Ground-breaking AVATAR therapy trial launches in Scotland

A ground-breaking trial, which uses digital avatars to represent the auditory hallucinations experienced by people with psychosis, has launched in Scotland.

The AVATAR 2 trial – led here by the University of Glasgow – uses the unique therapy to help those with psychosis increase power and control over the voices they hear and reduce their distress.

The trial – developed by King’s College London, UCL and UCL Business – is being launched in Glasgow with an online event which will celebrate the first full quarter of running the AVATAR2 trial in Scotland.

The therapy trial is also being extended to sites across the country including University of Manchester, as well as King’s College London and University College London.  

The open event will be of interest to clinicians working with people who hear voices in NHS Scotland, people with lived experience of hearing voices and their supporters. Anyone with an interest in in novel psychological therapies, digital health or improving care for people who hear voices will also find the event interesting and useful.

It will include an introduction to the AVATAR2 trial and demonstrations of AVATAR therapy software by the trial team at the University of Glasgow. There will be a panel Q&A session at the end of the afternoon.

This trial builds 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 experiences such as 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. People with distressing voices have had poor access to talking therapies in Scotland. If this trial is successful it could be a game changer in terms of enabling access to psychological therapies for people with distressing voices.”

Jane [name has been changed to protect anonymity] said of her experience of receiving AVATAR therapy during AVATAR 1: “I would like to say since I’ve been unwell, I have had many Psychological therapies. I can honestly say that AVATAR therapy has helped me the most. Listening back to the Mp3 is like having therapy in my pocket. It has helped me gain back control of the voices.

“Being face to face with the avatar was very hard for me at first, especially the first session, but after a while I became more confident. It was easier for me to talk back to the avatar. At times it was very challenging but I was very well supported during all of my sessions . I think it’s hard for people like me to try new therapies, but it has helped me so much in my recovery.”

A free online event to mark a successful first quarter of the AVATAR 2 Clinical Trial in Scotland will take place on the 6th May 3.30-5pm.


Enquiries: ali.howard@glasgow.ac.uk or elizabeth.mcmeekin@glasgow.ac.uk / 0141 330 6557 or 0141 330 4831

 

 

First published: 28 April 2021