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Alternative therapy may ease psychological distress in boys

A new avatar-based software platform may help adolescent boys (between the age of 11 and 18) address their psychological problems, according to a research team featuring Professor Mick Cooper and Dr Evi Chryssafidou at the University of Roehampton, and Dr Biljana van Rijn at Metanoia Institute. 

Posted: 13 September 2016

image for news story Alternative therapy may ease psychological distress in boys
Professor Mick Cooper, Department of Psychology
Virtual-world software, ProReal, allows users to create visual representations of their thoughts and feelings and consider these from multiple perspectives. The software uses gaming technology to create a virtual world.

The project has shown that the program may give young people an opportunity to express their feelings and better understand how to deal with their psychological distress, with males finding this style of therapy more beneficial than females.

The research demonstrates that the software may ease difficulties in starting a therapeutic relationship through mediating personal contact and helping to articulate emotions. Further qualitative research by the team suggests that this avatar-based counselling style may be well-received by those on the autism spectrum.

“Young male clients may appreciate the familiarity of a computer gaming setting when dealing with painful emotions and situations, which is why a tool like ProReal may be helpful,” suggests Professor Cooper.

“Previous research has shown that the levels of mental health problems in children may be rising, with one in 10 young people in the UK having been identified as meeting criteria for a diagnosable mental health disorder. Because of this, it’s important to identify a range of therapies that may be able to tackle these problems.

“There is still more work to do to improve the impact of avatar-based programs in counselling and therapy, but with this style of therapy associated with significant improvements in mental health wellbeing, it’s clear that it is a worthwhile avenue for further exploration.”

The avatar-based therapy was evaluated in eight schools in London and Manchester and was generally well-received by young people, their counsellors, and the school administration. Interviews with counsellors have shown the challenges and benefits of introducing this approach in schools.

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