Avatar Therapy for Voices

The intriguing ‘avatar therapy’ study was extensively covered last week, e.g. by the BBC, Guardian, and Mail.

This Wellcome-funded study seems an excellent opportunity to put therapeutic dialoguing techniques on the map of mainstream psychosis treatment. However, it is crucial the researchers pay close attention to the psychological mechanisms involved, and not just assume that this therapy is about generating power / assertiveness in order to confront voices and tell them to go away. (There is a sense of this coming out of the media coverage, whether fairly or not.)

Assertiveness is important, but there are other key mechanisms worth investigating such as ‘validation’ (the voice-hearer’s experience being accepted and taken seriously for a change), and how this might help generate feelings of safeness, calmness, and control, from which the voice-hearer can then curiously explore, engage with, and process, their difficult (threat-based) emotions.

Getting the voice to go away should only be viewed as one of many possible helpful outcomes for the relationship between voice and voice-hearer. A great benefit of dialoguing is that the voice-hearer can work out what they feel would be a helpful relationship to develop in the future, once they have explored and understood the voice’s emotional roots and functions.

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