Participants’ experiences of AVATAR therapy for distressing voices: a thematic qualitative evaluation

Mar Rus-Calafell*, Nils Ehrbar, Thomas Ward, Clementine Edwards, Mark Huckvale, Jennifer Walke, Philippa Garety, Tom Craig

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
57 Downloads (Pure)


Background: AVATAR therapy is an innovative therapy designed to support people with distressing voices. Voice hearers co‑create a digital representation of their voice and engage in dialogue with it. Although it has been success‑ fully tested in a powered randomised controlled trial (ISRCTN65314790), the participants’ experience of this therapy has not been yet evaluated. We aimed to explore enablers and barriers to engagement with the therapy and potential for real‑world impact on distressing voices.
Methods: Thirty per cent of those who completed AVATAR therapy (15 people in total) and 5 who dropped out from therapy within the main AVATAR RCT were invited to participate in a semi‑structured interview, which was audio‑ recorded and subsequently transcribed.
Results: Fourteen therapy completers (28% of the full sample) and one person who dropped out of therapy after 1 active session, were interviewed. Thematic analysis was used to explore the interviews. A total of 1276 references were coded, and five overarching themes identified: AVATAR therapy set‑up; voice embodiment and associated emotions; working in a safe space (supported by the therapist); learning new ways of relating to the voices; impact of therapy on everyday life. Overall, the therapy set‑up, with its digital components and its distinctive features as compared with common face‑to‑face talking therapies, was satisfactory. The inclusion of technology was well accepted as both a means to deliver the therapy and a tool to create a digital representation of the person’s distressing voice. The co‑ creation of the avatar and the enactment of the relationship between the person and the voice were perceived as a very helpful process to promote the therapeutical dialogue. Participants reported engaging well with the therapist and feeling supported and identified specific learnt strategies to deal with the voices and how they have had an impact on everyday life.
Conclusions: AVATAR therapy is acceptable and provides benefit for participants with psychosis. Our results high‑ lighted the enablers and challenges of working dialogically with distressing voices using a digital representation and dealing with highly demanding emotional, cognitive, and relational processes linked to the experience. Our analysis also identified the core strategies learnt by participants and how these were generalised to their daily life resulting into a positive change in different domains, and in particular broader social relationships.
Original languageEnglish
Article number356
Number of pages13
JournalBMC Psychiatry
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 24 May 2022


  • AVATAR therapy, Auditory hallucinations, Psychosis, Qualitative study


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