Putting a face to the voice: AVATAR 2 trial launched today

AVATAR therapy uses digital avatars to represent the auditory hallucinations experienced by people with psychosis to help them cope with the distress caused by the voices.

Developed by King’s College London, UCL and UCL Business, AVATAR2 sees this ground-breaking therapy trial extended to sites across the country including University of Manchester and University of Glasgow as well as King’s College London and University College London.  

The launch event will take place with distinguished guests Sir Norman Lamb, Chair of South London and Maudsley NHS Trust and consultant clinical psychologist Dr Lisa Cameron, MP for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow

It will include an introduction to the AVATAR2 trial and demonstrations of AVATAR therapy software by the trial team from the four trial sites; King’s College London, University College London, University of Manchester and University of Glasgow. There will be a panel Q&A session at the end of the afternoon.

These results build on a previous clinical trial, led by King’s and hosted by South London and Maudsley NHS Trust, which showed in 2018 that the therapy resulted in a rapid and substantial fall in frequency and associated distress of voices, when compared with supportive counselling alone at 12 weeks.

The AVATAR2 trial has two clear aims

  • To test two different forms of AVATAR therapy comparing each with a treatment as usual control and to find out which might be most helpful for people. People will be offered either six sessions (brief AVATAR therapy) or twelve sessions (extended AVATAR therapy), delivered weekly.
  • To learn more about how AVATAR therapy may work, how it can be tailored to the individual and how best to deliver the therapy in clinical services.

The University of Glasgow’s Psychosis Research Group, led by Professor Andrew Gumley has been at the forefront of developing new therapies for people with distressing voices (also referred to as auditory hallucinations).

Professor Gumley said: “We are delighted to launch the AVATAR2 Trial today. The University of Glasgow’s Psychosis Research Group has been at the forefront of developing new therapies for people with distressing voices. This includes digital therapies to promote recovery, wellbeing and empowerment in people who have a diagnosis of schizophrenia.

“AVATAR therapy is a new digital therapy that can help people change their relationship with distressing auditory hallucinations. If this trial is successful it will be an important impetus to make AVATAR therapy available across Scotland in the future.”

Professor Philippa Garety, Chief Investigator and Principal Investigator of the AVATAR2 Trial at King’s College London, said: “We have made huge strides over the past few years towards finding a talking therapy that has the potential to substantially improve the quality of life for patients who hear voices. Hearing voices can be very distressing and AVATAR therapy offers an opportunity to put a face to the voice in such a way that humanises the experience.

“What we have seen so far is that this can become much more of a balanced conversation and that voices which were once considered overwhelming and scary can now become manageable. Now more than ever with increased isolation due to COVID-19, we are looking for robust, effective treatments that make the difference for our patients.”

First published: 11 January 2021

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