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A recent study suggests that people with schizophrenia can create avatar representations of the voices in their heads to help alleviate the pressure they feel when they hear them. Sometimes the voice will disappear altogether.
An initial study, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, examined patients with schizophrenia who failed to respond to more typical prescription therapies. These patients were encouraged to customize avatars or personalized images to match the voices they were hearing inside their minds.
A psychiatrist then spoke to the patients using these on-screen avatars during several therapy sessions. The patients were encouraged to criticize the voices and to tell them to go away. The on-screen avatar, being manipulated by the psychiatrist, eventually began to say things like, "All right, I'll leave you alone," as well as offer helpful rather than harmful advice.
After six sessions, the majority of patients said the voices they heard had minimized or decreased in occurrence. They reported that they heard the voices less frequently and that they were less distressed.
Three of the patients said the voices had stopped entirely. That being said, only 16 of the 26 patients who initially enrolled in the trial were able to finish the sessions. The researchers said the low completion rate was not entirely surprising since they were most likely afraid of the voices and confronting them. The voices may have even “bullied” them into dropping out.
The trial will continue and expand next month at the King's College London Institute of Psychiatry. They hope to enroll 150 patients.
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