The funding by the Air Canada Foundation will make it possible to improve the effectiveness of an AVATAR therapy based on virtual reality by carrying out clinical trials with patients suffering from psychotic disorders at the Douglas Institute. Interventions should begin shortly with the first tests that will allow to master the use of the software.
AVATAR therapy (Audio Visual Assisted Therapy for Refractory Auditory Hallucinations) is a ground-breaking new approach developed in the UK. Using specialized 3D rendering and voice modulation software, the therapist and patient collaboratively build an ‘avatar’—a figure that looks and sounds like the dominant voice the patient struggles with. The therapist voices the avatar in dialogues with the patient as part of their treatment.
The Douglas Institute is developing a virtual reality (VR) version of AVATAR therapy, which could allow for an even more immersive interaction—and in turn, more positive treatment outcomes.
Dr. Martin Lepage is a research and clinical psychologist at the Douglas, and leader of the CRISP Lab focused on digital mental health research and care. “The medicinal side has changed a lot,” he notes, “several new molecules have been introduced with much fewer side effects than before.” But despite the improvements to pharmacological treatments, auditory hallucinations persist in a significant minority of patients (30%). “Alongside that,” Dr. Lepage continues, “there have been huge developments in psychological intervention, which make it so that our treatments don’t rely exclusively on drugs.”
Auditory hallucinations are one of the two cardinal symptoms of psychosis—seen in 60-80% of individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia spectrum disorders—and are associated with distress, depression and an increased risk of suicide.
Digital technologies represent a transformational change in mental health delivery, more meaningful patient-clinician collaboration, and exponential opportunities in data capturing leading to improved clinical decisions and ultimately better patient outcomes. Thank you to the Air Canada Foundation who helps us to build hope for all those whose lives have been affected by mental illness.