Putting a Face on "The Voices In Their Head" Helps Schizophrenic Patients

Khryss | Published 2017-12-05 02:11

Schizophrenia may be one of the most misunderstood disorders. It seems to people that having this means "the end" of a sound mental health--but it's not.

Patients are fighting, and now, a new technique might help them. Five to 28 per cent of people will hear voices that no one else hears at some point. And while not everyone who suffers from schizophrenia get to have these voices in their heads, 70 per cent of people with a schizophrenia spectrum diagnosis actually do experience such auditory verbal hallucinations (AVH).

These affect them in such a way that can be detrimental to quality of life i.e. they are often insulting and threatening. These patients usually go to counseling and take drugs to cut these hallucinations. However about 25 percent of them reported that either these voices don't go away or just come back eventually.

So, researchers tried a different approach: the avatar therapy.

First they created the avatar by having 150 people suffering from these auditory hallucinations. Each patient were asked to choose the face shape, skin tone, and even eyebrow thickness that best matched such voice that talks to them. They then selected the tone and pitch of the voice to match the ones they're hearing.

Then, they'll have a therapist talk to the patient through both as the avatar and as themselves in a three-way conversation, allowing the patient to have a visual embodiment of these voices. In turn, this enables them to confront it as the therapist ensured that they have the power over these hallucinations.

This is important as it provides patients the confidence to stand up to the avatars and, soon, to the voices, consequently reducing the distress it causes. It is important to note, though, that not all patients can cope with this and may even find the whole experience very distressing. Nonetheless, it seemed to help those who are able to confront these voices.

 “Our study provides early evidence that avatar therapy rapidly improves auditory hallucinations for people with schizophrenia, reducing their frequency and how distressing they are, compared to a type of counselling,” said Professor Tom Craig, who led the study published in The Lancet Psychiatry. “So far, these improvements appear to last for up to six months for these patients.”


Hey! Where are you going?? Subscribe!

Get weekly science updates in your inbox!