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.
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.