opportunity to speak about mental health. Education and building awareness for mental health issues are so important.

Educating People About Mental Health

Educating People About Mental Health

Dr. Fallahpour’s work focuses on brain functioning. His research examines different types of brain activity such as memory and cognitive functioning. He has been developing a database which can be used to help individuals suffering from mental illness find the medication that works best for them. Dr. Fallahpour states “The prescription of most psychiatric medication is based on trial and error, with some individuals going months or even years before finding the right combination of medication.” Dr. Fallahpour hopes that the database he has been working on which collects brain, cognitive, and genomic data can be used to objectively predict a patient’s response to the different medications that are currently available.

This would be wonderful for people suffering from mental illness. I’ve realized after the past few years of blogging, group therapy, and communicating with other people suffering from a variety of mental illnesses, that each medication affects each individual differently. There is no guaranteed response that will occur if someone with schizophrenia takes Zyprexa. One person’s symptoms might be relieved completely, or only partially. A different person diagnosed with schizophrenia might take the exact same dosage of Zyprexa and experience an entirely different response. This is why Dr. Fallahpour stated that prescribing psychiatric medication is based almost entirely on trial and error.

Finding the Right Medication for Each Individual

Finding the Right Medication for Each Individual

I myself have tried a variety of anti-psychotics and anti-depressants over the past ten years. I’ve found that some anti-depressants work better for me than others. Wellbutrin gave me more energy, but during my last hospitalization, the psychiatrist switched my anti-depressant to Celexa as Celexa is better for people with psychotic symptoms. I’ve tried virtually every anti-psychotic on the market today, without much luck. I started on Zyprexa, switched to Abilify, and when my symptoms grew worse I tried Risperdal, Seroquel and finally Invega. I am not taking any anti-psychotic medication right now because I don’t believe my symptoms are debilitating enough to necessitate medication. I continue with the anti-depressant because it helps with my mood. Ultimately, I believe that when treating people with mental illness, we need to look at the whole picture using as much information as possible.

The CureTalk Show is available at the link below:

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