New Therapy for Hallucination Caused by Psychotic Disorders

By Meghan Bialt-DeCelie ‘19

Figure 1. Researchers tested the reduction of auditory hallucinations in schizophrenic patients in response to a cognitive therapy where patients interact with digital simulations of their hallucinogenic voices.

Figure 1. Researchers tested the reduction of auditory hallucinations in schizophrenic patients in response to a cognitive therapy where patients interact with digital simulations of their hallucinogenic voices.

Sixty to seventy percent of schizophrenic patients and twenty-five percent of patients diagnosed with psychotic disorders struggle with both visual and auditory hallucinations. Drug and long-term cognitive therapies have been developed to conquer this, but they are often ineffective or only effective for a very select group of patients.

Researchers led by Dr. Tom KJ Craig tested the effectiveness of a hallucination targeted cognitive therapy called AVATAR in comparison to traditional counselling used for hallucinogenic patients. In this therapy, patients interact with an avatar that represents their hallucinations. This digital avatar however is controlled by the therapist to deescalate the patients’ relations with their hallucination.

Researchers conducted a single-blind randomized study using patients with schizophrenia or affective disorder with auditory hallucinations that have been unsuccessfully treated for at least a year. Half of the patients were given counselling therapies while the other half were treated with the AVATAR therapy. The effectiveness of the therapies was assessed with Psychotic Symptoms Rating Scales-Auditory Hallucinations (PSYRATS-AH) scores. They found that the PSYRATS-AH score of AVATAR therapy treated patients was reduced, with P=0.009 (<.05). They also found that the frequency of the hallucinations was also reduced.

This study was conducted on patients under a single health care system, NHS Foundation Trust in London, England. In the future, researchers wish to assess the effectiveness of this therapy across other institutions.

References:

  1. T. Craig, et al., AVATAR therapy for auditory verbal hallucinations in people with psychosis: a single-blind, randomised controlled trial. The Lancet Psychiatry (2017). doi:10.1016/S2215-0366(17)30427-3.
  2. Image retrieved from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cloth_embroidered_by_a_schizophrenia_sufferer.jpg
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