Computer Avatars: A Problem Shared is a Problem Halved

Could an avatar (digital representations of a person) based software help young people deal with their psychological issues?

Prof Mick Cooper, an academic in psychology and counselling research, has been appointed by a software company, ProReal, to evaluate the use of its software by young people. The company has been awarded a sizeable sum by NHS England to research this initiative.

ProReal has developed an avatar-based virtual world which enables users to put their thoughts and feelings into pictures. The visual representation of their world uses cameras to enable this world to be experienced from multiple perspectives. Using avatars and some of the other features means the user can gain new insights and potentially build strong relationships.

Prof Cooper says; ‘Helping young people affected by mental health issues to explore their difficulties through an avatar-based programme could be a leap forward in understanding their actions, and a worthwhile tool for counsellors to improve the quality of support we give them.’

This could be the next level in online therapeutic support for young people. The evaluation of the software is crucial though as there needs to be a definitive advantage of using this platform and it needs to be a help.

Prof Cooper is going to evaluate the outcome of the avatar-based therapy and the aspects of it that young people will find helpful or unhelpful. Interviews will be carried out as well asking young people if they feel the software is accessible and meets their needs. They will be asked if the avatar helps them to explore their feelings further and whether resilience is built online to be transferred into everyday life.

ProReal will be working with a number of partners including children’s charities and NHS organisations during the pilot trials.