A PPI consultant on the trial provides their account of experiencing Avatar Therapy during AVATAR2 trial.
I am writing this account because I wish to share my experience of receiving AVATAR therapy.
In February 2021, I was offered the chance to take part in the AVATAR2 trial. I was keen to get involved because I had struggled with hearing distressing voices for a very long time, in fact since I was a child.
After an initial assessment, I couldn’t believe my luck when I was assigned to the group receiving the 12 weeks of therapy.
I first met with the therapist to talk about my voices and what they said to me. We also discussed my aim or goal for the therapy.
I felt I wanted to learn new ways to manage my voices, particularly when I was feeling distressed. I also wanted to feel on more equal terms with them, rather than them having power or control over me. I didn’t feel that it was necessary at that time for them to be gone.
Initially, I found it difficult to say out loud to another person exactly what my voices would say to me. This is because there was a lot of bad language and swear words! However, the therapist made me feel more comfortable by informing me that this was extremely common. She also spoke typical words and phrases that other voice hearers experience. This reassured me and normalised my situation.
Following on from that, I felt much more at ease with the therapist. She was more knowledgeable about voices than any other professional who I had met. I felt safe enough to be open with her, I trusted her and I found her easy to talk to.
The next step was to create the avatar to match my most distressing voice. This was interesting and a bit of fun, in a way but it was also scary to see and hear him for the first time on a computer.
Before I started to speak with the avatar, the therapist and I worked on how I could assert myself confidently with him. We practiced for quite some time as this was so difficult for me because I had never stood up to my voices before.
However, I did manage to say the words that we had practiced. As frightening as it was that day, I remember walking home from that session with a smile on my face. Something had shifted, albeit small.
By the third session with the avatar, my confidence began to grow. I was also able to start putting some boundaries in place with my voices in my daily life.
My voices reduced in frequency and intensity.
I would say it was after the sixth session that a real shift in my relationship with my voices took place. My conversations with the avatar started to change. We developed a mutual respect for each other and my voices reduced in frequency and intensity.
The more I stood up for myself with the avatar, the more confident I felt. This also had a positive effect in my day-to-day life.
By about week nine my voices had lessened to the extent that I was actually feeling the loss of them. This was confusing for me as they had been such a negative influence in my life. They degraded me, put me down and were very malevolent and threatening. Yet they were still a big part of my life. You would think I would be pleased but I was confused. What really helped with this was going through some work on grief and loss in the sessions as well.
It was immensely helpful to have the recordings of the dialogues between the avatar and myself. It helped to listen in-between sessions, to build on what we had talked about. It still helps now, to reinforce how far I have come along.
As time has gone on, I have come to terms with living my life independently of the influence my voices had over me. I feel that I am a much stronger person in life in general.
This has been the most significant therapeutic experience that I have undertaken.
This has been the most significant therapeutic experience that I have undertaken. Whilst the benefits of other types of therapy can often dwindle away with time, after ending the AVATAR therapy, the positives effects for me keep growing and growing. I am more confident in myself as a person without the voices constantly putting me down. For instance, this has really helped in work and social situations.
The added bonus for me for taking part in the trial has been the opportunity to become further involved as a PPI consultant once the therapy ended. To be able to connect with others who have also undergone the therapy and to help to promote it has also significantly increased my self-worth. AVATAR therapy has transformed my life for the better.
I now know that my voices were my protection from pain and suffering. They were like my own personal security guards. Although it was all done in a negative way and they were holding me back in life.
Owing to the AVATAR therapy I am now living a life independently of the voices influence. I am coping much better with life’s ups and downs.
I hope that many more people living with distressing voices will have the opportunity to experience AVATAR therapy and benefit as I have done.