Virtual reality and avatar therapy

What is virtual reality and avatar therapy?

Virtual reality is a modern computerised real-time technology using graphics, sounds and other sensory input, which creates an interactive computer-mediated world. Virtual reality applications have been primarily used for the assessment and treatment of anxieties and phobias. More recently they have been used to examine the perception of emotion and the emotional responses of people with schizophrenia during simulated social encounters, with the aim of improving social skills, cognitive functioning, and treatment adherence.

Avatar therapy uses virtual reality to recreate the faces and voices of hallucinations. Using a computer program, patients create an avatar with the help of a therapist. The avatar’s voice is selected to match the voice heard by the patient. While the patient establishes dialogues with the avatar, the therapist manages the avatar so that it is gradually controlled by the patient. The avatar’s mode changes from persecutory to supportive during the therapy sessions. These sessions can be recorded for the patient to take home.

What is the evidence for virtual reality and avatar therapy?

Moderate to low quality evidence finds avatar therapy may improve general symptoms of schizophrenia and attitudes towards voices. However, there were no benefits of avatar therapy for acceptance of voices, quality of life, or treatment retention, and no benefits of virtual reality training for cognition, social skills, acceptability of treatment or study retention. Review authors suggest that these therapies need further testing in large, well-designed, and well-reported trials.

January 2022

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Last updated at: 6:45 pm, 4th January 2022
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Title Colour Legend:
Green - Topic summary is available.
Orange - Topic summary is being compiled.
Red - Topic summary has no current systematic review available.