What would happen if a tormenting inner voice were given an avatar? Would it help a patient with schizophrenia cope with that voice? New research says yes.
In a new pilot study, 16 patients with schizophrenia participated in an experimental treatment, known as “avatar therapy.” The findings showed that nearly all of the participants experienced a reduction in distress and how often they heard voices.
The first stage in the therapy includes creating a computer-based avatar by choosing a face and a voice for the entity that the patients believe is talking to them. The system then synchronizes the avatar’s lips with its speech, allowing a therapist to talk to a patient through the avatar in real time.
The therapist encourages the patient to oppose the voice and gradually trains them to take control of their hallucinations.
Break the word disease up and you get dis-ease: that is to say something making you feel bad or ‘ill at ease’, or just ‘ill’ if you will. The term applies to everything – not just infections or genetic hiccups. Loneliness is a disease and one of its best cures has been with us for about 20 years. The internet is about connections, placing people together that would normally have lived their lives apart, separated by social norms or peer expectations. Not only does the internet allow us to connect, but it opens up the mind of people who use it right, and exposes us to the ideas and lifestyles of others.
Recently a spate of teenage suicides in America has shown us how lethal and life shattering loneliness can be. When a person feels alone sometimes they would rather end their life than carry the weight of being themselves, which is a terrible shame, not least of all because carrying the weight of who you are is a hell of a lot easier when there is a lot of you. Some of us find the thought of homophobia ridiculous, outdated, and as strange as people who are homophobic find the concept of homosexuality.
The difference? I don’t know. Time, exposure to the idea, lack of preconceptions? At the moment there are fringe communities finding each other. Using the internet to connect and cure the terrible disease that is loneliness. They can seem ridiculous, risible or even scary, but given exposure, time and an openness of mind that is a result of access to the internet, who knows?
I found Luke at a message board for people that identify themselves as Otherkin, one of the many enclaves of community which make the internet the place where the next steps of our evolution are being mapped. Where we as a species explore our possibilities and the mainstream of tomorrow is born.
What are Otherkin?
The world’s biggest mental health research institute is abandoning the new version of psychiatry’s “bible” – the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, questioning its validity and stating that “patients with mental disorders deserve better”. This bombshell comes just weeks before the publication of the fifth revision of the manual, called DSM-5.
On 29 April, Thomas Insel, director of the US National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), advocated a major shift away from categorising diseases such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia according to a person’s symptoms. Instead, Insel wants mental disorders to be diagnosed more objectively using genetics, brain scans that show abnormal patterns of activity and cognitive testing.
This would mean abandoning the manual published by the American Psychiatric Association that has been the mainstay of psychiatric research for 60 years.
The DSM has been embroiled in controversy for a number of years. Critics have said that it has outlasted its usefulness, has turned complaints that are not truly illnesses into medical conditions, and has been unduly influenced by pharmaceutical companies looking for new markets for their drugs.
There have also been complaints that widened definitions of several disorder have led to over-diagnosis of conditions such as bipolar disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Now, Insel has said in a blog post published by the NIMH that he wants a complete shift to diagnoses based on science not symptoms.
Why would one of the world’s most successful and innovative technology corporations research a highly controversial subject and risky future product opportunity such as E.S.P. (extrasensory perception) and then – oh by the way – tell the world they proved it existed?
Huh… unlikely? What company and why isn’t this more widely known? That’s just what I thought. I came across this fun fact while searching for information to help me understand a strange series of events that had occurred six years ago this month. Coincidentally, I happened to be working for this company when I found out.
Described as “anomalous processes of information or energy transfer”, Psi phenomenon is a very controversial subject. On one side, scientists, physicists, and PhDs attesting to its reality, and on the other, their opponents who question the methods of study, the resulting data and testimonies.
BG 232: The Dark Night Project
We’re joined again this week by Brown University neuroscience researcher Willougbhy Britton. Willougbhy begins this episode by going into further depth into some of the typical experiences that have been reported during her research into the difficult stages of the contemplative path. She lists out typical changes in cognition, affect (emotion), perception, and other psychological material. She also explores the typical duration of these experiences and explores some of the philosophical and practical ramifications of these stages.
Toward the end she also speaks about how she and her colleagues–all part of this emerging group of contemplative scientist hybrids–have come together to create a new contemplative development mapping project. This new generation of scientists are studying the mind, and have immersed themselves not only in scientific methodologies but also in contemplative practice.
This is part 2 of a two-part series. Listen to part 1, The Dark Side of Dharma.
The holiday season poses a psychological conundrum. Its defining sentiment, of course, is joy—yet the strenuous effort to be joyous seems to make many of us miserable. It’s hard to be happy in overcrowded airport lounges or while you’re trying to stay civil for days on end with relatives who stretch your patience.
So to cope with the holidays, magazines and others are advising us to “think positive”—the same advice, in other words, that Norman Vincent Peale, author of “The Power of Positive Thinking,” was dispensing six decades ago. (During holidays, Peale once suggested, you should make “a deliberate effort to speak hopefully about everything.”) The result all too often mirrors the famously annoying parlor game about trying not to think of a white bear: The harder you try, the more you think about one.
Variations of Peale’s positive philosophy run deep in American culture, not just in how we handle holidays and other social situations but in business, politics and beyond. Yet studies suggest that peppy affirmations designed to lift the user’s mood through repetition and visualizing future success often achieve the opposite of their intended effect.
Creativity is often part of a mental illness, with writers particularly susceptible, according to a study of more than a million people.
Writers had a higher risk of anxiety and bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, unipolar depression, and substance abuse, the Swedish researchers at the Karolinska Institute found.
They were almost twice as likely as the general population to kill themselves.
The dancers and photographers were also more likely to have bipolar disorder
It is important that we do not romanticise people with mental health problems, who are too often portrayed as struggling creative geniuses”Beth Murphy The mental health charity Mind
As a group, those in the creative professions were no more likely to suffer from psychiatric disorders than other people.
But they were more likely to have a close relative with a disorder, including anorexia and, to some extent, autism, the Journal of Psychiatric Research reports.
Lead researcher Dr Simon Kyaga said the findings suggested disorders should be viewed in a new light and that certain traits might be beneficial or desirable.
There is a new theory about your mind — about where your decisions and experiences come from before you are aware of them. This theory has solid science behind it, and it suggests that there is a lot more going on in your mind than you realize.
Parts of this theory are familiar. Research has told us that brain events stand behind every thought we think and lead to them. And we have learned that many implicit psychological processes precede our experiences too, processes like subliminal sensations, stored memories and long-term values. These things aren’t conscious in themselves, but the unconscious mind uses them to help lead to whatever we do become conscious of.
A difference about this theory, called “First Sight,” is that it assumes that a much bigger domain of unconscious information stands behind experience. This includes things that are beyond the reach of our senses — it includes the extrasensory. And it assumes that this reference to extrasensory information is not rare, but that it is continual.
First Sight brings in what is popularly called the “paranormal.” It is different from previous ways of thinking about the paranormal in that it shows that our use of extrasensory information is actually normal and helpful, although unconscious. No “para” is needed anymore. This theory leads us to an expanded idea of our normal psychology.
This week Science Weekly is dedicated to an extended interview with the scientist and former government drugs adviser Professor David Nutt. Prof Nutt has written a book Drugs – Without the Hot Air: Minimizing the Harms of Legal and Illegal Drugs and has been a vociferous and controversial figure in the debate around the harms and benefits of legal and illegal drugs.
He is a psychiatrist and neuropsychopharmacologist who has dedicated his career to deepening understanding of how drugs affect the brain and how they can be used for clinical benefit. In the interview he discusses his proposed research into the potential use of MDMA to treat post-traumatic stress disorder and argues that official and societal fear about such drugs is inhibiting the progress of science and the development of beneficial treatments.